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Whose Fault Is It That You’re Unhappy at Work Anyway?

105497713_47e417f3a5_m.jpgRecently, I attended a graduation party for my niece. It was a nice day, and I was having a conversation with two of my siblings. We were discussing the issue of disgruntled employees blasting their boss or employer on social media sites, such as Facebook.

I mistakenly made the comment that people who are so unhappy with their jobs should stop bad mouthing the boss and start looking for a new job. What an idiot I am!

One of my siblings responded with the following, “Only people who are happy with their jobs or think they have job security say something like that.” Well, consider me guilty as charged. I do like my job, and I work my butt off because of that, so I don’t feel as though my job is ever in jeopardy.

No one would mistake me for an eternal optimist! Just ask my wife, my friends, or my co-workers. I think that, with some exceptions, most people who are unhappy with their jobs have no one to blame but themselves. For example, take my two siblings. One did not finish college. Whose fault was that? Sure, sometimes when we’re young, we make mistakes. The great part about life is that we often have the opportunity to fix those mistakes.

When it comes to fixing mistakes, though, we have to decide that there is something better out there, figure out what we want to do with our lives, and then take steps to get there. Sitting around complaining about how much you hate your job does nothing but make you look foolish for not changing the situation.

That being said, the other sibling should have even less to complain about. She completed a bachelor’s degree at a time when that put you ahead of the crowd, but has spent much of her career bashing her employer for trying to turn a profit. She thinks employers are using the recession as an excuse to further exploit employees! She has been miserable at work for a long, long time, and she simply counts down the time until vacation and retirement.

I don’t know about you, but such an existence would drive me absolutely crazy. I have worked very hard to be in my current position: I have a job that I enjoy, a job in which I find meaning, and a job that allows me to excel. I consider my job to be a calling. It’s hard to complain about that, right?

However, I didn’t just accidentally end up there. I identified something that I was good at, I worked hard to cultivate my strengths in that area, and I work hard every day to perform at a high level. Along the way, my family made sacrifices, we racked up student loans, and we are still paying off those loans. We make sacrifices even today so that I can perform meaningful work. We decided that was more important than earning a lot of money but being unhappy at work. 

Do I love everything I do in my job? Hardly, but the things I love far outweigh the things I don’t. If that ever changed, I’d find a new job. It isn’t rocket science! It’s about truly wanting to have a work role that does more for you than just provide a paycheck. Most people spend a minimum of 40 hours each week at work. I don’t want those 40 hours to be hellish hours. I want them to be productive, meaningful, fulfilling hours.

What do you want out of your 40 hours? Do you want the same thing I do? Do you get that out of your current job? If not, I would suggest that you take a long, hard look at why you don’t get what you want out of your work role. Don’t blame your manager, your ex-wife, your co-workers, or your parents. Look in the mirror, and then decide what you plan to do to make your work life better.    

Photo credit: Chris Owens 

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Paula Martell (08/ 7/09) said:

To begin with, we need to look more closely at why people are unhappy with/at their job. There are myriad reasons for this. This site recently conducted a survey on this topic.
Blaming the victim is not a helpful approach. Sometimes people may be able to do something about their unhappiness-such as helping the company to find more creative solutions to problems. Sometimes the companies are not amenable to employee input or any form of change. If the person is unhappy because of a philosophical difference in, say, political perspective on capitalism, profit making, managerial styles, there is little the employee can do to change them, but maybe they can find another job that matches their ethics and philosophy better. The lower one is within the work hierarchy due to education, the less they can change about their employer and the less chance they have of finding a better job.
I have been fortunate. I got a masters degree very early in life, and have been able to find work within the area I was educated in, and I love what I do for a living. I have rarely liked the company I worked for because I don't like "politics". I don't care to "manipulate" others to get my needs met. My solution would be to go into business for myself.

Maggie Dennis (08/ 8/09) said:

Dr. Grawitch has a good point: if you are unhappy in your job, find a way to fix the situation, or find a new job. But his point is lost in his paternalistic, condescending, holier-than-thou attitude about what is wonderful about him and wrong with the rest of us.

I know the type he's referring to - those people who are bitter, angry, complain every day, and never take responsibility for anything that goes wrong. I feel sorry for them - I don't judge them as being stupid or incompetent.

Why? Because I know from personal experience that people are unhappy in their jobs for all sorts of reasons. And here's the real news for Dr. Grawitch - often times, its not their fault.

I have a calling, and I have a job that I was delighted with for ten years. And then things changed. My boss quit, and her replacement is very difficult to get along with and has a lot to learn about personnel management. Another person, whom I have supported for a decade, got a promotion and turned in to a monster. This situation doesn't just affect me personally - employee morale and the mission of the organization has suffered. Is this my fault? Nope. Am I trying to change the situation? Of course I am. But in my line of work in this economy, that's going to take time. I have come to terms with the fact that it will probably take a couple of years, but I wouldn't say I'm happy.

Others have perfectly good reasons for being unhappy at work, and oftentimes it has nothing to do with their jobs. Chronic pain, death of a loved one, financial worries, depression - all can have a negative effect. But these situations aren't anyone's fault, it's just the way life is.

My point is this, Dr. Grawitch: most of the time we don't know what's wrong in someone's life, and its none of our business. Awareness of this simple fact builds empathy, not disdain. In a healthy workplace, people understand that. I am surprised that the APA has included this approach as part of their so-called Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program.

