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What to do once you realize your new job sucks

Here’s an action plan depending on whether the “get me out of here” feeling hits you five days, five weeks, or five months after starting.

What to do once you realize your new job sucks
[Photo: Deagreez/iStock]

You probably took your new job with high hopes, wanting it to be someplace where you’d learn, thrive, and make a contribution. But it hasn’t turned out that way.

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Sometimes it hits you pretty much right away. Other times, the realization dawns on you slowly, or even after a few months that seem pretty promising before things take a major downturn. Here’s what you should do, depending on when you make that disappointing discovery.

After five days

The sinking feeling that taking the job was a huge mistake can sometimes arrive within your first week. At around the five-day mark, you’re likely suffering the letdown from the “grass is greener” effect. When preparing to move from one job to another, it’s easy to fixate on all the ways your new gig will be better than the old one and discount the good things about the place you’re leaving behind. As soon as you move, you’re no longer living in a comparative world, and so you start to notice the drawbacks to the new job much more readily.

The most important thing you can do when this happens is to focus on the positives of the new role. Yes, sometimes this takes a real conscious effort. But since our attitudes and mood affect what we notice about the world, the downsides will only loom larger in your mind the more you zero in on them. And what you need most right now is some healthy perspective and a little patience. So find the benefits of the new role and put your energy into those. You may find that your first-week reservations were just a blip, or you might decide that they signaled deeper problems. Either way, you’ll be able to move ahead with a rational game plan–even if it includes plotting a speedy exit–instead of panicking.

After five weeks

If you’ve been at your new job over a month and it’s not what you hoped for, there are couple of things you can do. First, try to identify the source of your frustration as specifically as you can. Think diagnostically, not emotionally: Are you not getting the amount of responsibility you’d anticipated? Are you unable to find colleagues you like? Are you concerned about the way the organization runs?

This can be harder than it sounds. Then, once you have a sense of why you’re unhappy, try to brainstorm some solutions that could make the situation better. For example, if you’re not doing the kind of work you expected to, start by figuring out whether there are additional skills you need to acquire before those tasks can get handed to you. People often underestimate how difficult it will be to take on new responsibilities, and it’s possible your manager doesn’t think you’re ready quite yet since you’re still pretty new.

If you don’t particularly like your colleagues, try grabbing coffee with a few people and initiating conversation. When you move to a new job, you have to insert yourself into an existing social network. That can be difficult. Taking the initiative to meet new people can help you connect with your new colleagues.

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The point here is to identify some concrete steps you can personally take to improve your experience, which (at a minimum) can help you feel more in control of the situation. Of course, if you have concerns about things out of your control, like the way the organization functions or its mission, then there’s less you can do immediately. In the meantime, though, try to keep an open mind. A month isn’t that much time to learn about the way things work. Just because an organization functions differently than you’re used to doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad or wrong. Still, your gut instincts might be telling you something, so pay attention.

After five months

Once you’ve been at your new job for several months, you should feel pretty comfortable with the work you’re doing. If you still hate your job, then it’s time for a frank discussion with your supervisor.

As with the advice at five weeks, you need to do some work to identify exactly what bothers you. Then set up a time to sit down with your boss. Focus your conversation on specifics. Talk about your goals for the work you’re doing now and what you’d like to be doing in the future. Discuss your concerns and how they relate to those goals. By framing the conversation in this way, you’re giving your supervisor a chance to do some problem solving with you. You can learn a lot about your boss and the organization from the way this conversation goes.

If you pursue this strategy, though, don’t prejudge the outcome. Your boss might make some concrete suggestions that might not be fun to implement. You went and asked for advice, so you should take that advice and do what’s suggested–and then see how it turns out. You might find that your boss has some great ideas about how to take what feels to you like a bad situation and make it better.

In the worst-case scenario, you do your best to express your concerns and try to make the new job work out. If things don’t improve over the next several months, then it might be time to move on. At least you can fire up a new job search knowing that you did everything you could to succeed.

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