How to Handle a Job You (Think You) Hate
There are many posts out there about the Great Resignation, Extinction Alerts, and even articles I’ve written myself about the challenges in local newsrooms and how to possibly deal with them.
This is not another article about that.
This is an article about YOU – the person who says “I just can’t do it anymore!”, or “I’m so burned out I can’t even stomach going to work today!”.
Maybe you are “trapped” in a contract. Maybe you are the breadwinner for your family and can’t just up and leave. Maybe you are only waiting for the next job up the market ladder that will make it all “better”.
Yes, this is for you. This is how to get through this time, whether it’s rock bottom, mid-whatever crisis, or just a series of unfortunate events.
GO BACK TO YOUR JOB ANNOUNCEMENT
Scroll back through your social media and look at the day you took that job or the first day you started – however you celebrated that job. Channel the energy you posted on that day. What was your mindset? How has it changed? What did you LOVE about the opportunity at this job? Remember at one point where you are was exactly where you wanted to be. Bring that energy to work with you today, no matter what the reality is. That mindset is going to help make you and the workplace better.
MAKE A PRO & CON LIST
It’s easy to see all the bad things we deal with in the workplace. Everyone is talking about them around us, so it’s what I call “emotional shrapnel”. It hits you even on a good day! But it can’t ALL be bad, right?
I love lists. They help me take emotion out of my decisions. They force me to see good and bad. They help me see where I can control some stuff that I consider “out of my control” for a hot second. It might look something like *this.
*Completely made up a scenario in my head
|JOBS PROS||JOB CONS|
|Love my co-workers||Don’t like the mean anchor|
|I get to be a journalist, my dream!||I am overworked|
|I’m building a career, not just doing a job||I am stressed out all the time|
|I can fill in on a variety of jobs||I get called in all the time on off days|
|I figured out how to budget my own money||I don’t make enough of it to cover bills|
|I got to do an investigative piece!||I don’t have time to do these more often|
|I love feedback and am open to criticism||All I get is criticism|
|My boss has a lot of experience and could help me||He/She never talks to me unless I did something wrong|
|I know everyone in the county & city by name and have a stack of sources||I’ve outgrown this place|
I tried to build this list to demonstrate for each PRO there is a CON. You can’t have a top without a bottom or a box with just two sides. There is good and not-so-good in everything we do.
Now, break down those things into what you can control.
- The Mean Anchor: Can I take time to get to know this person? Maybe they are misunderstood? For all you know this anchor will be here for life, and is frustrated by the “drive-through” lane of people who come for two years and bolt. They might feel stressed too. You can control how you make an effort to repair this relationship.
- Overworked: What does that mean? REALLY get to the nitty-gritty of WHY you are overworked. Make a list of all you do in a day. Where are you losing time? Where are people distracting you from focusing? You can at least define this if not help control it with specific details to take to a boss and talk about it.
- Stressed: You can control how you handle stress. The hard part of being in news is we LOVE the rush. Thrive in it. When it’s “fun” for us. When it’s not fun, we get stressed. You have free options and company-sponsored initiatives to help manage stress. You just need to reach out for help.
- Free Time Interference: Make a list of the past 3 months and days you’ve been called in on an off day (even attempts to call you) and take that to your manager. A real live “Here at 10 times in three months you’ve attempted to move around my off days. I’m trying to set boundaries while still being a valuable part of this team. How can we fix this?”. That’s much stronger than a “YOU ALWAYS CALL ME IN CALL SOMEONE ELSE!” text in frustration. It’s also practical and not emotional.
- Money: In the early years of news, we DO have to cut back on spending. That’s not to say you should work for pennies but are you REALLY working to find places to cut back? For example, I started buying workout clothes at Goodwill. I was just going to be sweating in them, so a $2 tank top was better than a $10 one at Old Navy. I stopped drinking soda (good for my health) and did Mio water supplements. Tasted good and saved money. You DO need to check out your monthly bill balance against take-home pay BEFORE you accept a job. Here’s a website I use to do that. Don’t let the “Yippy Skippy I got a new job” blind you to reality. When I went from $8 hr to $26k a year, I thought I was RICH. I bought Ann Taylor suits and everything. Then I realized I had $200 after rent and a growing credit card debt.
