A former boss once sat me down and told me that no one else besides me was going to look out for my career, and those words have stuck with me ever since. The company I was working for at the time had hit a rough period of transition. Morale was at an all-time low, the promise of lay-offs loomed, and a handful of my colleagues had decided to dodge the bullet and proactively quit. Basically, everything sucked, and it didn’t seem like management was doing enough to help us. I felt like I deserved an explanation. Even an apology.
But, as nice as my boss was, he didn’t give me one. In the most diplomatic way possible, he told me that, despite all the talk of community, mentorship and culture, a company’s priority is the bottom line. No matter how much they liked me, my bosses and coworkers weren’t going to take care of me; I had to take care of myself.
Sometimes taking care of yourself means finding a new, better job. But, other times, it means identifying ways to improve the current state of affairs. Here are a few ways to take charge of a less-than-stellar employment situation and make it work for you.
Create a five-year plan
With the right attitude, a bad job is a great source of motivation. Stop thinking about your job as a trap, and start thinking about it as a stepping stone. Create a five-year plan for yourself and figure out how the time you’ll spend in this position fits into the bigger picture. Give yourself a finite time in your current role and outline what you want to accomplish before moving on. You’ll feel busy instead of miserable.
Step up your networking game
How often do you hear dissatisfied employees say they, “hate the job, but like the people,”? If this feels familiar, put in some extra time developing professional relationships with your colleagues. Check in, plan lunches and grab coffee. Resist the urge to spend all your time venting. Instead, discuss industry topics, ask about their career goals and share your own aspirations. Even if your job really is a total waste of time, you’ll leave it with a stronger professional network.
Grow your role
If you’re often bored and don’t have enough to do, talk to your manager about taking on new responsibilities or helping out an overworked department. Adding variety and new challenges may actually change your perspective on your current role. However, it’s important to make sure your primary responsibilities are more than covered before going this route. Nothing’s more annoying to a manager than dealing with an employee who simply no longer wants the job they were hired to do.
Stay engaged outside the office
If you trudge home from work only to fall asleep in front of a screen and wake up at 6 a.m. to do it all over again, any negative feelings about work will quickly become negative feelings about your life. Make sure you’re balancing your time in the office with non-work activities. Schedule dinners and outings with friends and family, even on weeknights, and dedicate time to a hobby or sport. Looking forward to doing things you enjoy will make work woes more palatable.
Give yourself permission to start fresh
When you’re unhappy at work, it’s really easy to fall into a funk. And, the thing about a funk is that sometimes it can prevent you from recognizing positive changes and new opportunities. In other words, your workplace situation may actually be on an upswing, but you’ve become too jaded to see it. Try your best to start every day (or at least every week) with a clean slate. Let go of whatever happened in the past and give every new day the benefit of the doubt. You may be surprised by what you find.
Jenessa Connor is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and young adult author. If you don’t find her in front of her computer, check the local movie theaters and restaurants, Prospect Park or the gym at CrossFit 718.