If you don't love your job, be happy -- you are not alone. If you want to know the most common reasons why people are unhappy at work and what to do about it, read on.

An analysis of 17,140 responses to a survey by Mental Health America conducted between June 2015 and March 2017 identified three main causes of workplace unhappiness.

The survey discovered widespread employee dissatisfaction -- 79 percent of respondents felt that they were not paid what they deserved, 56 percent said that skilled employees were not given recognition; only 36 percent and 34 percent of respondents felt that they could rely on supervisor and colleague support, respectively.

The hard part is that if you are silently stewing in a job you don't love, it's up to you to initiate change. The solution could be finding a new position in your current firm or more radical options -- like finding a new employer or starting your own.

Here are the three most notable reasons people are unhappy at work and what you should do about each one.

1. The company does not reward your strengths

A company's workplace environment -- measures that hold people accountable, social support mechanisms, and systems of reward and recognition -- makes people feel unhappy by signaling that the organization does not value their daily contributions.

If you're experiencing this problem, there are many possible solutions:

  • You could ask your boss whether she could give you more frequent feedback and how you could help make her more successful;
  • You could transfer to a department that does work that you love and that rewards your greatest strengths; or
  • You could look for a position at another company that better fits your strengths.

2. Your boss and/or your colleagues are toxic.

In a large company, odds are good that your boss will change many times. I found it a pleasure to work with some of the ones I had and terrifying to work with others.

When my boss thought the way I did and was teaching me things I wanted to know, I felt great. When another boss gave me objectives and let me do them without interference, I felt OK -- but not very stimulated; and when I had a boss who avoided me and seemed to tell others in my group to do the same, my stress levels rose. 

If your boss is not toxic, your peers might be. In many organizations, there are many people competing for a small number of slots for promotion. That can mean your peers might be pleasant to your face and saying nasty things about you to your boss when you're not around.

There are a few ways to deal with such workplace stress. You could wait out your current boss and hope for a better one the next time, you could try to transfer to a department known for supportive leadership -- but that might not be possible at your company.

Or you could do what I did -- which was to realize that when you are working for someone else, you are always at risk of being in a toxic environment as the players change over time.

And that could lead you to start your own company -- where you'll call the shots and have the power to choose supportive and productive people. Of course, starting your own company yields different stresses that some are better able to cope with than others.

3. You don't feel engaged with your company's mission.

A third reason you might be unhappy is that you lack engagement -- which is the feeling of being committed and involved in your organization's values and goals.

Many of the most successful startup CEOs I've interviewed work hard to insure that the people they hire are engaged. In those companies, you would not even get a job if you were not engaged.

But many other companies lack clearly defined values and their goals are often hard for employees to help achieve. For example, many large companies tell investors about quarterly growth and earnings targets -- but they don't break those goals down to the actions of individual departments.

If you don't feel engaged with your organization's values and goals, you should leave your current employer. The good news is that you might be able to find one that does a much better job of engaging employees.

Ask your friends and colleagues to tell you about companies where they do feel engaged. Scan Glassdoor reviews of the top-rated companies, find the ones that look good, and seek introductions from your network to people who work there. 

Life is too short to stew in your unhappiness -- find work at which you excel, with colleagues you admire, doing work that inspires you.

Published on: Sep 20, 2018
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