- More About Money: I saw this over the weekend and thought it was interesting. It comes from Ginger Zee and her “Sisterhood of Traveling Blue Pants”. Can you share clothes with other co-workers to expand their lifespan and save money? 2-3 closets are better than one!
Another way to extend the life of a quality item… share. So grateful for the sisterhood of the traveling blue pleather pants… @janai & @sramosABC – many thanks for helping tell the story of sustainable fashion and normalizing reuse.
So you see in each bullet point how I’m taking the “CON” and asking “What can I do about this?”.
TIME TO TALK TO THE BOSS
At some point, you are going to need to talk to the boss about your challenges. I touched on this earlier, but come prepared with stats and facts. We’re journalists, we like that.
WHAT NOT TO SAY
“Hello. I’m totally stressed out and you pay me crap. I can’t live like this. You added three new duties with your strategic plan yet haven’t hired the open reporter positions and I’m tired of doing other people’s work. I’m burned out and thinking of breaking my contract. Sue me. I don’t care.”
WHAT TO SAY
“Hello. I want you to know I appreciate your time. I have some real concerns I’d like to discuss with you. Can I close the door? I’d like your full attention and if this isn’t a good time then when can I get 30 minutes of your time undistracted?”
“Ok. I am feeling very stressed out. Here are my top concerns. Your new strategic plan makes sense, but I wanted to point out it added these three duties to my job, without any other duties going away. Is there a way to balance this out?”
“I am also concerned about the pay rate. I thought I could handle it but I can’t with my new car payment added in. Is there a chance for a raise? When would that happen?”
“I am feeling very stressed and burned out. I feel like I go above and beyond and it’s taking a toll on my mental health. What resources are available to help me balance this? I’m not talking about the day-to-day regular stress. Me filling in for three open reporter positions is really taking a toll. What is the hiring status? I’m in several social media groups, can I share the job there? How about a small bonus if you hire someone I find?”
“I’ve tried to make this work and I’m not really cut out for this job. Do you agree or am I missing something you see in me that I don’t? If I needed to break my contract, what does that look like? I want to honor my commitment to you and don’t want to burn a bridge, but I also need to take care of my own health.”
Those comments above make for a better discussion than a dump of emotions that puts both people on the defensive. Instead of saying, “None of our equipment works” (which clearly isn’t true if you are going on the air each day) say WHICH equipment is troublesome. Bring pictures or take the boss to the camera room to show them.
THE POWER OF SUGGESTION
You also need to look at the people around you. Yes, you love them like family, but are they bringing you down? Is there constant complaining? Can a good day be ruined by someone shouting “THIS DAMN TRIPOD IS STILL BROKEN!”.
We are surrounded right now by discussions of burnout and mental health challenges in our business. It’s easy to jump on board the negative train. Be the person who builds others up and offers help.
I once sat next to a very talented producer who just complained all. day. long. Everything sucked. Every story was stupid. Every time the computer system froze up it started a diatribe about how the company doesn’t care about equipment. Given that the system never froze up on me, I finally said, “Well what does management say when you tell them about your computer?”, I asked. She hadn’t told anyone. She just bitched to me about it. I was unwillingly giving her an audience just by listening. It also gave me anxiety that at any point my computer could freeze up. I went to management. She had a virus on her computer. Problem fixed.
Be honest in what stress is really yours to own and what others are bringing to the table.
GET YOUR GAME FACE ON
Each day you walk into an environment, you are in control of how to handle it. Get ready.
“I am not going to complain today. I am a talented journalist and I’m trained to deal with the unexpected.”
“This job is not my forever job, but how I handle it will impact me forever. Let’s show them they can’t break me.”
“I’m going to go in today and re-pitch that story they keep ignoring. When they ignore it again, I’m going to speak up and ask why this story, which hits the target audience, isn’t worth doing.”
“I’m going to take a lunch break today. I deserve it. I will not let workload bring me down. If I miss a task in my day, then so be it. I want to end the day knowing I took care of the job and myself.”
“You is Kind, You is Smart, You is Important.” – Aibileen in The Help
You want your favorite singer or sports star to prep for the big game – you should too.
