Last fall, I accepted what I thought would be a dream job.
I thought I’d have a lot of freedom to build a program from the ground up, influence a growing business in a completely blue-ocean market, and make a big impact. Truly a dream come true…
Until it wasn’t.
There were many reasons why it was a bad fit – but ultimately, it just wasn’t right for me.
I would walk my dog on a nearby nature trail before work and have anxiety attacks on the trail. I’d try to breathe through it and think rational thoughts. But what came to my head was more like, “If I had a heart attack from this, at least I wouldn’t have to go to work today.”
I quit less than 5 months later.
Burnout Is Real
The World Health Organization recognizes burnout as an official diagnosis. It’s defined as chronic stress specifically around work activities.
The three main characteristics, according to the WHO, are:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion.
- Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job.
- reduced professional efficacy.
Burnout accelerates when our jobs don’t meet our expectations and become more stressful than a typical 9 to 5 should be.
When you’re feeling that heightened sense of panic or dread before work, here are some ways to proactively improve your situation – or at least manage until you can move on.
1. Adjust Your Perspective
Sometimes a nightmare job is made worse by your perspective on it.
If you come to every meeting with your manager thinking it’s an attack – it always feels like an attack.
If every time you have a conversation with your coworker, you approach it like she thinks you’re an idiot – it always feels like she thinks you’re an idiot.
When you freak out about everything, then everything always seems like an emergency.
When I was trying to stay at my nightmare job as long as I could, my husband would tell me that, while it sucked, this was the perfect time to finish that major project, publish that article, build that website, etc. so I could say I had the experience under my belt and use it for future clients.
“Every opportunity is exactly that: an opportunity. Even if you find that the grass wasn’t as green or the dream job was actually just a cardboard cutout front for a nightmare, there was at least one lesson learned or an experience you gained,” says Lawson Picasso a Social & Digital Channels Manager at Broadway Bank in San Antonio.
Look inward and see if the narrative you’re telling yourself about your job and your performance are dictating your mindset about work.
When you go into situations that make you feel like your job is a nightmare, reframe them or try to focus on the end goal. Repeat positive mantras. Do calming breathing exercises. Power pose.
You can’t always change your situation, but you can change how you approach it.
2. Keep Your Job-Hate on the DL
If you’ve decided that it’s not you, it’s them, don’t go broadcasting how much you hate your job across social media.
Have a go-to venting buddy or friend group, but try to make sure you’re not making your distaste for the company, your manager, or your job duties a public affair.
According to a survey, 70% of companies research their job candidates’ social media profiles during the hiring process:
“Because we tend to view our personal social media accounts as being ‘personal,’ there’s a good chance that by viewing someone’s profile, you’ll get a glimpse into their personality beyond the resume,” said DeeAnn Sims, founder of SPBX.
Putting your current employer on blast or ranting about why your boss sucks won’t do you any favors in helping you find your next gig.
3. Have the Tough Conversations & Find Solutions Where You Can
Assess why your job isn’t working for you and, where you can, have the tough conversations that may make it more bearable.
One way to ease into this is to ask the person you may be having trouble with, “What is the best way and time for me to offer you feedback?” Ask during a neutral or happy time (or, heck, ask on your first day of any job – you may need it later).
When they say, “I’d prefer you offer feedback to me in a private area first thing in the morning,” or “I’d want you to tell me right before I leave in the afternoon so I can process it away from work,” then make sure you write it down and follow their desires.
Approach all uncomfortable conversations from an “I feel” perspective instead of an accusatory tone and offer a solution.
For example, “When we have team progress meetings, I feel like you talk over me when I present. It feels like I don’t get heard when it’s my turn. Would it make sense for us to connect for 10 minutes before the meeting so I can brief you and you can ask questions ahead of time?”
Ask to circle back to the conversation in a few weeks and maybe even be prepared for counter-feedback. Make sure to thank them for listening to your point of view. If it’s an uncomfortable conversation for you, it probably is for them too.