For clarification, the opinions expressed in Dr. Grawitch's blog entries are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of APA, the APA Practice Organization or the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program (PHWP). The PHWP advocates for an approach where employees and employer work together to create a healthy, high-performing organization.

Maggie Dennis (08/10/09) said:

For clarification, Dr. Grawitch currently serves as the primary research consultant to the American Psychological Association (APA) for its Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program. Perhaps he should consider if his written opinions are in line with PHWP, and if they are not, say so.

Dr. Matt Grawitch Author Profile Page (08/10/09) said:

I’d like to take a couple of moments to respond to the comments that were made. To start with, I’m glad I could generate such passion. It appears that some of my comments were misunderstood or taken slightly out of context.

First, let me just say that this blog was about people who are so unhappy with their jobs that they are saying inappropriate things using social media sites, like Facebook and now even Twitter. Of course, a job can change from one you love to one you hate, many times due to events outside of your control.

Things ebb and flow, sometimes to extremes, as Maggie pointed out from her experience. And yes, you can work to alter the situation. In Maggie’s case, she has a plan, knowing it might take time for it to come to fruition. In Paula’s case, she would like to go into business for herself, and maybe someday she’ll be able to turn that into a reality. I’m not talking about people like that. I’m talking about those folks who end up in negative situations and choose to do nothing but become bitter and stagnant.

Second, I am not “blaming the victim” for being unhappy with their jobs. In fact, being the “victim” assumes that whatever it is about your work role that makes you unhappy is someone else’s fault. Often, it may be the result of poor fit, a mismatch between the style of the manager and the style of the employer, and numerous other reasons, including possible philosophical differences about capitalism or the way work is supposed to be done.

I never stated that these folks were “stupid or incompetent.” In fact, I believe that people DO have the ability to figure out how to make their work lives better. That is why I wrote this blog posting, encouraging people to take control. There are tons of stories just like mine out there. I simply used my current life situation to discuss the role that hard work, commitment, sacrifice, and passion play in ending up being happy with your work role. I teach students who are making these kinds of tough choices all the time.

Of course, current economic conditions may put off some of your goals, provide you with some roadblocks, or create some hindrance stressors. Those conditions may even cause you to re-think your plans or your future. That’s understandable, but the economy will get better!

Third, in a psychologically healthy workplace, whether we are referring to a work unit, department, or an entire organization, employees are engaged and committed to their jobs. If issues and problems surface, they have effective ways to address those problems. They don’t go on Facebook and Twitter and bash their boss or the company. In a psychologically healthy workplace, employees have supervisors, managers, and co-workers who want them to be engaged and fulfilled by their work role. They have an infrastructure that allows them to develop work engagement. They have enough support to help them figure out what kind of development they need to get to where they want to go. They feel valued for their contributions. And in a psychologically healthy workplace, there is a good fit between what we want to get out of work and what we do get out of that work.

Unhappy1 (11/ 2/09) said:

I am unhappy at work but only because my current manager tries to micromanage my team - we are a senior team previous managers left us to get on with it. At one stage we ran ourselves as we had no manager.

Being sent a mail for every little thing is quite annoying as well as nepotism in the team. I am trying to find a solution by either moving teams or finding work outside of my current company.

I really like the environment I work in - it's an ISP ad very laid back but I dislike my managers methods of running the team. We have spoken to him about it but it falls on deaf ears. I have even spoken to his manager and that came with an arm of excuses.Not to mention the fact that we are permanently short staffed.

I use to be very happy with my previous managers but these days I am very unhappy as I am policed and rather questioned about everything I do. I am a senior in my team and have been at the same place for the past 5 years.

It's really sad when someone who is not of managerial proportions decides to go this avenue. I really feel he was appointed as he "rolls over and plays dead" when upper management barks. It's one thing to climb the ladder it's another thing to not stand up for your team!

My team is a great bunch of guys (me being the only female and a senior in my team). As a team we have fun and joke but often I watch my boys spirits being demotivated because he has said something to bring the morale down.

My only thing is to move on...

Rory (11/ 5/09) said:

This whole post is under the mistaken myth of self determination, and that people being unhappy is their fault.

There are class barriers and it does prevent a lot of people from suceeding, and not everybody is the smooth talking politician who can manipulate to get what they want.

The funny thing is you've all been sucked in by the capitalists who tell you if you work really hard to get what you want you'll get it. Sadly, life just isn't that simple. There's lots of hardworking people out there making cheap garbage in chinese factories who I bet are not happy and are not getting what they want no matter how hard they work (and often insane working conditions).

This blog is a naive 2-dimensional view on life from a white middle class heterosexual man. Typical.

Susie (11/15/09) said:

How can we be happy selling the majority of our time to someone else?

Sure we may like or be interested in our jobs but the truth is we do it because we have to eat.

Look at lottery winners. Not many of them stay with the current job they had when they won. That is telling.

We are brainwashed from an early age that this is the way things are. If everyone did what they wanted then we'd all be in serious trouble. No cars to drive, no roads to drive them on, etc.

I am reasonably ok with my job but when I am off on vacation, I am much much happier. That is a fact.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Matt Grawitch published on August 5, 2009 1:14 AM.

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