How to get the best out of a job you don’t like and can’t quit

“I wish we lived in a society where there were better ways to take care of our workers to help them find ways to make their work fun or to have more options to move jobs if they don’t find it enjoyable,” says Mollie West Duffy, an American expert in organizational development and leadership.

West Duffy acknowledges the weight of capitalism in the burnout many workers are experiencing.

The call burnout it is one among many reasons why we can reach the point of not enjoying our jobs, but making the decision to quit is not an option for many.

However, there are strategies to try to get the best out of a job that we don’t like and grow in that process.

West Duffy, who has advised leaders of companies such as Google and LinkedIn, co-wrote with Liz Fosslien the best-selling Wall Street Journal: No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work (The Spanish edition is expected in June: No problem. How to manage emotions at work) and Big Feelings. How to be okay when things are not okay.

Another researcher on this topic is Ana Sanz Vergel, professor of Occupational Psychology at the Norwich Business School and the University of East Anglia (England).

“Right now that’s a hot topic, is a reality“, tells BBC World.

These are the fascinating strategies they propose:

Stop and think: what is the reason for discontent?

job crafting It is not a new concept, it has been attracting researchers from different countries for some years and for the two experts it is key.

Is about model our work to make it more meaningful, to “make small changes on a day-to-day basis,” says Sanz.

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Try to model your work as much as possible.

But before that, it is important to stop and reflect on the situation in which we find ourselves.

West Duffy recognizes that it can be really overwhelming to feel like we don’t like our jobs. Therefore, she believes that it is essential to try to specify what is the main reason that has made us lose motivation.

Evaluate deitherwhere the mismatch occurs. Why are they not happy in that job? Doesn’t it suit your interests?” indicates Sanz.

“Is it because there is an excess of work and you don’t have any resources to address it? For example, there is no support from the supervisor.”

“Or if, on the contrary, it is a very boring job in which there is no opportunity for development, there is no variety in the tasks or perhaps it is felt that it lacks meaning for society.”

Once you know where the imbalance is, you point to proactivity.

The example of window cleaners

“I always tell students that instead of thinking that life is something that happens to us, as passive subjects, life is also what we make happen to us, as proactive subjects,” says Sanz.

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“You have to abandon that idea that work comes to you as something given and designed, try to redesign it too“, even in jobs that can be routine.

And he tells me about a group of window cleaners at Hershey Children’s Hospital in Pennsylvania, in the United States, where several patients suffer from cancer.

“How can we make our work more meaningful and more fun at the same time?” they asked.

And they decided to dress up as superheroes. Batman, Superman, Spider-Man and Captain America were seen through the windows.

That day, several nurses and medical center staff also wore something related to superheroes.

the children were happy“, evokes the teacher. And so you can see in this video of the hospital:

“As a result of that, other hospitals began to do the same and in an interview with those employees they said that this small gesture had, on the one hand, made them have fun, something we call playful work design: try to make your work more funSanz points out.

“And on the other, it changed the relationship they had with the client, the hospital, the patients. A closer relationship was created.”

According to the expert, they themselves reassessed their work: “they were no longer just window cleaners and nobody cares about that, but they felt they had a lot of value for those children in the hospital.”

This example encompasses several types of job crafting:

  • How do you approach the task at hand?
  • Cognitively reassess the meaning of your work
  • You cause a change in interpersonal relationships with your environment

Reconnect with purpose

According to West Duffy, in the process of job crafting It is important to keep in mind the reasons and motivations for which we are going to work, since that allows us to get in tune with them.

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“For example, if the answer is: to support my family, when I go through the daily emotions that this job generates in me, it will help me to remember it.”

He says that in his first book he included the example of a New York subway worker for whom the purpose of her job is to take care of passengers.

“And so, even when there are a lot of really difficult aspects of your job, some boring parts or days you’d rather not go, had an overall purpose“.

When there are train delays or something unexpected happens in the system, she takes the microphone and explains to the passengers what is happening.

“On one occasion, when a train was stopped between two stations for several hours, he went through all the cars and made sure the passengers knew they were safe.”

In another example cited by the expert, baristas may have a repetitive job, but many of them make art with the coffees they prepare and improve the morning for your customers every day. “That’s helpful to remember.”

Do not see it as a parenthesis of your life

Waiting to get the job of your life, you may feel that your current job is a kind of parenthesis in your career, a pothole, but don’t see it like that.

As far away as it may be from your dream job, in the complex work dynamics everything contributes in terms of experience and knowledge.

“Every day in a job, even if we don’t like it, counts. Every day is a piece of lego that builds a constructionSanz points out.

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“What you do right now is building on that job and the future job.”

