Being Miserable at Work Doesn’t Mean You Have to Quit

November 1, 2016, 9:10 PM UTC
Woman lying beside quit your job message
Jupiterimages Getty Images

Quitting a job has become very sexy. There has always been a certain allure associated with running off to travel the world or start a company, but the media’s fascination with Silicon Valley and young entrepreneurs has left us inundated with these kinds of stories.

For young people, this can result in an overly simplistic mentality: I’m either happy or I’m not; I either love my job or I have to quit; I either work for “the man” or work for myself. What they might not see is the possibility that lies in subtly, but purposefully, shifting their lives in a different direction.

Often, it’s not one big thing, but lots of little things, that leave people feeling unfulfilled — it could be that you don’t like your boss, your hours, one of your colleagues, where you live or your current role. None of these things mean you have to change your entire career field, go back to school, travel through Asia for a year, or move across the country.

The solution is frequently simpler: It may mean looking for a different role in the same company, the same role in a different company, or negotiating time off to do something you’ve always wanted to do. It may mean moving to a new apartment, taking evening classes in an interesting subject or actively trying to improve their relationship with their manager.


In essence, you need to identify your “unhappy factors” and find the most straightforward way to change the ones with the deepest negative impact on your life. It’s possible that by changing even one of these factors, your entire life situation becomes more positive.

Here are a few more ideas to try out when you’re unhappy at work:

1. Bring a smile.

Many people think feeling has to precede action (“I can’t be happy until I feel happy”), but research shows the two are actually interconnected so either one can generate the other. Experiment with this by waking up determined to smile as much as you can for one entire day. Smile at the guy you buy coffee from, smile at the doorman at your office, smile at all your colleagues — smile all day long and monitor the effects.

2. Do something nice for your coworkers.

Bring coffee for everyone in the morning, bake cookies for the break room, or offer to help someone who’s totally overwhelmed. Investing in your relationships at work can do wonders.

3. Set up a checkpoint with your boss.

Ask for a new challenge, tweak your current role, arrange to volunteer in another area of the company, or adjust your work-life balance. Bring forth one or two changes that are absolutely critical for your happiness and useful for the company.

Related: 100,000 Subscribers or Bust: What It Takes to Be a YouTube Star

4. Be an intrapreneur.

If you’re unhappy at work, start a small initiative to change what’s making you unhappy. For example, I once started a mentorship program at IBM that addressed a gap I saw in community development and skill-sharing. It made me feel more connected to my workplace.

5. Find an outlet for your other interests.

Identify what you’d rather be doing than be at work and find a way to incorporate that interest into your work and into your spare time.

Don’t overlook your overall attitude as well. Sometimes, you’ll find work is just a scapegoat for a larger problem in your personal life. If you’re feeling intellectually stifled, make it a priority to read an hour before bed or watch documentaries instead of TV. If you’re feeling sluggish, make it a priority to focus on your diet and exercise.

After all, it’s all about the little things.