Dreading Going to Work Each Day? Here Are 5 Ways to Cope

When I found myself dreading my first “real” job every single day, I felt completely helpless. I’d only been there for about six months and thought I had to stick it out to make it count on my resume. After all, I’d probably eventually get promoted–or switch departments–and things wouldn’t be so bad, right? Wrong. Fast-forward to one year later and, despite all my best efforts to make it work, I was so burnt out that I finally decided to quit. The crazy thing is that while I was busy dreading my job during every waking moment of my life, I was far from being alone. I noticed a similar level of dread in many of my colleagues, friends and acquaintances alike.

To find out why so many people feel unhappy at work, I consulted with professional career coach Aileen Axtmayer. She advises that there are two common themes as to why her clients are unhappy at work. The first reason is that “they’ve hit a point where they feel there isn’t any room left to grow or be challenged in their role. Many people crave advancement, from title and pay to the responsibilities they have, and there’s only so much of this that can happen in one job.”

The second common theme she frequently sees is overall career dissatisfaction. She adds, “This is when there’s a major misalignment between what a job entails and the values, interests, personality, and skills of the employee. This manifests in many ways, but most often these individuals feel burnt out, and consistently have the 'Sunday Scaries', or a sense of dread when it comes to their work.”

The good news is that regardless of your age or current situation, there’s always time to get on the right path. Whether you’ve outgrown certain parts of your role, are looking to make a complete career change, or fall somewhere in between, consider these five action items to improve your day-to-day routine.

1. Speak with your boss

two women having an interview mentatdgt Learning to advocate for yourself is an important part of ‘adulting’. To discover if there’s any potential to realign your responsibilities so you can enjoy work more, consider speaking with your boss. After all, they can’t help improve the situation if they don’t know you’re struggling. It can be anxiety-inducing to speak up for yourself, but speaking your truth will typically pay off in the end. Sometimes the best way to escape a lackluster situation is to lay your intentions and goals right out on the table. 

If you decide to chat with your boss, I recommend keeping the conversation positive and upbeat, yet honest, which is easier said than done when you’re thinking, “If I have to take one more call from another pyscho customer, I’m going to tell them where to shove it.” Obviously you can’t say that out loud (but hey, a girl can dream), but it’s also not ideal to complain about general grievances, like “I’m unhappy” or “I don’t like it here”. A better approach would be to speak with your boss about specific problems and your suggested solutions. For example, something along the lines of, “I’m feeling burnt out by some of the more difficult customer calls. I understand it may be a non-negotiable part of my role, but I would love to balance it out by doing more of X, Y & Z (X, Y & Z should be things you enjoy or want to learn more about that will benefit the company).” 

2. Pitch growth-oriented projects 

a woman in business casual stands in front of a white board, writing with a marker in an office space Christina Morillo | Pexels One of the reasons why I hated my first 9-5 job is because I was stuck doing data entry all day long. Aside from being so bored that I wanted to rip my hair out, I started to panic because I wasn’t learning anything new. How could I ever get out of Data Entry Hell if I wasn’t gaining skills to move on with? After some reflection, I realized a lot of our business partners were reaching out with similar questions about their accounts. I thought we could eliminate some unnecessary back-and-forth communication by creating a help guide resource for our business partners. I went out on a limb and pitched the project to my supervisor in one of our weekly 1:1 meetings. It was successful, and lead to follow up projects and more responsibility. Although the data entry component of my role was still there, I felt more fulfilled working on larger scale projects that positively impacted my team. These projects didn’t magically fix my work woes, but it definitely helped me stick out a tough situation and expand my skillset.

If you’re interested in pitching a project but don’t know where to start, try brainstorming a few challenges that your department is facing and come up with potential solutions. If you can find a way to solve a problem, your coworkers will appreciate it and it’ll be a great asset on your resume. If you’re having trouble with the problem-solving route, I recommend taking some time to reflect on your skillset. If you can think of a project where you can utilize your strongest skills to benefit the company, you’re in a great position to make a killer pitch. Depending on your work environment, your pitch could vary from a formal PowerPoint presentation to a low-key conversation with your boss. If you’re unsure of how to pull a pitch together, try asking your boss or coworkers the best format for your work environment.

3. Look into changing roles within your company 

If your position is the wrong long-term fit but you like your company, think about moving to a different role within your organization. Lots of companies have internal job boards, and internal candidates are typically prioritized in the hiring process. If you see an opening that piques your interest, it’s usually best to give your boss a heads up before you apply. If they find out you applied behind their back, it could create awkward tension, which is seriously unfortunate if you don’t end up switching jobs. After you’ve given your boss notice, reach out to the hiring manager directly and ask them about the opening. You have the opportunity to gain insight before applying and interviewing, which is a huge advantage over the external competition. 

