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7 reasons you’re unhappy at work and expert advice on how to fix them

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After a year of working in tumultuous circumstances, you might find yourself feeling unhappy about your job. Here, happiness consultant Samantha Clarke outlines seven common issues that cause unhappiness at work and how to deal with them.

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With so many changes to our working lives over the past year, many people are re-evaluating how happy their job is making them. Now returning to the office is imminent, research shows that women are feeling particularly stressed about work. A recent WorkL for Business report found women are feeling more anxious and depressed about work than men.

It’s easy to start feeling weighed down by work, especially during busy periods. But just because stress at work is common, it’s not something you should shrug off. Negative feelings around work can affect your life significantly, raising our stress levels and making us feel more pessimistic. 

Samantha Clarke realised just how important happiness at work is after she noticed her clients continuously telling her how much of a negative effect their jobs were having on their lives. In response, she wrote Love It Or Leave It: How To Be Happy At Work, which explores how to love the job you’re currently in or leave your job to start a new career that brings you real happiness.

Here, Samantha outlines seven common reasons why you might feel unhappy about work and tips for dealing with them to make your life more enjoyable. 

Your job doesn’t support your views around ambition and success

Most people will relate to one of two approaches to work, Samantha explains. The first is that you feel passionate about your career and you want your work to be a central part of your life. The second is that you view work as a way to make money to do the things you enjoy.

Both are healthy approaches to work, Samantha says, explaining that the first approach can be extremely fulfilling and that the second outlook can “fuel you to do other things in your life that you love”. The issue arises when your current job doesn’t support your preferred approach.

How to fix it

Samantha advises figuring out which approach suits you and whether those needs are being met by your current job. Perhaps you’re in a career that requires a lot of energy from you but you’re not that invested in it and would prefer more free time to do things you enjoy. Or, maybe there is another career path you would like to put more energy into.

If one of these perspectives resonates with you, it might be time to look at a career switch.

If not and you feel like your work suits you, this probably isn’t the reason you are feeling negatively about work. 

You don’t feel passionate about your job role or industry

If you’ve started to lose interest in your job role, this can affect how much you enjoy your job significantly, particularly if you’re in a creative role that requires you to come up with new ideas on a regular basis. “Sometimes when we’re working at things that aren’t our real strength, it exhausts us to the point of burnout,” Samantha says.

How to fix it

“You can craft your job to match your skills and your strengths and let go of the things that aren’t working,” Samantha says. “Identify which parts of your jobs aren’t working and have a conversation about them with your manager,” she adds.

Samantha also explains that you don’t have to feel passionate about every element of your job – it’s okay for there to be some aspects you enjoy less. In fact, that can help you to make sure you have healthy work-life boundaries.

“Ask yourself where you find love outside of work,” says Samantha. “If you’re enjoying your job 60% to 70% of the time and finding fulfilment in other areas of your life, you don’t need to pour everything into one job.” 

If you’re enjoying your job much less than that, however, and are feeling totally disengaged by work, it might be time to think about a career switch.

You’re struggling with career progression

Perhaps you feel stuck in your job role and you would like to move up within your company or industry. This can make you feel bored or restricted in your current job role and this issue might also mean you’re unhappy with your salary, which can have a negative impact on your overall impression of your job.

How to fix it

Often, the solution to this issue is applying for new roles at a higher level or speaking to your manager about a promotion. 

“Identify your strengths, your skills, your passions and values,” says Samantha. “You have to vocalise them and figure out how you can use them to move forwards to a job role that allows you to achieve them.”

However, sometimes career progression can be stagnant. “Maybe there’s a hiring freeze at your company or maybe you feel unsure about whether you want to take on the responsibility that comes with a promotion,” Samantha says. If you’re not being given a promotion at your current job, you might need to consider whether moving companies is a good option for you, she adds.  

If you’re unsure whether a promotion is what you want, you may need to reevaluate whether career progression is really what’s making you feel negative about work. 

You don’t work well with your colleagues

The people you work with are a big part of how you experience your job. If you don’t enjoy working with them, this can seriously affect the way you view work. 

How to fix it

“To deal with this you need to understand why you’re having conflict with certain types of people and what you might be able to do to cultivate more healthy relationships with them,” Samantha says.

