Should I Stay or Should I Go: How to Decide What to Do With An Unfulfilling Job



Chances are, we’ve all been there: dreading to go to work the next day because we just absolutely despise our job.  Perhaps it is due to the work itself: too boring/unchallenging or stressful/overwhelming; perhaps it is due to your co-workers or boss; perhaps it is due to the clientele you deal with.  Whatever the reason, nothing can be more dispiriting and have a stronger impact on your overall well-being than being stuck in a job you hate.  The connection between work stress and negative effects on both mental and physical health is well established, even if all other aspects of your life are fulfilling and healthy.  Hopefully, these suggestions will help you to navigate what to do if you are currently in a negative work situation.  Instead of reading this article word for word (which you’re welcome to do if that is your style), I recommend that you skim through to the sections that apply to you and your particular brand of job dissatisfaction and then read the section on coping efforts.  After doing so, you will hopefully have a clear answer to the question posed by The Clash in their 1982 song “Should I Stay Or Should I Go.”


Why do you hate your job? And What to Do About It

Before we can explore what to do, we need to identify the nature of the problem.  There are 4 basic issues that may be driving your dissatisfaction: the work, co-workers, clientele, or other factors.  Let’s explore each of them in turn.

The work – One possible way that the work you do may itself be at issue is if it is not what you are passionate about. If you are left with a nagging sense that you would rather be doing something else, this likely points to the fact that your present work is unfulfilling.  If this is the case for you, you will need to identify what barriers are keeping you from doing what you would rather do in life.

Perhaps the barrier is that you do not know what you would rather do.  If so, consulting with a career counselor may be beneficial.  They can aid you in discovering your strengths, talents and interests and what possible jobs with which those link up.  Alternatively, you can use online career interest surveys like the one that can be found at:  Thinking back to subjects you enjoyed in school or aspects of your current job that you enjoy and then brainstorming what careers may incorporate these aspects can also help.  If you still do not know, and your job dissatisfaction is significant enough, a bit of old-fashioned trial and error may be needed.  Volunteering or taking on a part-time job to explore other opportunities may be an option if you are not able to fully commit by quitting a full-time job.  Whether or not you find your eventual landing spot, you will learn something about your interests no matter what the outcome is.

If the barrier is financial in that you cannot afford to leave your well-paying job, this is the trap referred to as the “golden handcuffs.”  One of the first things that would help would be to make a budget.  Track your expenses over the course of a month and then compare that to your income.  At this point, you have a few options:  1) Find a way to decrease your spending in order to offset whatever decrease in salary will be involved with a change of jobs.  2) Figure out how much you would need to make in order to support your current budget and then look for a job that would meet that figure.  3) Do a hybrid of the first two and decrease your spending and then find a job that supports this new budget.  The other thing that may be helpful would be to take an honest assessment of your values.  Do you value the current lifestyle that your job affords more than your well-being?  There is no shame in answering this question affirmatively.  If you do, then staying at your current job is the best option, and you need to find ways to cope with it as best as possible, perhaps by reading other portions of this article.  If you value your well-being more, then making the difficult financial decision of taking a potentially lesser-paying position is the best course of action for you.

Perhaps the issue with your work is that you are unsure of yourself or your abilities.  The first thing to assess is if your doubt is grounded in an actual lack of knowledge or ability.  If this is the case, then view this as an opportunity to learn new things.  Giving yourself reassuring messages along the lines of “I am capable of learning new things even if I may struggle with them at first.  In time I will master these tasks.”  However, if this is purely self-doubt without a basis in reality, then recognizing it as such and not giving it credence is the best approach.

A final barrier with your work may be that you find it unchallenging.  Clock-watching, overwhelming boredom, or excessive daydreaming/being off task may all be indicators that unchallenging work may be the culprit.  If this is the case for you, there are a few specific things you may try.  The first would be requesting a change in your work flow.  If your supervisor is receptive to it, getting assigned new projects or a different type of work could pump a breath of fresh air into your work day.  Alternatively, you could request to be involved with a committee or special project.  If these things are not an option, then it may be time to consider a career change or new job.  Before doing so, assessing what kind of work may be engaging for you is in order.  Just changing jobs for the sake of a change may be effective in the short term but is unlikely to be a long-term fix if you do not address the underlying reason your current work has become stale for you.

Co-workers – If your colleagues are the cause of your dissatisfaction, there are some things to consider when attempting to resolve this issue. If the nature of the conflict is purely a result of personality conflicts, there are two main approaches that may be helpful.  The first would be to limit the amount of contact you have with the problematic coworkers.  While you may have to be subtle and clever in the ways that you do this, the less time you are around the offending person(s), the easier it will be to cope with them when you do have to be around them.  If limiting your contact is not possible, an alternative is to be assertive about the things that upset you.  (See previous blog post for discussion about assertiveness skills.)  Being as clear as possible, while also being respectful, is the approach that is most likely to be successful in these situations.