If you don’t find any internal job prospects at first, don’t lose hope. Think about what your dream role would be and which department it would fall under. Then take the time to network with people in that department and express your career interests. Don’t be afraid to humble brag about your skills and throw out any creative ideas you have. You can even go the extra mile, and volunteer to help them with a project (as long as your supervisor doesn’t mind). You’ll set yourself up as a shoo-in for the next opening. 

4. Grow outside of work

people sitting in chairs and taking notes The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash If you’re contemplating leaving your company or making a drastic career change, put some energy into growing outside of work. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the day-to-day of our lives that we don’t think about looking elsewhere for change. Whether you’re looking to build skills, try entrepreneurship or scope out a new field, it can be beneficial to dip your feet in the water before plunging in headfirst. Side hustles and volunteering are excellent ways to try new opportunities without sacrificing the security of your current job. Axtmayer adds, “People can also explore exposure to a new skillset or career through attending lectures, webinars, conferences, or professional development events. A bonus of these is being able to look up the backgrounds of the speakers to see what their career paths have been - this can give people ideas and inspiration for their own development and potential paths as well.”

Another great way to grow is through elective classes or certificate programs. It’s not always necessary to make the time and money commitment that comes with an advanced degree to change your career path. When it comes to certificates and elective classes, Axtmayer says, “They’re great ways to 'test drive' a skill or career path idea before going all in on something new. For example, you may think you’re really interested in graphic design and then take a design course and discover that it’s not at all what you imagined. While you’ve invested some time and money, you haven’t done all of the work of pivoting to a new career or type of role only to not enjoy it!” Certificates and courses can also give your resume a competitive edge when applying to certain roles. “Since many employers search for a particular skill or keyword when screening candidates, you have a greater chance of getting a real pair of eyes on your application when this information is included, Axtmayer says.

If you’re looking to broaden your horizons outside of work, you should also focus on building your network. Most people only network while job searching, but it’s just as important to expand your network while you’re employed. You could meet someone who leads you down the path to your dream job, or talk with someone who saves you from making the worst career mistake of your life. If you’re feeling torn about your next steps, learning about different jobs and career paths is one of the best ways to gather research and make informed decisions. Most cities have networking events that are easily searchable on LinkedIn. Events are great places to start networking so you can have immediate face-to-face time with industry professionals and get the ball rolling.

Related: How to Land an Entry-Level Job When You Think You Might Not Have The Experience 

5. Consider moving on

Unsplash You can put 100 percent into making your job better and still hate it if it’s not aligned with your personality and goals at the end of the day. If there are factors beyond your control, like a toxic work environment or crappy pay, you may want to bite the bullet and leave. It’s one thing to sit at your desk internally screaming, “Try me again Brenda, see what happens when I quit,” but it’s a whole different ball game to actually sit down face-to-face and give your formal notice. There are tons of factors to consider when contemplating quitting, and everyone’s situation is unique. 

Maia, a recent graduate from Wheaton College, found herself loathing her entry level role every single day. She contemplated quitting for a few months. “I finally knew it was time to leave when I realized the money didn’t match the stress,” she says, “and I was being taken advantage of and undervalued.”

Axtmayer sees many people who are on the fence about leaving their jobs. Before taking the jump, she recommends taking a few steps: “First and foremost, I’d make sure that they’ve done the internal work of truly discerning what drives them and makes them feel happy. Getting clarity on their values, interests, personality and preferred skills, and how these align with prospective career options is a critical step–when these are all in alignment, you’re much more likely to have career satisfaction.” She explains that after doing some reflecting and understanding what your “why” is, it’s easier to pin down what specifically isn’t working and the decision to leave becomes clearer.

Axtmayer finds there’s often fear associated with quitting because people are afraid to wind up in an even worse situation. “Doing informational interviews, and asking lots of questions to get a true sense of what an organization is like and what a role entails, can be a game changer. This information can allay those fears and help people make an informed decision about what to do next,” she says.

It’s emotionally exhausting to not like your job, but fortunately you won’t be stuck there for life. With everyone posting their “best lives” on social media, it’s easy to feel like you’re alone on a sucky job island. In reality, tons of people (especially in their twenties) are in the same exact boat; it’s completely normal to have mixed feelings about your career. The important thing is to make the best out of each situation and learn from the ups and downs. Whether you’re in an okay job or a god-awful one, you’ll walk away with knowledge that’ll help you grow and, eventually, achieve long-term success. Keep your head held high, and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and take a risk. Whether you decide to stay or leave, you’re in the driver’s seat and you’ve got this.