I’m unhappy with my job.  I’ve been here for 6 years, the pay is OK, but the work environment sucks!  I’m surrounded by power and money-hungry bosses which has created a toxic, back-stabbing culture!  I’ve witnessed illegal things here and I’ve personally been the subject of sexual harassment.  I feel guilty even feeling this way knowing that there are a lot of people out there who are unemployed, but I feel more guilt enduring behavior and a culture that is completely contrary to my personal values.  I dread going to work and I have no sense of pride or accomplishment when I leave.  What should I do?
— Bored in Denver

Dear Bored:
This is a pretty common complaint. You HAVE a job, it’s a paycheck so you should be happy and quit complaining, right?

But actually, its not that simple.  As a matter of fact, of the 25,000 subscribers on AH Jobs List, 60% are CURRENTLY EMPLOYED!  That’s right, 6 out of 10 currently employed professionals are regularly looking for a different job!

Let’s face it: All too often, our lives are our jobs.  Our self identity is tied to what we do for a living.  We spend more time at the office with our colleagues than we do with our spouses, kids and significant others.  When you think of it this way,  it is a totally acceptable expectation to be happy and fulfilled with your work. In fact, far too many people forget to take a gut check about their jobs and ask themselves if they are fulfilled and if not, why and what can be done about it.

In many ways, a job is like a relationship.  Everyone remembers those first few months at a new job.  It is exciting, challenging and fun.  There’s the ‘newness’ factor of meeting new people, learning new things and being part of a new team; you getting to know your new colleagues and them getting to know you.

But eventually, what was once ‘new’ now seems routine.

People who you work with who were once fun and exciting now appear normal and boring.  The energy and creativity you brought to the job screeches to a halt when it meets the hard, cold reality of entrenched bureaucracies, policies, procedures and budgets.  Throw in a good dash of passive-aggressive personalities and office politics and it doesn’t take long for you to begin wondering if you made the right decision committing to this new job.

So, as you consider your future ask yourself if your core values match your job, your company’s culture and your overall profession in terms of doing what you really WANT to be doing. In addition, use these tips as you consider applying for a job to make sure that they are in line with the job you are taking.

Values important to being happy at work:

Being paid what you are worth.  For many people I’ve met, money is not the most important thing; however, believing that they are being paid what they are worth is critical to feeling valued at work. It is reasonable to be compensated fairly in terms of your skills, your years of experience, your education, your accomplishments and how much you contribute to the team and the company in general.

Doing what you WANT to do.  This one seems simple but it is easy to feel unhappy at work if you are not doing what you want to do. If you have skills and expertise that are not being utilized in your job, it is easy to get bored or worse, resentful and unmotivated. Talk to your boss and find out if there’s a position that you can cross-apply to at your company where you can use the skills that will keep you fulfilled.

Being recognized for the work you perform.  It’s easy to feel like a bump on a log if you are not recognized for the work you perform. Yes, most employees are required to perform exemplary work and shouldn’t expect a pat on the back for EVERY thing that is expected of you. But when you’ve put in overtime after hours and on the weekend, volunteered for the new project no one else wanted, helped solve an unexpected client crisis or anything else that is above and beyond your normal duties, you should be recognized.  If you are not, it is easy to feel under-appreciated and it can easily turn to resentment and unhappiness.

Respecting your colleagues and your bosses.  You work hard and value honest and integrity but you constantly see your colleagues flaunt company policies and display boorish and unacceptable civil decorum. It could be a boss with an anger management problem who yells at everyone creating an environment of anxiety and tension. You witness regular sexual harassment by a superior and don’t feel there’s anything you can do about it. Your colleague constantly pads his expense report or takes an extra 45 minutes at lunch. You witness an inappropriate romantic relationship that results in an unfair promotion.

Respecting your company.  It is important that the values of the organization you work for are in line with your own values. Often I hear stories from employees who work at companies they claim are unethical. They witness client bill padding, illegal financial reporting, or excessive officer bonuses. These types of work conditions are reflective of the company’s overall culture and in general, are easy to detect. A culture of success is not a culture of do anything necessary (even if it is unethical or illegal) to show profits.

Life/Work balance.  While somewhat cliché, there are things that can help us to balance our professional lives and our personal lives. Often it simply starts with our commute in the morning. Spending an extra two hours on clogged highways to get back and forth to work is not a great way to start and end your work day.  Some people love to travel, others feel that spending two weeks out of the month away from their family is unacceptable. Feeling as if you are always having to put in extra time after hours and on the weekend and not being able to concentrate on your family, hobbies or other priorities is a one-way ticket on the burnout express.

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