Karolina Numminen
Two women having a conversation at a round table in a cafe.

What to Do When You're Not Happy With Your Job

It can be a scary moment to realize you're not all that happy with your job. Especially when you've put significant effort into reaching your current position or if it was once your dream role. 

However, experiencing this feeling doesn't always mean you must take a radical step, such as quitting. More often than not, it's about making subtle changes to redefine and rediscover satisfaction in your career. In this article, I'll introduce various levels of addressing job dissatisfaction, from minor tweaks in your current role to considering a complete career shift. 

Step 1: Analyze the situation

First things first, we need to unpack the specific areas that cause your dissatisfaction. That way, we can find a solution that addresses your particular problem.

So, let's assess where you're at. In my experience, the following twelve areas most often contribute to (un)happiness at work: 

  • salary 
  • work-life balance 
  • stress
  • team 
  • boss 
  • tasks (boring, repetitive, not challenging enough, or too challenging)
  • advancement (promotions and general development in the scope of responsibilities) 
  • learning
  • future prospects 
  • purpose
  • personal alignment with the company's mission and culture
  • recognition & feedback

As you read through them, think about the main troublemakers for you right now. If it feels too abstract, evaluate each area on a scale of 1-5. Then mark down the areas with the lowest score and also how many of these have you identified.

Try not to judge yourself; if you actually don't care much about the purpose of your work and just want more money- that's fine; the point of this exercise is really just to pinpoint the problem areas so that we can find the right solution for you. Remember, clarity is the first step toward making meaningful changes, and this exercise has no wrong answers. 

Doing this exercise should really help you get a more visual representation of your current situation and a good base for finding the right solution. Depending on how many 'troublemakers' you identified, you can address your situation at various levels. I'll now take you through all the different levels, so as you keep reading, consider which sounds most relevant to your situation.

Level 0: Rethink your approach

Let’s start by considering if things really are as bad. They might definitely be, in which case, moving onto the next level! But maybe when you did the assessment, you found that you mainly like your job, except for 1 or 2 areas. 

If that’s your case, you can think about how you can make some improvements on your own- this could be changing your ways of working, incorporating new habits, or chatting with others to get a new perspective on your situation. There are always areas in your job that you have control over, and individual change is the easiest to implement, so it’s always worth seeing if simple tweaks might do the trick. 

Level 1: Find Changes Within Your Current Job 

If you've identified a few areas that contribute to your dissatisfaction, the first level is to address them with your boss. Maybe you can share your assessment of the 12 aspects during your next 1:1 or in a larger quarterly or annual review. 

For this discussion to be productive, you need to come prepared. So, instead of throwing the problems at your manager and waiting with arms folded until she solves them, propose a couple of solutions you believe would increase your job happiness. 

Feel free to also get a perspective from someone other than your boss - maybe a higher-level lead or someone from a different team. You might get a clearer picture of what options are available to you.  

It’s usually a good idea to first try to make things work where you are before escaping somewhere else. You might be missing out on easy fixes and setting yourself up for future doubts about whether leaving was the right decision.

Level 2: Find New Opportunities in Your Current Company

If your dissatisfaction runs deeper, and you've identified several areas that make you unhappy, I'd still advise looking for solutions within your current company. It's worth trying because you'll either discover amazing opportunities in a familiar environment or you'll be able to leave with a clear consciousness and confidence that you really tried your best.

Depending on your company’s size, moving internally to different teams or departments might be possible. Although virtually all companies have this possibility, prepare to face some push backs from your team that might not be ready to lose a valuable member. An internal transfer will probably require more than one discussion with your boss. You'll need to advocate for yourself for a while.

You also need to clarify that you're not just looking around out of boredom but addressing a strong dissatisfaction that might otherwise force you to leave the company entirely. Of course, you shouldn't threaten, but communicate from a place of giving your current employer a fair chance to make things work for both sides. 

I won't sugar coat it; internal move can be nearly as complex and long-term as applying elsewhere. But since you're familiar with the company, you can get much further, much faster than you would in the same role in a new company. So if you’re trying to address areas such as team, boss or tasks but are happy with the company itself, internal move could really be the right answer for you. 

Level 3: Change Jobs

Let's look at what to do when your unhappiness is even more profound. Maybe you find it challenging to identify with your company, or there's simply no possibility to advance at the moment. Or maybe you just really want change and feel like a different environment would suit you. 

In this case, it's definitely time to start looking elsewhere. And as much as this could be the right option for you, be cautious. Many people start looking for new jobs, believing the grass will be greener elsewhere. Of course, companies talk themselves up in a job ad and show you only the best of the best in the interview process. So go into it with a realistic mindset and look for a place that addresses your main frustration, but don't expect to find a job that will instantly tick all your boxes.

Do your research and lay your cards on the table- what are you really looking for in a new employer? Make it easy for both sides to determine if this is the right match. This preparatory work helps you make sure you're making an informed decision, mitigating the risks of jumping from the storm into a tornado.

Level 4: Time For a Bigger Shift

Finally, if you've been experiencing deep-rooted dissatisfaction that's lasted for a long time and lasted throughout several jobs, it's time to admit that a more significant change is needed.

I'm sure I don't need to introduce this feeling any further. You know deep down if this is just not it. This situation can be scary and confusing, often sending people into a full-blown identity crisis. It's, however, more common than gets talked about, and as with all the previous levels, there is a solution. 

I usually come across two scenarios: either there has been a dream on your mind that you just can't let go of. In this case, you don't need to spend time exploring the WHAT, but you can start slowly moving towards turning that dream into reality. Change doesn't need to be clear-cut. You don't need to quit your job and work from scratch somewhere else; you can start by researching your options, maybe exploring your dream in a side hustle, and slowly adding up until it becomes your main thing. 

The second option is a bit trickier but solvable as well. It's when you know this is definitely not it for you, but you don't know what else to do. In this case, you must invest time and energy into exploring your options before moving further. Again, you can do this exploration alongside your current job to maintain your steady income. You'll notice that it will be much easier to endure your day job just by knowing you are moving towards something else. Now you know you're working on a way out. 

These bigger shifts are most challenging, especially mentally, because, on top of doing the work to move on, you need to accept that you've spent time and effort on a path that didn't lead to happiness. It's, therefore, good to remember that wherever your next steps take you, you will benefit from all that you've learned in the past, just in a new, creative way.

Karolina Numminen

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Recognizing you're unhappy in your job can be a scary first step. But once you can say it out loud, you can start thinking about what to do about it. 

And as I presented in this article, the solution might be simpler than you had thought. Or it might require a bit more work; in that case, the sooner you begin, the better! Let's get you to your dream job one step at a time. You'll be extremely grateful to yourself that you had the guts to go for it sooner than later.

Karolina Numminen
Karolina Numminen

Hi there!

Thank you for reading! I'm Karolina, a career coach with a passion for helping people have fulfilling and successful career journeys. I love writing about all things work and sharing the insights I’ve gained from years of coaching clients.

I would love to connect with you on LinkedIn and continue the conversation. I’m always curious about different professions and career paths!


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