If you live for the weekend — feeling drained, frustrated or stressed by your job — you’re not alone.

Job satisfaction is the exception rather than the rule, evidenced by Gallup’s consistent findings that only about a third of Americans are engaged at work. That leaves the majority of workers falling somewhere in the range of apathetic to blatantly unhappy with their job.

Fairy tales aside, there is no such thing as job utopia. Everyone has a different threshold for job dissatisfaction. You may have hit yours if you feel like you’re at the end of your rope — and are unsure of how to untangle it.

stressed and unhappy at your jobPinpointing the source of your job dissatisfaction can be tricky. “Rarely is it a straightforward, one-or-the-other situation,” according to Maura Koutoujian, a career and life coach in Jody Michael Associates’ Chicago office. “Rather, it’s often the result of a ‘dance’ you’ve created — and your role in it.”

Untangling the Knot: exploring the Source of Your Job Dissatisfaction

From wondering whether you made the right career choice to buckling under the pressure of a micromanaging boss, it might seem easy to point a finger at the cause of your job dissatisfaction. But before jumping ship — or to any quick conclusions — it makes sense to explore the deeper reasons you may be unhappy at work.

Maura emphasizes the importance of exploring your own strengths, perceived weaknesses, and values.

What causes job dissatisfaction for you may be a minor annoyance (or hardly noticeable) to others. “The first step in achieving authentic job satisfaction is understanding yourself well enough to know where you can steer, where you can pivot — and when you don’t really need to do either,” she says.

Let’s say your values don’t align with the corporate culture. Can you live with that, or is it a deal breaker?

Perhaps you enjoy working with the people on your team, but opportunities for advancement seem limited. Is a promotion a priority — at this time?

Do you get frustrated by your boss’s lack of time for you? If so, can you come up with a proactive solution?

situations at work can cause unhappinessSometimes, situations change in a variety of ways, turning a job you once loved into one that leaves you feeling frustrated or dissatisfied:

  • You may have been hired at one company, but find that the culture (and perhaps even your job description) undergoes a huge transformation if it’s acquired by a new owner or merges with another company.
  • Budget cuts at the corporate or department level increase your workload.
  • A boss with whom you really clicked leaves the company.
  • You’re hired as a programmer, but are moved into a project management position because that’s where the company needs you.

When trying to identify whether the source of your job dissatisfaction is your career, company, job, boss, or perhaps yourself, the answer isn’t always clear. Unfortunately, there is no simple decision tree or workflow that can provide an easy answer.

career coach can help you decide your best course of action, whether that may be to explore other career options, go back to school, find a new job or look for ways to make your current position more engaging — even enjoyable.

The Real Question: What Do I Do About It? 

explore reasons for unhappiness at workWhile certain circumstances clearly point to a blatant mismatch between a person and their career or company, most of the time, the dissatisfaction comes from a decision (or series of decisions) that you made.

Knowing that can be very empowering.

As Maura points out, “You may not have the luxury of a great boss, but you always have the luxury of owning your own thoughts, perspectives and actions.

“You may find that, despite your frustrations, you’re not in a position to make a career or job move. It’s up to you to make the decision to carry out the responsibilities of your job, but with a different mindset, knowing that when and if your situation changes, you can take the appropriate action.”

When you experience intense job dissatisfaction, you tend to hold on to anger or emotional baggage, she explains. And that negativity can zap your energy.

“Sometimes, developing an acceptance that you can’t control the uncontrollable can be very freeing,” Maura explains. “Letting go is not the same thing as ignoring. Rather, it’s making a deliberate choice.

“When things feel intolerable, you either say ‘I’m moving on’ or ‘these things need to change.’ At a certain point, each of us takes responsibility for stepping away. This point, indeed, may be a moment characterized by ‘I’ve had enough.’”

In general, people don’t regret making a shift — or even leaving a career, company, job or boss. Rather, they regret not doing it sooner.

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