Unhappy at work? Before you quit your job, ask yourself this one key question

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Anna Brech
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It’s hard to get perspective when we’re ready to jack in a job we loathe.

Our resentment over a particular issue spirals, and before we know it, we’re set to quit – because we just can’t bear it any longer, and thinking about it makes it worse.

Rather than analyse, what we really want to do is escape under our duvet with a box of Maltesers for company. 

But there’s one thing we should all do when we’re unhappy at work before jumping ship.

New York Times bestselling author and happiness guru Gretchen Rubin says it’s an obvious step, but something that’s often overlooked:

Figure out what exactly is making you miserable.

"This sounds so obvious," Rubin tells Business Insider, in a Facebook Live session this week. "But I've found over and over, it really helps people."

What you need to do, she says, is go through every simple aspect of your job and keep going until you hit on the exact thing that’s making you feel unfulfilled or frustrated.

Although unhappiness at work can feel all-encompassing, it usually comes down to one or two factors.

For example, it might be your lousy commute, a strained relationship with one of your colleagues, or the fact that you have to prepare a mind-numbing set of data for a boardroom meeting every week.

"You're walking in the door in the morning and you're thinking, 'Oh, you know what? I don't like this anymore. This is a drag. I don't want to be here,” explains Rubin.

"But there are a lot of reasons that that could be true. And the solutions that you would try in order to fix the situation would be really different depending on what the problem is."

In some cases, this will involve altering something in a way that’s less dramatic than handing in your notice.

Perhaps it will involve speaking to your boss about flexible working hours. Or taking that tricky co-worker out for a drink to try and resolve your differences. It may even mean training in different skill areas, so you become more adept at tasks that overwhelm or confuse you.

“Once you actually pinpoint the precise nature of what's driving you crazy, it's often a lot easier to fix it than you think,” says Rubin.

New York-based Rubin is the author of three best-selling happiness books;  Better Than BeforeThe Happiness Project and Happier at Home.

Her blog is brimming with little commonsense tips to optimise your happiness at work, including advice such as never saying “yes” on the phone at work.

“Instead, say, ‘I’ll get back to you’. When you’re actually speaking to someone, the desire to be accommodating is very strong, and can lead you to say ‘yes’ without enough consideration,” she says.

She also recommends taking a 10-minute pause every hour that you’re in the office: “studies show that the break boosts your retention level”.

Satisfaction at work has plunged to a two-year low in Britain, according to figures from the Chartered Institute of Personal Development. The nation's happiest employees live in Norwich, Birmingham and Liverpool, this study says, yet 48% of us remain discontent with our jobs. 

Long hours and the need for greater recognition rank among the biggest causes of complaint.

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.