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5 Reasons Why You’re Still at the Job You Hate and How to Get Out

“Why don’t you just quit?” might be the question your friends and family ask you every time you say “I hate my job” or describe the latest work horror to them. Although quitting a job you aren’t happy with can seem like an easy solution to your problem, reality is usually a lot more complicated.

People have lots of reasons for sticking around at their current job, even when they recognize that a new job would be more fulfilling. If you’re getting ready to jump ship but aren’t sure what will happen next or how to proceed, examine your reasons for staying in your current work situation, then start to put together an exit strategy.

Why You’re Still at the Job You Hate

What’s keeping you from giving your two weeks’ notice or handing your boss a resignation letter? Even when you hate the work you do or don’t get along with your colleagues, multiple factors can tie you to a position that isn’t a good fit for you.

1. The Money Is Good

Even the worst jobs can pay an excellent salary. You could argue that some crappy jobs pay well because there’s an understanding that they aren’t the best. For example, not everyone wants to be a corporate consultant who conducts company layoffs like George Clooney’s character in the movie “Up in the Air,” so that kind of job needs to pay well.

There’s a term for the financial benefits that come with certain jobs: Golden handcuffs. The job pays so well, gives you great health insurance, or offers you so much financial security that leaving it seems impossible.

Your job doesn’t even have to pay a particularly large salary for you to be hesitant to leave it. You might not have enough in savings to provide a cushion or to make up for a drop in income. If you live paycheck to paycheck and the work you do allows you to make ends meet, sticking around seems like your only choice.

To break free of your golden handcuffs or break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle, put together a budget with Tiller to figure out how much money you really need to earn. If necessary, find ways to cut your expenses. Your budget will give you an idea of the salary you need to pay your bills and save some money. With that information, you can go out into the job market better prepared to find your next job and a salary that will support you.

2. The Job Market Isn’t Great

When unemployment is high — such as in the middle of a pandemic — and people are struggling to find work, those who have jobs often hear “you’re so lucky to have a job” or “be thankful you have any work!” While the people saying those things might mean well, they also make you feel a bit guilty about trying to improve your career situation when so many others are struggling.

It’s also a lot harder to find a new job when the market isn’t doing great. Limited job openings means more competition, including people with master’s degrees applying for jobs that only require a high school diploma or people who are at the midpoint or late stages of their careers trying to snag entry-level positions.

A tough job market can make sticking around a challenging work environment seem like the better option. If you are lingering at a job you loathe because options are limited, look for ways to improve your prospects and make yourself more attractive to recruiters and employers when the market does improve. While you wait for the hiring market to improve, create a work portfolio, update your resume, and begin reaching out to people you might like to network with.

3. You Don’t Know What You Want to Do Next

If you’re not at your dream job, it could be because you’re not sure what your dream job looks like. It could be that you found a decently-paying job right out of college and settled into it without ever asking yourself whether it was the career path you wanted to be on.

Years later, you might be looking at your career and wondering how you got away from what you wanted to do with your life. You could also have come to the realization that what you thought you wanted to be isn’t actually what you want now.

You can figure what you want in a few ways. You can try working with a life or career coach, who can help you define your goals and make a plan to reach them. You can turn a hobby, such as knitting or taking photos, into a side hustle to see if it could turn into a viable, full-time career.

Another option is to go back to square one. Think about what you wanted to be when you were a kid. What did you study in college or want to study? Although it might be difficult, it’s never too late to start over and pursue your dreams.

4. Your Skills Are Stale

The skills you need to succeed in certain careers can change over time. Decades ago, no one was using a computer at work. Today, you need to be computer literate to get your foot in the door for many positions. Some careers require continued education to keep people’s skills fresh and relevant.

If you’ve been at your job for a while and haven’t been keeping up with changes in technology or haven’t been taking continuing education classes, your skills might be less than fresh. Other candidates with more up-to-date skill sets but not necessarily more experience might look like better candidates to a potential employer.

You have a few options if your skills need a little freshening up — more on these later. You can teach yourself new tricks. Especially by the middle and later in your career, it’s natural that there will be skill sets out there to be learned that didn’t exist when you first trained for your career or went to school — and plenty of resources you can use to continue learning.

5. You Feel Scared

Change can be scary. Even if you’ve only been at your job for a short period, you’ve gotten to know your co-workers and boss. If you work at a small business or startup, the people you work with might have started to feel like family. You’ve settled into a routine and know what to expect from your day-to-day.

Your job, terrible as it might be, might also feel secure. You have an idea of how the company is doing and feel confident that you won’t be laid off. With a new job, there’s less certainty. The company might go under suddenly or you might not be a good fit. There are too many “what if” questions to worry about. So you stick around your old job, even though you’re miserable.

One of the most important lessons to learn in life is that there’s no such thing as certainty. You could leave your job for a new one and get fired the next day, but you could also lose your current job just as easily. Fearing the unknown or uncertain shouldn’t be what keeps you from making needed changes to your life.

How to Quit a Job You Hate

Once you’ve pinpointed the reason or reasons you’re staying at a job that isn’t a good fit for you, you can start to make a game plan to leave the job.

1. Polish Your Skills

Depending on where you are in your career, finding a new job and quitting your old one might not be something that happens in a few weeks or a month. You might need to start putting your plan into action a year or so before you make a move.

One reason for the delay is that you might need to brush up on your skills or learn something new to make yourself competitive. If there are jobs you’re interested in but don’t think you’re qualified for, reading the postings to see what skills are expected. Then, work on building those skills. That can mean signing up for a class that teaches you how to use a software program, studying a new language for a job that prefers candidates to be bilingual, or learning the ins and outs of social media.

