On the Clock

Four Ways to Recognize If You Actually Hate Your Job

We all say it, sometimes. A litmus test for if you really are unhappy at work.

Julie Erickson, a career coach in New Jersey, has been seeing a common characteristic among her clients these days: Many lack purpose. They aren’t only tired of their current jobs, but they’ve come to believe their chosen careers “don’t matter,” Erickson says. They dream of jumping ship, complete with a Jerry McGuire-like exit, and entering a new sector or field. Or at least somewhere with better coffee.

What’s happened? Chances are, they’ve hit the breaking point. And they aren’t alone. According to a Gallup poll, only 33% of American employees are actively engaged at work. And while only 16% of employees have become actively disengaged—essentially the people who do the bare minimum to eke by—that leaves about half of the workforce simply disinterested in their day-to-day tasks, putting them at risk of becoming embittered on the job.

Only 33% of American employees are actively engaged at work.

“The classic sign that you have other interests and may be pulling back from your job, is less engagement,” says Lynn Taylor, a workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant.

With such dour stats in mind, here’s a primer on how to recognize the early signs of disengagement, so you can start looking for the next gig before hatred sets in.

You start to avoid meetings.

There are meetings we all have to attend, meetings we should attend, and meetings we should skip. As a middle manager or rising star, you likely find yourself attending a lot of the ones that land in the “should attend” bucket. But if you suddenly find yourself clicking the decline button more often on meeting invites—particularly if you haven’t even taken a second to see what the meeting is about—it’s time to ask yourself why. If fewer meetings results in fewer projects, fewer emails, and fewer responsibilities, it could be your unconscious trying to plan an escape route.

Your day-to-day becomes too predictable.

Office life will have some predictability, of course, but if every day starts to mirror the last, it’s likely a sign that you’ve outgrown your current position. “When you know what to expect every day, unless you’re a person who really thrives on routine, that’s not a good sign,” Erickson says. “You’ll get a little bored.” Indeed, recently a group of researchers evaluating Facebook’s managers and retention rate discovered that people who stayed found the work more enjoyable —and at a 30% higher rate than employees who resigned. The engaged Facebook employees also used their skills 33% more often during the day. Being challenged and stretching your abilities encourages longer tenure.

Your manager doesn’t listen to you.

By the time you’ve worked in a position for an extended period of time and gotten the hang of the place, you’ll likely have opinions about how to improve workflow, morale, or even communications with staff. If you’ve gone to your boss with these suggestions and continue to offer new solutions, yet find you’re constantly ignored or placated, then you’ll likely start to feel bitter. “If you’re not able to negotiate with your bosses and help them understand how you do your best work, it’s time to go,” Erickson says.

You daydream about the future.

We all fantasize about that month-long European getaway or beach vacation, but if you find yourself spending more time fawning over a future that you think you should have instead of your day-to-day tasks, then it’s likely a sign you’ve become disengaged with your duties. This is especially true if you begin to question why you even work in the field that you do. “You’re really having a ‘why are you here’ moment,” Taylor says. In these cases, it’s best to sit back and determine if these feelings would still remain even if you received new responsibilities or a change in duties. If they would, then there’s no shame in planning an exit strategy—particularly before disinterest morphs into disgust.

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