Being unhappy at work is something almost everyone goes through at one point or another. Sometimes you outgrow your position and there’s no chance of promotion. Or, you get a new boss who shakes up your routine.
But telling your manager that you’re not happy is risky—there’s always the chance that they’ll think you’re looking for another job and start treating you as such.
However, talking to your boss can also reap dividends. If they don’t know there’s a problem, they can’t solve it. Speaking up can win you a better role, a promotion, or more. And, fixing your current work environment is a heck of a lot easier than starting your job search from scratch—so it’s worth a shot.
Ultimately, it comes down to how much power they have, how understanding they are, how fixable your problem is, and how much freedom you have to walk away if you need to.
Here’s your guide to deciding if you should tell your boss you’re unhappy.
Yes if: You Can Identify the Problem (and the Solution)
That means going in with a realistic plan for how you (and/or your boss) can make the changes that will make you happier at work.
No if: You’re Unsure of What Would Make You Happier
You’ve heard the phrase, “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions”—this is where that applies. Don’t go into that meeting without a solution to the problem. Otherwise, it’s just an unproductive complaint.
Yes if: Your Boss Has the Power to Improve Your Situation
If your unhappiness can be mitigated with a raise, a new desk, a promotion, or a change in responsibilities, and your boss can either grant you those things or has the ability to petition the higher-ups on your behalf, go for it.
No if: Your Boss Actually Can’t Help You at All
If your unhappiness is due to a company-wide policy, poor decision-making by one of your boss’s superiors, or other factors out of their control, then there’s no benefit to telling her you’re unsatisfied (and it may be worth considering who else you can talk to, such as HR).
Yes if: You’ve Got a Safety Net
If your unhappiness is so great you’ll definitely be leaving if it isn’t remedied, then you don’t have much to lose. But make sure that your search is well under way before you raise the issue in case you have no choice but to leave.
No if: This Job Is Your Only Option for Right Now
If you need to keep this job at all costs, better not risk letting on that you’re not happy. Instead, try to fix the problem yourself for now and think about what changes you can make on your own to improve your working conditions (this article can help). And start figuring out other options as soon as it’s feasible.
Yes if: Your Boss Has a History of Standing Up for Her People
Pay attention to how she’s dealt with people in the past: Has she held complaints against them, has she fired people who indicated they were unhappy, has she listened and responded when employees have raised an issue? History will help you here in figuring out if it’s worth bringing up.
No if: Your Boss Isn’t an Ally
Maybe someone gave her a month’s notice and she made them leave the same day. Bringing an issue to someone who’s historically unsympathetic is a no-go (and probably someone not worth working for going forward).
Unhappiness at work can have a powerfully negative effect on your quality of life, so it’s something that’s important to address. But, think carefully before you raise the issue with your boss and make sure you’re not giving the impression that you’re on your way out. Get a back-up plan in place, study your manager, and come up with realistic solutions to your problem before mentioning anything.