6 ways to be less miserable at work
Your commute home is agony. (Last out of the office again!) Afterward, your dinner conversation is bitter. (No one appreciates me at work.) Then, your sleep is restless. (I can't believe I have to go back to that office in a few hours.)
And it all started because work is terrible.
You're not being discriminated against, harassed, hurt or bullied – for those issues, visit the websites of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Workplace Bullying Institute – you're just sick of workplace misery lingering long after you sign off for the day.
Cheer up. Here's how to hate your terrible job a little less:
1. Keep your cool.
First off, delete that scathing email to Brian you've been drafting. Exit out of that Gchat conversation about how annoying Leslie is. And – for the more aggressive readers – put down that stapler gun aimed at Mike's big, stupid head.
You may need your co-workers' help in the future if you try to leave this terrible place, so keep it professional. As Carolyn Betts, founder and CEO of Betts Recruiting in San Francisco, puts it in a U.S. News blog post about career missteps: "Burning bridges is the No. 1 way to damage your career – worse than not performing at your job." She adds that employers know you handpick your references, so, for less biased insight, they may very well snoop around to get input from Brian, Leslie and Mike. What would they say about you?
Another rash decision to avoid: leaving your job without another offer lined up. "Be careful not to create a situation where you can't get another job or you get so pissed that you leave and can't support yourself or feed your family or pay your rent," says Robert Sutton, organizational psychologist and author of "The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't."
Job searching, on the other hand, is likely a good move if you're miserable at work. Just don't look for a new job while you're on the clock.
2. Focus on your outside-of-work life.
If all you have going on in your life is work – and work sucks – where else will you find happiness and fulfillment? San Diego-based psychiatrist David Reiss suggests asking yourself: "Do I have a sufficient life outside of work so I don't become dependent on work for what it won't necessarily provide?"
Dinner with family or friends, book club, craft projects, recreational sports, movie night – find something to fill in this blank: "Work was a drag today, but at least I have _______ to look forward to."
3. Confront co-workers.
Reiss sees a trend among his clients who are unhappy at work: Ninety-five percent of them have issues either directly or indirectly related to interpersonal relationships, as opposed to the actual job. In other words, it's the people – not the paperwork.
Linnda Durré, psychotherapist, business consultant and author of "Surviving the Toxic Workplace," suggests speaking up to people who are making your job harder. "Start out positive, deliver the feedback and end positively," she says. For example: "Brian, the reports you submit are always well done. However, you continually submit them late, and that puts our team behind schedule. Please try to meet deadlines going forward, and let us know how we can help you get back on track."
And to ensure a paper trail for these interactions, "always, always, always put it in writing," Durré says.
4. Set boundaries.
Think of your co-workers as just that – co-workers – and not as close friends or family members. "Keep it friendly but professional," Reiss says.
Doing so will make sensitive workplace interactions (like calling out Brian) feel less emotionally loaded. You'll also be thankful for the personal distance if one of your co-workers becomes your supervisor, or the other way around. Managing and being managed is hard work, and they're both more difficult if your counterpart is a friend.
5. Emotionally detach.
This step is for when things get really bad, as you discreetly job search. "It's like sitting in the worst seat in a completely crowded airplane, sitting between two 300-pound people," Sutton says. "All you can do is just get through it and get as emotionally detached from it as possible."
It'll be easier to achieve this Zen-like resiliency to stressors once you've evened out your work-life balance and kept work relationships professional.
6. Change your perspective.
And maybe tweak your expectations for workplace happiness, while you're at it. "Every job has great things and bad things," Durré says. "Nothing is perfect."
Once you realize that a perfect job and a paycheck isn't a realistic goal, you'll likely feel better about accepting some bad with the good.
Reiss suggests you look at work like this: "If I get my job done well, and people are reasonably polite, and I get my paycheck, it's a success."
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