When You Can’t Quit: Making the Best of a Difficult Situation at Work

By Jennifer Keene

“I’ve found another position, and will be leaving at the end of the month.”

Do you dream of saying that to your boss, but can’t?

Life makes us put major changes on hold sometimes.  For one reason or another, you may have to stay on the fence between a job you hate, and finding something new.

While you’re biding your time, waiting for the opportunity to escape from the soul crushing grind, you could just drift through your days, putting in the bare minimum. Or instead, you could make a conscious decision to do something for yourself, and get whatever good you can out of your current position.

What Works

In the book What Works for Women at Work, the authors offer three tips for making the best of a difficult situation.  Here are their tips, and what happened when I put them into practice myself.

1.  Make a decision to get something out of it

Can you take on new responsibilities that will gain you additional skills and experience?  Are there any training opportunities you could request?

Any way you can build skills, do it.  If you hate the idea of doing anything to benefit your current employer, remember you’re not doing it for them.  You’re doing it for yourself.  Take those new abilities, and put them right on your resume.

You’re making yourself more valuable to future employers if you continue to grow, rather than stagnate.

Here’s what happened when I tried it:

I was feeling stuck in my job.  The person above me didn’t seem like he would ever retire and get out of my way.  I was bored and under utilized.

So, I made a training plan, and started taking some classes.  Some were paid for by the project, others I invested in myself.  I earned a couple certifications, that went straight onto my LinkedIn profile.

When that guy ahead of me finally did retire, there was never any question of hiring someone else.  I was already the most qualified person for the job, and knew the project better than any outside person could.  My effort, and patience, finally paid off.

Especially when I was able to then leverage another job offer (based on those certifications) into a raise.  And those skills still look great on my resume, making me more valuable, and giving me more options if I do decide to go somewhere else.

2.  Look around for ways you can make changes or improvements

When you’re trapped in a job you hate, you mostly just feel worn down and defeated.  You feel like nothing will ever change, so why even try?

But find something that bothers you, and see what you can do to change it.  Find an ally and share your ideas.  Don’t just vent your frustrations.  Talk about change, and how to make it happen.

Here’s what happened when I tried it:

One of my biggest frustrations at work was the lack of pathway for sharing new ideas.  So, I just started sharing my ideas with whomever seemed most appropriate.

I talked with the finance person about how the purchase reconciling process could be streamlined.  I suggested to the HR manager that employee development could be improved in these specific ways.

Now, I’m the chair of an employee-led Workplace Culture committee.  We’re helping others to get their ideas and concerns heard.  That’s pretty great.

3.  Don’t sacrifice yourself

The “company” will take whatever you give.  And take, and take, and take.  You have to do what’s best for you.

Make sure you’re not putting in unpaid hours, or being asked to perform duties beyond your pay grade without being compensated.  And make sure you take care of yourself, because no one else will.

Here’s what happened when I tried it:

Every morning at 5:30am, I used to curse at my alarm clock, but I had to get to work before the rush hour traffic got too bad.  Working through lunch breaks, staying late to finish projects, and responding to e-mails from home were standard.

At the end of every day, I didn’t have energy left to do the things I actually wanted to do.  Wonder why I was always cranky?

So, I stopped doing that.  All of it.

Projects still get done, just on the following day.  E-mails still get responses, but only during work hours.  (No one even notices the difference, proving that messages at 9:00pm definitely aren’t necessary.)

Fortunate to have a flexible schedule, I even changed my hours.  Now I leave for work after rush hour has died down.  Though I have to stay later in the evenings, I use my productive morning hours to do the things that are important to me.  My best energy now goes into my goals, not someone else’s.

I’m working for myself first, and it’s amazing.

Make the Best of Things

If you’re stuck on the fence in a job you don’t love, don’t just sit there being uncomfortable.  Make the decision to make the most of where you are right now.

Get something good out of your situation.  Make improvements where you can.  Take care of yourself.

When you’re finally ready to make that next life change, you will already be three steps ahead.

About

Jennifer Keene has a day job, in which she is often on the fence between scrambling to get ahead and just muddling through.  She tries to make the best of it.

When she’s working for herself, she’s sharing unique insights for managing time and money, and balancing work and home on her lifestyle website www.HomeDeconomics.com.

As we head back to school, and summer feels like it’s coming to an end, perhaps a shift in mindset if you are feeling stuck. What do you think?

1 Comment
  1. Great points. One of the biggest signs of someone committed to their career is having the willingness to do what it takes to get where they want. Sometimes that means being in a work situation that you don’t love, but making the most of it and gaining the most experience you can. If you talk to many successful people, it’s likely they will have had an experience such as this.

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