HAVE A PLAN
Make sure you know what your exit strategy is, whatever that looks like. People might dream of quitting in a blaze of glory, but the reality is you have rent and payments due.
If you are going to break a contract, be prepared to pay ALL of the costs to do so, even if they relent in the end. Just because so-and-so “got out of THEIR contract” doesn’t mean you will. It doesn’t mean they were honest about “just walking away” either.
If you are going to ride out the contract, don’t “mail it in”. Show up each day like it’s Day 1 (go back to that social media post you put up!)
If you are just going to quit, take the time to save up money so you aren’t so desperate you just take any job that comes. I promise you, the stress of looking for a job is comparable to the worst day you have now. Staring at a dwindling savings account while getting ghosted by employer after employer causes more anxiety than you can imagine.
Even if you are getting out of the industry, you are still leaving an impact on a hiring manager. People know people. Three degrees of separation. You might be willing to torch a bridge, but I promise you that bridge could be your savior in a decade.
OWN YOUR ROLE IN ALL OF THIS
Be true to yourself in that you honor your mistakes. You took a job without thinking it through. You thought you could handle overnights. You love working weekends but you didn’t ask about how often your days off would change. Maybe you moved to Tornado Alley and you are terrified of storms. Whatever it is, nothing is done to you that you didn’t agree to when you take a job, even if that comes in the form of a question you didn’t ask.
LEARN FROM IT. Learn what your deal breakers are and where you can calm down a little bit. Acknowledge your triggers and how YOU react to them (we all have triggers).
You can spend your days blaming other people and a system that IS fundamentally broken in some important ways. You can’t fix that. Yep, as soon as you leave they’ll post your job and move on. Sometimes it takes just days to fill the position you felt you were so irreplaceable in. You can’t worry about that. You can only worry about YOU.
For example, I hate the dentist. I’ve had several bad experiences with dentists. It took a shift in life to get me to not hate the dentist. I had just lost my mom and was riddled with grief. I went to the dentist a few weeks later. The office lady said, “You need the Nitrus, right?”. I didn’t need it anymore. I felt a grief so intense that no drilling was going to impact me. It helped me see it differently. Now, I have SOME anxiety at the dentist, but instead of thinking these are people who get pleasure out of hurting me and watching me squirm, I realize they are people dedicated to doing their jobs and know the bulk of their patients are scared of them. I know I’m going to be numb, and explain I burn the numbing stuff off quickly due to anxiety so “Load me up!”. I can address my fear head-on and the experience isn’t that bad.
Can you address your stress and anxiety at work head-on? Can you see that your manager doesn’t wake up to make your life miserable, they are there to help you grow and prosper? Managers get nothing from people who are scared of them. Managers want to understand your challenges, but if you aren’t speaking up, how can we help? Are YOU holding back for the sake of having a reason to be unhappy today?
Ask yourself, is this a bad job? Or just a bad moment in time? Is this too much for me? Or can I help fix the problem? Am I really unhappy? Or do I just like being unhappy?
It’s an ugly place to go to when we self-evaluate, but it’s beneficial to everyone around us in our professional and personal lives to do so.
I’M JUST DONE, JENNIFER
Ok. Then be done. I’m just trying to pave a positive path. I know the feeling of “I just can’t do this anymore.” I don’t begrudge anyone that. I once had a work situation so mentally abusive I actually thought about checking myself into one of those “Girl, Interrupted” places.
But then it hit me. I control this. Not them. Or Them. Or Them.
Just realize the consequences of your actions. Be ready to deal with them. Realize if you’ve been suffering from any form of mental distress, a new job won’t fix it. You need to fix yourself. You need time to heal.
I once left a job at the end of my contract, fed up with “stuff”. I went to another place and I was going to “show them” how much better I was. That new place was not the solution. It had more issues I hadn’t dreamed of in my young management career. I DREAMED of returning to the “problems” of the old workplace. They seemed so silly now.
Give yourself the gift of perspective. It will reward you time and time again.
Leaving this business might be the break you *think you want, but every workplace and industry has its own share of problems and successes. There isn’t a perfect workplace. If there is, please send them my resume.