Don’t Like Your Job? Change It (Without Quitting)
July 7, 2012 Editor 0
Sometimes you know your job just isn’t right for you. Maybe you’re in the wrong field, don’t enjoy the work, feel surrounded by untrustworthy coworkers, or have an incompetent boss. Most people would tell you to find something that’s a better fit. But that may not be possible. There are many reasons you may not be able to leave: a tough economy, family commitments, or limited opportunities in your field. So what do you do when you’re stuck in the wrong job?
What the Experts Say
According to Gretchen Spreitzer, professor of management and organizations at University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and coauthor of “Creating Sustainable Performance,” people are highly dissatisfied when their job has no meaning or purpose to them, provides little opportunity to learn, or leaves them depleted at the end of the work day.
Whatever the reason you are unhappy, you don’t have to just live with it or quit. In fact, even if you are able to find another job, staying put may be the best option. “Job searching and changing jobs is not a trivial matter. It is often costly to career momentum and earnings as much as it is a boon,” says Amy Wrzesniewski, an associate professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management and coauthor of “Turn the Job You Have into the Job You Want.” The good news is that there is usually more leeway to alter your job than you think. “There are often real areas for movement and change that people tend not to recognize,” she says. Here’s how to make the most of an imperfect job situation.
Look at yourself
Whether or not you are satisfied with your job often has to do with your disposition, says Sigal Barsade, the Joseph Frank Bernstein Professor of Management at The Wharton School. Some people are naturally inclined to be unhappy, while others have a brighter take on life. Before you declare your job a bad fit, take a look at yourself. Barsade says it’s worth asking: Are you just the kind of person who tends to be dissatisfied? This understanding may not make you like your job better, but may make you think twice before you look for a new position.
Speitzer’s research shows that finding more meaning in your work can dramatically improve job satisfaction. Barsade agrees; she recommends looking at your job responsibilities through a different lens. For example, if your position involves menial tasks, try to remember they are stepping stones to a longer term goal and you won’t be doing them forever. Or, if you are in a field that is emotionally taxing, like nursing or social work, remind yourself that while you are tired at the end of the day, you are helping others. It also helps to connect with colleagues. Seek out opportunities to show compassion and express gratitude. Spend time with coworkers you like. “Stronger emotional connections at work lead to a myriad of positive physiological and social effects,” says Barsade.
Alter what you do
If you can’t change your perspective, you may be able to shift your job responsibilities. And you don’t necessarily have to transfer departments or get a promotion to do it. Spreitzer and Wrzesniewski suggest using a job crafting exercise to redesign your job to better fit your motives, strengths, and passions. “Some people make radical moves; others make small changes” in how they delegate or schedule their day, Wrzesniewski says. While the former might require approval from your manager, the latter often doesn’t. For example, if your most enjoyable task is talking with clients, but you feel buried in paperwork, you might decide to always speak with clients in the morning, so you’re energized to get through the drudge work for the rest of the day. Or you might save talking with your clients until the end of the day as a reward.
Change who you interact with
If it’s not the work you dislike but the people you work with, you may be able to change that too. Wrzesniewski says she has seen people successfully alter who they interact with on a daily basis to increase job satisfaction. Focus on forging relationships that give you energy, rather than sapping it. Seek out people who can help you do your job better. Wrzesniewski gives the example of workers at a hospital who were responsible for cleaning patients’ rooms. They relied on a centralized dispatch to tell them when rooms were open and what products were safe to use based on the occupant. But dispatch didn’t always have the most up-to-date information. This meant the workers couldn’t do their jobs as well as they wanted to, leaving them dissatisfied. When they developed relationships with the clerks on each ward, they received more accurate information and were able to do a more efficient job of cleaning. Of course, if your relationship with your boss or your coworkers is especially difficult, you may not be able to work around them. “Job crafting can’t turn around any job situation. It’s not a cure-all,” Wrzesniewski says.
When you’re in the wrong job, it can be tempting to moan about it to others. But it’s not advisable. “Complaining about your job is a recipe for trouble. You never know how the complaints may be shared with others in the organization,” says Spreitzer. Plus you may drag others down with you. If you are unhappy, it’s better to focus on what you can change not grumble about what you can’t.
Keep options open
The improvements you make to your job situation may make things more tolerable, but you should always be open to the next thing. “You can improve your job but you can also be on the lookout for new opportunities,” says Speitzer. Be sure your resume (e.g. your LinkedIn profile) is up to date and that you are continually meeting people in the field you want to be in.
Principles to Remember
- Make connections with people you like at work
- Assess what you don’t enjoy about your job so that you can minimize the time you spend doing unwanted tasks
- Keep your options open — you may not be able to leave your job now, but circumstances may change
- Assume that the job is the problem — you may be prone to being dissatisfied
- Think you’re stuck — there is usually more leeway to alter your job than you think
- Complain incessantly about your job and bring others down
Case Study #1: Integrate your interests into the job
Thomas Heffner is an engineer at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, a university-affiliated research center that contracts with the Department of Defense. When Thomas took the job eight years ago, he started off doing purely technical work focusing on radio frequency design and radar analysis. He knew pretty early on that this work wasn’t his passion. “So much of what we do is done in isolation. We have classified labs where I might be the only person typing away,” he says. About five years into the job, he took on a project manager role, thinking it would allow him to interact more with people. Still most of his tasks — managing schedules, developing contracts, reviewing documentation — involved working alone. Thomas thought about looking for another job, one that suited him better, but he couldn’t. He and his wife were having a second child and it wasn’t a good time to make a move, especially given the tough job market. Instead, he started taking classes in positive organizational psychology and found ways to integrate this interest into his work. He offered to do presentations on positive organizational scholarship. He first spoke to his own group and then at brown-bag lunches, which were open to everyone in his 5,000-person center. He also approached his company’s training and development office about developing a course that uses positive psychology to teach innovation and creativity. The staff in that office encouraged him to create and teach the course. While these new projects are outside of his scope of work, he still does all of the things his project manager role requires. And, he has been able to reduce his administrative workload by delegating certain tasks to his team members who were eager to take them on. “I was able to make room for the things I wanted to do,” he says. And it’s paid off. “Before I started making changes, my job satisfaction was probably about 3 [on a scale of 1-10]. I’m making small changes; it’s nothing earth shattering, but it’s now up to a 7.” By finding other ways to spend time doing what he enjoys most — learning, teaching others, spending time with people — he believes he can boost that up to an 8 or 9.
Case Study #2: Start doing the job you want
Nine years ago, when Shammy Khan took a job at a contract manufacturer based in Texas, he knew it wasn’t the perfect job for him. The position was in account management and required Shammy to handle routine, day-to-day work related to one of the company’s clients. Shammy felt his strengths lied elsewhere. “I was more interested in growing businesses and putting deals together than servicing existing clients,” he says. Yet he was spending less than 5% of his time doing that. After a year on the job, he completed a job crafting exercise, which helped him realize that he would be happier focusing more on new customer deals, which he saw others doing full time. He approached his manager and explained why he was the right person to cultivate a potential client in a market — large scale electromechanical integration services — the company had never served. His boss was convinced. Shammy’s title and role didn’t change but he shifted his attention to developing and acquiring the capabilities needed to win the account. The client is now one of his company’s top six customers. Based on that success, Shammy was promoted to vice president and is now focused exclusively on new ventures, strategic markets, and business development.
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