Are You Stuck in 'Job Prison'?

Irwin Henry works at a public relations firm in lower Manhattan, which he likes to call "Mom and Pop plus Three." (The staff includes three full-time employees and the two owners).

The firm, which used to win awards and serve numerous clientele, has diminished to just five customers -- a number that the owners insist cannot increase because the company "can't handle being that large again." As a result, there are constant financial concerns, paychecks are late or handwritten, and in December 2008, there was an across-the-board salary reduction.

"The general demeanor of paranoia, a crushing lack of people skills and business acumen on the part of the owner, make for a sinking ship that I've been trying to escape for quite some time," Henry says.

But, he can't. Though he's been job hunting for something outside of PR for the past year, he hasn't heard a peep in three months; any industry he's interested in is on a hiring freeze. To compensate, Henry is waiting tables as a fallback position in case things get worse at his current job.

Henry is definitely not alone in his misery. Thirty percent of workers are dissatisfied in their current positions, according to the 2009 Job Forecast by Given the current state of our economy and job market, however, many workers are willing to stay in a situation they hate for fear that they won't be able to find another job at all.

Alison Scotti, 22, is one of these people. Technically labeled an "intern" at her Washington, D.C.-based firm, Scotti is paid a stipend below minimum wage and is ineligible for health-care benefits. Though she is miserable in her work, she says fear keeps her grounded.

"Having spent three months after graduation searching for a job, I was lucky to find this one in a field I was remotely interested in. I was hired in September 2008 and was only planning to stay through the end of the year," she says. "I just can't leave this job. Who knows when I'll find another?"

The trepidation of not knowing when or if you'll find another job is not the only reason people are staying in so-called job prison. Workers are also scared of losing valuable assets like benefits.

When Rose Strong worked as a customer service representative for a national health insurance company, her partner, an auctioneer for small firm, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Though she made great money, her partner's employer couldn't afford health insurance for its employees. As a result, Strong had to stay in her stressful job for the health benefits -- and in the meantime, she developed an anxiety and panic disorder due to the extreme expectations of her employer.

"The job itself was simply horrible. Stressful isn't even the word to describe it," Strong says. "But, it offered domestic partnership benefits. I couldn't leave the job or my partner wouldn't have health insurance. Not every employer offers this benefit ... it was a major issue for someone who has had cancer."

The flip side

Though many people feel as though they are "stuck" in their jobs, others don't buy it. Dorothy Tannahill Moran, a life coach, says she has "never signed up for the notion that you have no options out of a bad job, even in a bad environment."

Others argue that with so many out of work, people should be happy they have a job at all. And, if they are unhappy, they should stop complaining and do something about it. Despite the economy and the tightening job market, six-in-10 workers are planning to change jobs, according to's job forecast.

"If workers choose to stay in a job they hate , they should know that this is their choice," says Kathy Wensel, author of "Freedom Is ... A Book/Journal with a Twist." "Be happy where you are because you have benefits and a paycheck."

Making the most of it

Henry Ford said, "Whether you think you can or whether you think you can't, either way you are right." Translation: The more you think you have no choices, the more you will have no choices.

Whether you're bored, dissatisfied or scared to leave your job because of the economy, there are things you can do to make work tolerable until something new comes up:

Here are 10 tips from career experts on how to escape job prison:

1. Be realistic

Many experts advise not to quit your job without another one on hand because you are lucky to have one, even if you hate it. But Darcy Eikenberg, president and CEO of Coach Darcy LLC, says you shouldn't buy into the myth that there are no jobs out there. "Stuck is just a perception, not a reality," she says. "You're never really stuck until there are no more options and you'll never know what the options are until you start exploring them."

2. Change your attitude

Look at your job as the launching pad to your next position instead of as a hindrance. "You'll only be able to give it your best if you can convince yourself of the value it offers your life," says Debra Yergen, author of "Creating Job Security Resource Guide." It pays the rent, gives you benefits, allows you to meet new people and enables you to enhance your skills.

3. Discover the hidden opportunities

"There is something you prefer to do and you do it really well. Define it, do it successfully and make sure it is something you do better than anyone else; it is your value-added insurance," says Gladys Kartin, "career strategist.

4. Find the good in it

When work isn't going well, it's easy to dwell on the parts of the job you don't like. "At some point in time, a person probably liked his job and those are the things he should focus on. Whether it was a task, a co-worker, a meeting or a training session, try to nurture those parts of the job and find ways to incorporate them more into your daily routine," suggests Sharlyn Lauby, SPHR, CPLP.

5. Figure out what you don't like

If you're in a job hate, the most important thing to do is identify why you hate the job -- once you do that, you'll see what's missing for you to better tolerate the situation. You don't want to repeat this cycle in your next position, says Caela Farren, author of "Who's Running Your Career."

6. Focus on the aspects you like -- even if it's just a paycheck

"There is opportunity in every adversity and if you don't see that, you will most likely recreate another dead-end job," says Dr. Nancy Irwin, speaker and author. Write down a list of the things you do enjoy about it and find ways to do more of those things. There has to be something about the job that you like, or used to like, otherwise you wouldn't have accepted the job in the first place.

7. Invest in yourself

Go to night school to pursue your passion. Hire a life coach; take a class; pursue your hobbies. "No economy will ever be able to drain the value of investments you make in strengthening your talents and abilities," Eikenberg says.


"You're probably not the only person who hates his or her job, and you're probably not the first person to have bailed," says Martha Finney, author of "Rebound: A Proven Plan for Starting Over After Job Loss." "All those people who you once worked with and who are now out there in a variety of companies in your community or industry, you have multiple networks now to thoroughly explore."

9. Seek out cross-training opportunities

Many workers want to change jobs because they aren't challenged anymore -- finding new prospects fixes that. "Learning new skills or technologies, meeting new people and facing new challenges are great ways to keep your mind off the fact that you aren't in love with your job," says Lauren Milligan of

10. Volunteer

Find out about opportunities at your company where you can donate your time. "Is there a task force that is looking for assistance? Is there a committee to improve something? Request to be on it. By engaging in something that excites you, your mood will change and you might even get a different job within that company," says Kate Nasser, a people-skills coach.

Next:Burned Out On the Job >>

Copyright 2009

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