Caveat: If there is a person causing you strife in your job and he/she flat out abusive, do not subject yourself to a conversation. Do your best to protect your mental health and avoid any unnecessary contact with that person, if you can. If it’s possible, go above that person to his/her superior to discuss your concerns.
4. Keep Doing Your Best Work
Or the best work you can under the circumstances. When you hate your job, it’s easy to want to just give up completely. But don’t let your attitude be, “Who cares? I hate this job anyway.”
Keep showing up on time, working your full shift, participating, and helping others.
“Be ethical: you owe your company the minimum you need to earn your salary,” says Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D.
Getting your work done well isn’t just the honest thing to do, but your reputation can follow you to new jobs. Some communities or industries have leaders who all talk to each other, went to the same college, or hang out at the same industry events.
Don’t quit your job before you’ve actually turned in your notice.
5. Find a Way to Celebrate Getting Through Every Day
When you don’t feel like going in or doing the work each day, find ways to reward yourself for muddling through. Here are some ideas:
- Get out of the office and go for a lunch walk every day to breathe some fresh air.
- Get your favorite cup of coffee or scone on the way in so you’re in a good mood when you arrive.
- Listen to a comedy audiobook on your commute home.
- Get a Friday ice cream for making it through the week.
- Toot your own horn on social media. That’s right. Brag to your friends about your accomplishments and watch the likes and positive comments roll in.
- Get a hype-group who will text you stuff like, “You’re a bada**” every time you feel crappy at work.
- Create a pump-up playlist to listen to on your way to work.
- Add tchotchkes to your desk that always make you smile (or feel awesome).
- Compliment your coworkers. Sometimes making someone else smile can make you feel great, too.
- Go to yoga or meditation after work to calm down.
- Try a 30-day challenge to make work more interesting.
- Take breaks every 2-3 hours and play a fun phone game for 5 mins. (My current fave is one called Two Dots.)
When you have something to look forward to or set yourself up for a positive day, work often goes by quicker or doesn’t seem as bad.
6. Start Looking Somewhere Else
Sometimes, though, we get to a point where the nightmare is all-encompassing and the only solution is to get out.
While it may be tempting to just take whatever job comes your way next, be strategic. Think about what you really love and hate about your current job and make sure you’re not jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
If you see a potential dream job, read reviews online. See what other past and current employees say are the best and worst parts of working for that company.
Be wary of company reviews that are all amazing, too. Some things really are too good to be true.
And while those glaringly negative reviews happen every so often for some companies, don’t write each one off as a bad employee. Read what the negative review said and ask yourself if it were 100% true, could you live with it.
If you don’t want to make a big leap, try looking for a new position within the same company:
“If you can find like-minded allies across all levels – you may be in a strong position to move laterally to a different department, try out a new role, or switch up teams,” advises Betsy Appleton, Digital Marketing Director in Louisville.
Whichever you decide – make sure you’re smart about it.
7. Leverage Your External Network
If you do begin looking for jobs externally, leverage your network.
You may think, “Well, I don’t have a network.” But you likely do. Here are some examples:
- Professional groups
- Hobby meetups
- LinkedIn groups
- Twitter chats/friends
- Slack Channels
- Contacts from previous jobs
One way to approach these groups is to ask if they know any companies looking for an XYZ (insert your desired title here). By asking them to leverage their networks, it often puts people off guard and is less assertive than asking someone directly to get you a job at their company.
Plus, people love helping their friends and fellow professionals, especially when they know you’re willing to return the favor one day.
8. Don’t Burn Bridges
When it is finally time to turn in your notice, quit with class.
Sure, we all dream of a dramatic exit, but it’s best practice to give adequate notice, work through your notice period, and be an overall decent human upon your departure.
By going for theatrics over professionalism, you could be burning bridges that you could use later in your career (see “external networks” above).
You never know when you’ll need a reference, want to apply for a different position at your old company, or even just need advice from an old boss.
To Sum Up
Whether your nightmare job is just a bad dream you can wake up from or an ongoing terror, these tips will steer you in the right direction to find the career solution that works best for you.
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