For the teacher, small behaviors are key to getting the best out of the job we have.

and one of them is step forward and speak:

“Identify your strengths and try to be proactive in telling your manager if you can make more use of them in your work, if they can give you a task that fits them more.”

Do not be shy and say: ‘I’m good at this, keep me in mind for this’”.

“You have the idea that the organization has to offer and that’s true, but you also have responsibility in your career and in what you want to build for the future.”

For people who have been in a job a long time, it may be time to think about becoming a mentor or design a training course for other colleagues.

That can help generate what West Duffy calls “human connection”, which is also key to our motivation.

Find what motivates you

For Sanz, it is also important to “identify the limitations and be proactive enough to request that training that we need to improve some skills.”

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That is known as “increase structural resources and it is a way of doing job crafting“.

It’s about training you, learning new things that will not only help you do your job, but also have the potential to open new doors for you within the organization.

Sometimes, says West Duffy, we may feel like we have nothing new to learn in that role, and that affects motivation.

“For people who do repetitive work that can be a problem.”

“But it is worth asking: how can i add some learning? You could, for example, think about a manager position or ask someone from another area to do an exchange of skills that allows them to train each other”.

“I think that as adults we forget that we need to be learning to motivate ourselves, something that children do all the time.”

Ask for feebdback

In this process of being encouraged to speak, it is important to ask feedback supervisor and colleagues.

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Many times the problem is that we do not know if we are doing the job well or how you are perceived by others.

“That makes people feel very insecure at work,” explains Sanz.

It is also essential to ask for help, something that “many times is not done out of fear”.

“The organization also has a responsibility to create a work environment in which you feel that you can ask for support.”

Talking with bosses and colleagues can lead us to discover aspects that can make day-to-day life more bearable.

“For example, alternate the tasks that are very complex with the simpler ones and if the tasks are too simple and bore us, try to start a new project that is a challenge.”

For those who are overworked, it is essential to focus on how to reduce that overhead and restructure it into mini-tasks, for example.

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According to West Duffy, for some people, feeling that they have no independence at work affects their motivation.

“There are jobs in which it is impossible to achieve the autonomy that you would like, to have more control over your hours or what you do every day.”

However, in others it is possible and exploring it can make a big difference.

For example, you could ask your manager measure outcomes rather than processes.

“If you can create your own processes, you will be more motivated instead of being micromanaged. As soon as the results are obtained, a manager could accept it”.

Sometimes it’s not the job, but a person

After making the initial reflection proposed by the experts, it can be discovered that the problem is not really the labor demands, but something that has to do with the relationships.

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“It causes me stress when I do group work, they don’t listen to me in meetings, they ignore me. The supervisor always gives me negative feedback,” says Sanz.

situations like that should not be ignored however uncomfortable they may be and much less the negative emotions you are experiencing.

“You have to talk to the person who causes you that stress and do it in an assertive way to find a solution to the problem and thus prevent it from escalating further.”

If this is not possible or does not work, it is important to seek support from another person.

“Sometimes is workplace bullying problemfrom bullyingrather than the work task itself.

“Organizations must offer a support network, for example, through the Human Resources department.”

“In fact, interpersonal problems are the most serious, if they become entrenched that can make the person end up leaving the organization.”

Maybe you can be the promoter of a change

“In American society – it may be different in other countries – we tend to put most of the blame on individuals,” says West Duffy.

“We say: if you are exhausted it’s your faultYou need to do your job better, manage your schedule more efficiently.”

“If you can’t find a way to be a parent and an employee at the same time, it’s your own fault.”


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And many times the dominant message is that as a worker “you must be more resilient.”

“But research shows that, in fact, being resilient is really hard in an environment that centers everything on the individual“.

Therefore, thinking collectively can yield positive results.

“For example, how can we add more breaks to our day or support parents who work or help each other to deal with the changes that are happening?

West Duffy wrote, together with Fosslien, the article Stop Telling Employees to Be Resilientin the magazine MIT Sloan.

The piece, aimed at managers, raises the importance of create systems supportand dialogue so teams can navigate uncertainty and change.

“Leaders need to think about implementing best collective practices,” the author tells me.

“Having said that, if you feel comfortable as a worker to make any suggestions to the team or the manager, that would be beneficial. I think it’s not often that leaders and managers don’t want to help their team with burnout, is that they themselves are also exhausted“.

“They’re so busy that it’s hard for them to step back and say, how can I help my team?”

Sanz believes that it is essential to avoid staying in a toxic work environment.

“Perhaps the person ends up leaving the job because they are getting sick. Health is first“.

“However, there are a lot of things you can try to do before you get to that situation.”

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