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How to be happy at work when you hate your job

It’s tempting to do the bare minimum when your job doesn’t feel fulfilling. But you’ll reap a lot of benefits when you see your situation as an opportunity to improve.

How to be happy at work when you hate your job
[Photo: Hutomo Abrianto/Unsplash]

You’re currently in a job you don’t like, but you need to perform brilliantly to be noticed and move on to the next opportunity. It’s a bit of a catch-22. In some ways, this is precisely the time for you to be a model employee, so you can leverage your achievements to transfer into a more exciting role, whether it be in your company or elsewhere. But how should you go about making that happen when your job fails to ignite your passion?

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Here are suggestions for how to perform brilliantly even if your work isn’t terribly motivating:

1. Go above and beyond

It may seem counterintuitive to overdeliver. In fact, if you’re doing work that isn’t very stimulating, you might be tempted to do as little as possible—the minimum to get by and head home. I get it, every single task feels like drudgery, and it takes every ounce of your energy to muster just a little bit of motivation.

But managers want to see you’ve conquered your current work before they’ll give you more (interesting) responsibilities. So rather than doing the minimum,  you need to go above and beyond to get attention for your great labor. Just think about your current role as a stepping-stone to your next career journey. It might not be the most exciting part, but something that you need to complete before you can be where you want to be professionally.

2. Solve problems others don’t see

While you’re toiling away at a tedious job, you may discover issues others are too busy to see. Maybe you noticed how outdated the database-management system is, and you know there is software out there that will make things much easier for everyone. Or perhaps you know a more efficient way to complete that project your boss has been stressing about for months.

If this is the case, identify the problems so others can understand them as well. Your perspective will be helpful if you’re pointing out things in a constructive way and demonstrating your keen skills of observation and discernment about your workplace.

3. Volunteer to take on extra responsibility

One of the best ways to show that you’re ready for mores significant responsibilities is to show that you’ve already excelled at the task. That’s why it’s a smart idea to finish your own work and look for opportunities where you can volunteer to help. It might be a new project with an understaffed team or an initiative that would let you develop a skill set you want to hone. People will respect and appreciate your effort, and you’ll also have tangible results to refer to when you advocate for more responsibilities.

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Rachel Bitte, the chief people officer at Jobvite, previously told  Fast Company that one beauty of having a crappy job is that you have nothing to lose. “You can take a risk. Look for projects that are really meaty that some people might shy away from.”

4. Mentor others

If your job is boring, it may be because you know it too well. So challenge yourself to put this know-how into practice by offering to train others or mentor them. From educating them on nuances of the job to mentoring them about the social norms of the company, this kind of effort can make a significant contribution and get you noticed for the next opportunity. Teaching others might also spark some inspiration because it can remind you of what you enjoyed about your job in the first place.

5. Be a team player

If you’re frustrated with your job, resist letting that seep into your interactions with others. You don’t want to bring others down, and you definitely don’t want to start a negative cycle of wallowing in a crappy job with others who are also suffering. Be a team player, bring your best attitude, and boost others who are toiling around you. Your energy and outlook will be so much better as a result.

6. Don’t give up

Just because today’s job is a slog, keep the long term in mind and stay persistent. Time may be crawling by in a job you don’t love, but focused effort and great work over time will get you noticed. It’s just a matter of patience, persistence—and time.

Invest and do your best. Bring your brilliance, and you’ll be out of that less-than-ideal job in no time. Once you move on to the next thing, be sure to encourage others coming up behind you. We all have ups and downs in our careers, and persisting through the downs will make the ups all the more worth it.


Tracy Brower, PhD, MM, MCRw, is a sociologist focused on work, workers, and workplace, working for Steelcase. She is the author of Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work: A Guide for Leaders and Organizations.

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