You’re lucky enough to have a job during the COVID-19 pandemic and the unprecedented unemployment that’s come with it—great! But what if you also hate it? You may feel guilty about being unhappy when you know a hundred other people who would do anything to be in your shoes. You’re not alone.
Maybe the pandemic and the transition to WFH have shined a new light on your role or company and you’re seeing things that you don’t like. Or maybe you were already unhappy before the pandemic and now feel trapped. Perhaps you also feel disappointed in yourself for not acting when the labor market was “good,” and now you’re struggling to find the energy and motivation to get going.
Before you figure out the best solution and consider your next steps, you’ve got to pinpoint the root and cause of your unhappiness. Even if you ultimately choose to leave your job or company, figuring out a better way forward while you’re there is a must; this is especially true during a public health crisis and in a difficult job market. Not to mention, you may end up feeling unhappy again after a job change if you haven’t addressed the root issues.
I’d completely hate that. As a career coach, I work with high achievers who want to manage stress and burnout, gain clarity, and change jobs or careers. I know full well how crucial it is to identify the real causes of boredom and unhappiness at work. Only then can you find meaningful ways to move forward. For example, in the case of burnout, if you struggle to set boundaries and tend to work way too much, you’re likely to take that with you to a new job—especially if you’re working in a field you love that deeply connects with your values and interests.
To be fulfilled in your career, you’ll want to experience what I call the five common values and desired outcomes typically derived from work: belonging, achievement, purpose, creativity, and growth through learning. This won’t happen overnight, especially not during a global crisis like we’re all navigating right now, but these are outcomes to work toward.
Here are five things you can do to navigate being in a job you hate during the coronavirus pandemic:
1. Identify Your Plateau
Before you think about moving on, spend time thinking about what’s going and what you’re struggling with, so you can work toward a solution. Here are a few common career plateaus:
- Contribution: You do your work, and you do it well, but you’ve lost a sense of meaning and fulfillment. Because of this, you feel like you’re not successful in your career right now, as your work isn’t valuable. This feeling might be heightened during the pandemic, which has caused so many of us to rethink our priorities and search for purpose in different ways.
- Job mastery: You have mastered your job and there is no longer a sense of challenge. You no longer have a desire for greater responsibilities or internal mobility at your current company.
- Organizational structure: You have progressed to a point where the organization’s structure prevents you from moving up the ladder, or the ladder doesn’t have many steps. But at this particular moment in time, it might seem daunting to try to get a new job at a higher level elsewhere.
- Lack of alignment: You feel like your interests and values have developed and no longer align with your current work. At a time of crisis, when forces outside of your control are upending your life, your interests and values may also have shifted or crystallized in a way they may not have when everything was business as usual.
- Politics: Office politics (people and corporate culture) have turned you off or put a stop to your career progression. Maybe this was already true before the pandemic hit, or maybe the way your company or team handled the crisis and transition to WFH has changed the way you feel. You may even like your work, but the pandemic has made your relationship with a boss you already didn’t get along with even worse—I feel your pain!
Perhaps you’re experiencing elements of one or more of these. Being able to identify what specifically is making you unhappy can help you figure out how to move forward.
2. Envision How You Want to Use Your Strengths at Work
The pandemic, WFH, and all the extra stressors make it even more important to use your strengths so you don’t burn out. Your strengths are things that energize you and that you can prove you do better than most people (all that stuff we put on our resumes). If your work isn’t aligned with your strengths, even if you clock 40 hours a week, you could start to burn out after just 20 hours.
So whether you want to find a new role or improve your current position, think about how you want to use your strengths. Ask yourself what, why, how, when, and where. For example, maybe you’re an engineer who’s realized you want to use your strength in people management and cross-functional collaboration. Do you want to try to do so within your current organization? Are there projects you can take on that would help you flex these muscles, even in a small way? Do you want to try to find a new role—now or down the line—where this is a focus rather than one where you only occasionally get to use these skills?
3. Recraft Your Role
In a competitive landscape, job crafting—the process of making the most of your job—is your secret weapon. Job crafting can help you feel empowered and increase your emotional connection to your work. Professors Amy Wrzesniewski and Jane Dutton first introduced the concept in 2001, and there are three main ways to freshen up your role so you can be happier in your job, either for the long term or even just for now as you consider the best path. Recrafting can also help you clarify what you’re looking for in your next job! (You can tell I’m a fan.)
Changing Your Mindset: Cognitive Crafting
In the career theory world, we often talk about the vast array of things that impact our career and job choices—and an involuntary life transition is definitely a big one. Most of us are still navigating the ups and downs of this pandemic. And with all the sickness and death we’ve seen, it’s causing us to reflect on legacy and purpose.
Cognitive crafting deals with all the inner work, and it’s where we create more meaning behind the day-to-day work, even if we’re not changing what that work is. For example, as a marketing director, instead of thinking of media placements as being about gaining publicity, you might try to start thinking of them as being about helping buyers alleviate problems because they’re made aware of a solution at the right time. Cognitive crafting essentially helps you tap into the significance of your work for the department and organization, the satisfaction and personal benefits of doing your job, as well as your communal and societal impact.