If the nature of your conflict with your co-workers has to do with the quality of their work, or work ethic, you will want to seriously evaluate what impact their problematic behaviors will actually have on you and/or your work.  If there is a tangible impact, this is a situation that is likely to warrant involving management.  While we may sometimes shy away from this approach due to feeling like a “tattle-tale,” management’s role is in place to resolve these types of issues.  If you choose to go this route, relay your concerns in objective terms:  leave out any interpretations, personal attacks, or exaggerations.  Report the problem and its impact on you in clear terms and get into problem-solving mode.

Clientele – Sometimes the problematic part of our job is the customers. While we would all likely love to have the kind of job where our customers are appreciative of our work, effusive with praise, polite, and respectful, few of us have this luxury.  Some jobs require us to interface with people at difficult times when they are likely to lash out in anger or frustration.  Other jobs simply do not, for whatever reason, evoke the reverence with which we would prefer to be treated.  If this is the situation in which you find yourself, you must evaluate your options.

First and foremost, you should evaluate if you have any options to not interface with the type of customer that vexes you.  Having a discussion with your supervisor about other opportunities within the company may be a start.  Instead of framing it as a negative (i.e. “these people are driving me crazy!”), frame it in terms of your seeking growth opportunities and wanting to learn more about other areas of the business.

If this kind of change is not a possibility, then it is up to you to learn how to better cope with the situation.  This is no easy task, as it can be difficult to deal with people who rub you the wrong way.  In order to figure out the most effective ways to work through this, ask yourself what things have helped you the most in getting through other difficult things in your life.  What approaches do you find most calming and soothing?  What are the ways that you can interject these things into your daily work routine?  Making it a habit to take a small break after dealing with a problematic customer (like going to get a drink from the break-room, or going to the restroom) may be helpful.  Getting up, moving around, and getting away from your work, even if only for a few minutes, will give you the opportunity to take a deep breath and regroup.

Other factors – There are a host of other things that may drive your dissatisfaction. Things like: the commute, your work hours, your pay scale, or something about your physical work environment can all be major contributors to your unhappiness.  For any of these items, the key is to get into a problem-solving frame of mind.  Identify the issues, brainstorm possible solutions, evaluate which solution(s) may be most effective and then enact (or attempt to) those changes.  Asking other trusted friends, family, or co-workers for their input may also be helpful if you feel stuck and unable to brainstorm possible resolutions.  Sometimes engaging in the thought experiment of “What advice would I give to someone else in my situation?” can help break the blockade of ideas in order to begin brainstorming.

Coping efforts

               In addition to the things discussed above, you may consider these adjunctive suggestions to generally cope with the stress of being dissatisfied with your work life.

  • Lifestyle – your career is but one domain of your life. Making efforts to be fulfilled in other areas of life can do much to buffer you from the unhappiness in the work domain.  Maintaining good relationships with friends and family and being actively involved in hobbies and other leisure activities are things that can go a long way in helping.

  • Stress management – As mentioned previously, work is only one domain in life. If we are stressed in other realms, it can have an exponential impact on the work stress we experience.  Making efforts to cope with stress in all domains of life is therefore an important strategy.  See a previous article on coping with stress <HERE>.

  • Focus on the positive – It is easy to get bogged down with all of the negative aspects of work and the stress you are experiencing there. Making efforts to attend to the opposite experiences at work can help mitigate the negative aspects.  In order to do this, try the following: keep a notebook at your work-space where you make an effort to record one funny thing that happened during your work day, one fulfilling thing that occurred, and one nice or heartwarming thing that happened.  Be as consistent as possible and try to record one of each of the three things each day that you work.  It may have to be the smallest thing, but make an effort to identify these things.  Making this effort will help in two ways: one is that it will help remind you that it is not all bad at work.  Second, it helps to limit the time and energy you spend focusing on the negative aspects.


While being in a job that you despise, dislike, don’t care for, or disparage can be discouraging, there are things that you can do to regain a feeling of empowerment and being in control. Feeling helpless and powerless can be extremely demoralizing, so hopefully the suggestions above will help give you some ideas of how to feel that you’re “back in the driver’s seat” in this domain of your life.  If, after your efforts to put these ideas into place, you are still feeling unhappy with your job, perhaps it is time to sing the song that goes: “Take this job and shove it, I ain’t working here no more.”

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