This could be down to a clash in personality types and working methods between you and your colleagues, which is something you can talk about and try to work through. Or, it could be down to the way you work with other people – perhaps you might prefer working on your own, working for yourself or as a freelancer. Or you might need to work on your communication style. This is something you can do training on and reflect on in your own time.

Another issue is that one or more of your colleagues may be difficult to work with even after flagging these issues to them. If you have tried to communicate this to them and your managers and they continue to act in a way you find difficult to work with, the first step is to figure out if you can work less closely with them. If this isn’t possible and you feel you’ve tried every other option, changing roles is the final option you could consider.

You’re burnt out

A common reason as to why people feel negatively about their work is that they’re burnt out, which can make you feel tired and exhausted all the time. “I think we’ve got to question why we’re choosing to over-function,” says Samantha. “What lies might we be telling ourselves when we continue to over-deliver when we’re tired and burnt out and it affects the rest of our lives?” 

How to fix it

“Commit to switching off at a certain time,” advises Samantha. “Make deliberate plans so you can finish work on time and try to be a bit smarter with the way you’re working. Don’t let something drag out for longer than it needs to.”

Put boundaries in place to make sure you’re creating a good work-life balance. “Be really honest with yourself about why you’re not creating healthy boundaries in your life already. Are you scared? What are you scared of?” she says, explaining that you might have to overcome certain fears to put boundaries in place, but ultimately it will be worth it.

It’s also crucial that when you take time off, you feel like you’re fully away from work. “There needs to be a clear line,” Samantha says. “You need to stop checking your emails for the time you’re away and let people know you won’t be checking them.”

“You need to understand that if you don’t switch off on your holiday, you can’t expect to be refreshed when you go back to work. Be firm with yourself and enjoy the breadth of life,” Samantha advises. 

You feel unhappy about other areas of your life

“Sometimes work can be the place where we bury other problems from our life,” Samantha says, explaining that negative feelings about work might be a sign you’re feeling unsatisfied on a wider level.

How to fix it

Samantha cites four pillars of happiness within life: your work, the relationship you have with yourself, your relationships with other people and your home. Consider how you feel about each of these areas and try to understand if you’re projecting dissatisfaction in a particular area onto your work. For example, have you lost touch with certain friends because you’ve been so busy with work? Have you stopped giving yourself enough time to wind down and relax because you’re working so late?

Try and change things up in your personal life to see if that makes a difference to how you feel about your work, Samantha says. “Concentrating in these different areas might take your focus away from work.” 

It’s time to make a career switch

If you’re dissatisfied with your career as a whole and feel drawn to a different path, the reason you’re feeling negative about your job might be because it’s time to make a career switch. “I never advise people to stay in something that is still making them unhappy after they’ve tried to improve it,” Samantha says.

How to fix it

Making a career switch can be difficult but, ultimately, it is truly fulfilling. “You have to make a plan to leave and consolidate what it is you want from your next leap –don’t jump from one fire to another,” she adds. “Think about what training you might need to do, how you’re going to build a new network and give yourself a realistic timeframe to do it in.”

“You also need to know how much money you have to give you a financial runway if you are making a change,” Samantha continues.

When you’re figuring out what you want from your next step, Samantha recommends finding out what motivates you. “Is it Money? Respect? Creativity? Power? All of these things will drive your ambitions,” she says.

“Get critical with yourself and ask yourself when you have felt bliss over the last six months or year,” Samantha says, explaining that this will help you figure out which direction to go in.

“Ask people around you who will give you critical and honest advice about what they actually look to you for at work and what you’re good at,” Samantha adds. “Your purpose only comes through trial and experimentation – it’s not something that will just land in your lap.” 

You can read more career advice at Stylist.co.uk and you can buy Samantha’s book, Love It Or Leave It: How To Be Happy At Work. Join Samantha’s workshop on 30 June exploring how to design, implement and maintain better work wellbeing. Sign up here.

  • Samantha Clarke, happiness consultant

    Samantha Clarke wearing orange t shirt and earrings
    Samantha Clarke is the author of Love it Or Leave It: How To Be Happy at Work

    Samantha is a happiness consultant, Ted X Speaker and the author of Love It Or Leave It: How To Be Happy At Work. Samantha is on a mission to help create the next generation of changemakers to carve out and design a happier way of working with more purpose, meaning and intention. 

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