Don’t be shy about investing in your own education or training because gaining marketable skills has a high chance of paying dividends. Building your skills also means you can wait out a tight job market or wait for better opportunities to come along.

2. Brush up Your Resume

As you focus on building your skills, also take a look at your resume. It might need some attention, especially if you’ve been at your current job for awhile. Add any relevant work experience or accomplishments to it, as well as new skills you’ve learned.

Although having a resume frame to work with is a good start, you don’t want to send out the same resume to each job you apply for. Focus on tailoring your resume based on the skills and expectations of each position. If you would like help putting to gether your resume, consider services like TopResume.

While you’re brushing up your resume, also focus on honing your networking skills. Now’s the time to get on LinkedIn if you aren’t already. If you have a profile on the site, tweak it to make yourself more attractive to recruiters or potential employers. Add samples of your work if possible or list your accomplishments.

Don’t neglect your other social media profiles, too. Scrub your Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter of anything that could be misconstrued or that doesn’t show you putting your best foot forward. Set your personal profiles to private so only people you’ve approved can see them.

3. Start Looking for a New Job

After building up your skills and preparing your resume, it’s time to start the job search. Admittedly, finding a new job can be the hardest part of the process. You have a lot of options when looking for a job, such as online job boards like Ziprecruiter, recommendations from friends and family, and announcements passed on from acquaintances.

When looking for a new job, it can pay to be picky. You don’t want to end up in the same situation again, where you hate your job and want out. Do research into each company before you apply and read up on the position to be sure it interests you. Finding a new job isn’t exactly a lottery — applying to a lot of positions that aren’t right for you won’t make you more likely to find a suitable job.

Sending out your resume is just step one of the process. You’re likely to get at least a few requests for interviews. Go into them prepared. Make up a list of interview questions to ask and be prepared to answer the hiring manager’s questions. Some jobs also expect candidates to demonstrate their skills or competence during the interview process, so be ready to take a quick test or provide evidence of your work, such as a portfolio.

4. Give Your Employer Notice

You did it — you got a job offer for a position that intrigues you from a company that looks like a good cultural fit. Now you just need to let your current employer know that you plan to leave.

Even if you can’t stand your boss and want nothing to do with the company after your last day, the best way to quit is courteously. When resigning, give your notice in writing. Detail when you’d like your last day to be while giving the company time to find your replacement. You can offer to help train the new person before you leave.

Your current employer might want to schedule an exit interview with you. The purpose of the interview is to provide the company with constructive feedback. Although you might want to, don’t use the interview as an excuse to unload all of your frustrations about the job and the people you worked with. Instead, politely state your opinions in response to the questions, gather your belongings and go. You’re finally free!

What to Do if You Can’t Quit

Quitting might seem like the best option when you hate your job but it’s not always possible. The market might be too tight or you might really need the high salary your current job provides.

When you can’t quit a bad job, there are ways you can protect your emotional well-being and your mental health in the meantime.

  • Find Ways to Disconnect. If you hate your job, do everything in your power not to bring it home with you at the end of the day. Or, if you work from home, leave the job in your home office when the workday is done. That can mean not having your work email on your personal devices and powering down your work laptop or smartphone when you’re off the clock. Set up auto-replies during your off-work hours so people who email you know you won’t be responding until the morning.
  • Get a Part-Time Job. A part-time job that you enjoy can help distract you from the horrors of your full-time job. It also gives you a bit of extra cash to help you establish an emergency fund so you have a cushion should you end up leaving your full-time job. Even more importantly, a part-time job can show you that there are other career options out there, and might even open the door to a switch.
  • Communicate. Learning how to communicate with your coworkers or boss can improve the situation at your workplace immensely. If you think your own communication skills are lacking, you can work on improving them with the help of a therapist or life coach. It can also be helpful to schedule a meeting with your boss or colleagues to clear the air and discuss any issues that might be acting as roadblocks to you working well together.
  • Develop a Mantra. When the going gets tough at work, have a mantra that you repeat over and over in your head to calm yourself down. It can be something like “I am not my job” or “things will get better.” Anything to help bring your blood pressure back down and lower your stress level so you can get through the day.

Should You Quit a Job Without Having One Lined Up?

Although the conventional wisdom is never to quit a job without having a new one ready to go, not all bad jobs are created equal. Some are unpleasant but survivable. Some are downright toxic. If you have a boss who’s constantly berating you, co-workers who are undermining you, or you fear for your physical safety or mental health on the job, you need to get out. There are times when making the jump without a parachute really is the best option.

If you do have to leave your job without having another in the works, an emergency fund gives you a financial cushion. If possible, build up your emergency fund so you have enough to cover several months’ worth of living expenses while you look for a new job.

Also, create and execute a survival budget. Trim your expenses to the bare minimum with the understanding that you’ll only be living on the bare-bones budget during the time you’re looking for a new job or in the months immediately leading up to leaving your current position. Your survival budget will help you stretch your emergency fund as far as it can go.

When quitting your job, try to leave on the best terms possible. Give notice and write a resignation letter. Make sure you tell all the relevant people.

Once you quit, you’ll be ready to give your all toward hunting for your new job.

Final Word

Work can be fulfilling but also stressful. Ideally, the job you spend nearly one-third of your time doing should be more fulfilling than stress-inducing. If that’s not the case, it’s time to assess your situation and make a plan for the next phase of your life and career.

Even when the situation looks bleak and the job market even bleaker, there are always opportunities out there. Face your fears, polish your skills, and get ready to change your life for the better by finding a job that works for you.

Amy Freeman is a freelance writer living in Philadelphia, PA. Her interest in personal finance and budgeting began when she was earning an MFA in theater, living in one of the most expensive cities in the country (Brooklyn, NY) on a student's budget. You can read more of her work on her website, Amy E. Freeman.

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