Changing Your Responsibilities: Task Crafting
If your unhappiness is due to spending time on tasks that aren’t fulfilling, task crafting may help. Task crafting is when you intentionally find ways to do your job in different ways. It could be adding a task or project to your plate, making an improvement to what you’re already working on, or figuring out ways to spend less time on things you’re less excited about. Crafting can be temporary, and in this new pandemic world, you may find task crafting to be the norm due to the unprecedented situation and changes the world, economy, and individual companies are facing. In fact, at a time when everything is shifting and organizations are trying to adapt, sometimes with smaller teams, you might have even more opportunity to take on new and different responsibilities or move things around.
If you want to do some task crafting, think back to what you came up with when you were envisioning how you want to use your strengths. Pay attention to work tasks that best match your skills and interests and try to seek out opportunities to do more of the work that aligns with your priorities and desired career trajectory.
A client of mine in the UK was navigating a challenging work situation. She felt like she wasn’t using many of her technical skills and wasn’t as engaged as she wanted to be in her job. We decided to first focus on an easy step she could take that was in her control and could help build momentum—crafting based on interests. She took up a position in her company’s ERG (employee resource group) to bring some joy back into her job. In her work with the group, she even ended up being able to use some of the technical skill sets she’d previously felt she didn’t have enough opportunities to draw on. High five, right?
Changing Your Interactions: Relationship Crafting
Relationship crafting is quite common, and it involves making changes to your working relationships and network. When you’re relationship crafting, you can organize events, join committees, expand or deepen your work friendships, or become an ally or mentor.
In a time of isolation, we need strong relationships. When I recently spoke on a panel hosted by Verizon, I touched on the collective experience that we all share due to the pandemic. It can help us build empathy, which is key when networking.
While opportunities to make connections and build relationships may not come about as easily or naturally when everyone is working from home, you can make it a priority to improve your overall work experience (and even help you if you decide to look for a new job). Reach out to colleagues you liked chatting with in the hallway to set up virtual coffees, participate in remote social events your company might be hosting, consider joining groups or committees that continue to operate remotely, and reach out to folks in your network outside of your current company to catch up over the phone or Zoom.
Warning: If you can’t see how any of these three methods can make you happier in your current job and company, then it’s probably time to move on—no wiggle room for recrafting is actually a sign of a toxic job.
4. Practice Self-Care and Create Confidence Affirmations
Our currently tight labor market will mean that the process of landing a new job might be more challenging and time-consuming than it was before the pandemic hit. And it might just take longer! So equipping yourself with tools and self-care practices to manage your situation will serve you well as you embark on what may be a difficult job search. Things like keeping a gratitude journal and auditing your social media so that you’re following accounts that uplift and empower you are two practices that are especially useful right now.
You should also be mindful of your beliefs and confidence level, which help you go from stuck and settling to finding more happiness in your current role or boosting your motivation during a job search. In order to address and combat confidence-building barriers—such as self-defeat, comparison, overthinking, perfectionism, fear of failure, and negative self-talk—I recommend using confidence affirmations. These are intentional words that help us redirect negative thoughts and establish better ways of thinking.
In order to create your own confidence affirmations, start by identifying the areas you’re struggling with the most. Then come up with a sentence or set of phrases of up to around ten words that you can easily repeat throughout the day. Make your affirmations personal by using words like “I” and make sure to include definitive action words. For example, if you find yourself constantly overthinking, second-guessing yourself, and worrying you’ll mess up, you might create an affirmation like, “I will not overthink. I will trust myself. I’m trustworthy.”
So many of us are struggling at work during the pandemic. But chances are you’ve handled some stuff you never even thought you’d be capable of in recent months, like looking after kids while working or getting through the days as an extrovert while working 100% remote. What are you proud of? How have you changed for the better? This is your time to congratulate yourself. Reminding yourself of what you have accomplished and thinking about your affirmations will help boost your confidence and self-esteem as you deal with a job you dislike and perhaps a challenging job search on top of it.
5. Consider Freelancing or Starting a Side Project
We’re in a historically tight job market, so you might need to get creative. Freelancing or working on a passion project can be a good way to explore using your ideal strengths in a different setting, giving you the energy you need to bring a fresh perspective to your current job. It’s also a good way to get or stay on the radar of people and companies you want to work for—helping you make connections and even land a referral for your dream job.
You may be asking, “Rachel, how do I freelance or start a side project when I’m already burning out or trying to work and care for kids during a pandemic?” I get that; many people ask me how I run a successful business on a one-full-day workweek. Here’s the thing: As a freelancer, you get to choose your projects. No one is holding you to say yes to work. And since the commitment isn’t the same as a permanent gig, you can always back away if it isn’t for you.
More pointedly, though, if your stress or burnout is work-related (rooted in a lack of recognition, monotonous or boring tasks, or feelings of inefficacy, for instance), then that little side project can compensate for what you need and are not getting. In other words, taking on something small that brings you joy can make the rest a little less stressful and ease your overall sense of dissatisfaction.
Like I always say, career growth is part mindset and part strategy. I’ve given you a lot to think about, but know you are absolutely not ungrateful for grumbling about your work during the pandemic and accompanying economic crisis. Wanting more out of your work just means that you are top talent who wants the best out of your career—and you deserve it.