What to do when work sucks


How do you manage the misery of a job you hate but can’t leave yet?

If you’re gritting your teeth and staying put for now, here are five ways to endure a job that sucks.

Even if you (mostly) love your job, these strategies can also help to transform tough times.

Tap the source

Are you disenchanted with your job or your career? In the spirit of separating babies from bathwater, take a longish look at the source rather than the symptoms of your discontent. If your biggest blahs are an incompatible boss or inflexible hours or a cramped workspace, perhaps it’s the job. Alternatively, if you’re googling qualifications and starting salaries for something entirely new and imaging a radically reinvented you – maybe it’s the career.

In either case, this next move is a useful hedge against losing the plot while you plan your escape.

Sort the bad the good and the great


Few if any jobs are 100% awesome. Day to day most of us do a mix of what author Michael Bungay Staier describes as bad, good and great work. His book ‘Do More Great Work’ is a guide to sorting and separating essential ‘busy work’ that ‘gets the job done’ from deeply satisfying work that makes a significant impact.

Chart the proportions of bad, good and great work in your unloved job. Ask yourself which bits of your day or your week or your recent projects

  • absorb and stretch you (this is the great stuff you wish you could do more of)

  • fill your day and have their place and their point but don’t spark you up like the great bits (this is the good stuff)

  • seem totally pointless and boring (the bad stuff you wish you could do less of)

Draw a circle and divide it in three based on your proportions of great, good and bad work.

Look at where and how you might change the ratio in and outside your job. Bungay Staier points out that we hardly ever plan to do great work. Buck that trend by plotting ways to do more of the great stuff in your circle.

This doesn’t have to be inside work hours. Doing more great stuff anytime anywhere makes your day feel more purposeful. Maybe you thrive on sharing your knowledge about a particular topic. Plan a lunchtime presentation on your favourite topic or take it to a networking or community group outside of work.

Get hold of ‘Do More Great Work’ and do some exercises to help you decide what great work looks like for you.

Schedule the yuck stuff

Choose a schedule that suits your energy and outlook. Maybe the ‘eat a frog in the morning’ approach works for you. This is a bit like munching through your vegetables before you’re allowed dessert. It’s an exercise in clearing your plate of nutritious but yucky stuff so you can savour the delicious rest. 

On the other hand, if you’re at your most creative and energised first thing, devote mornings to doing inspiring jobs that fuel your focus. Tackle yuck stuff after 3 pm and aim to wrestle it into shape before you leave.


I’m partial to a time limited  ‘carrot and stick’ approach better known as the Pomodoro Technique. I might set myself 25 minutes to complete a spreadsheet before lunch. Sometimes I get into the yucky job at hand and go well past the set time, and other times the timer pings and I’m definitely done. That way I get to bask in the glow of being yuck stuff free during and beyond my break.

If most of what you do has a whiff of yuck about it, this next tip might help.

See the bigger picture

This isn’t easy when you feel stuck and disconnected. Your perspective shrinks and the smallest irritations can massively annoy you. Counter this contracted view of the world by remembering that even your dullest task helps to serve or satisfy something bigger.

Try lifting your nose from the grindstone and stepping back far enough to see the impact of your work on colleagues and clients.

If you’re struggling to see the bigger picture these mindfulness exercises may help.

Pinpoint your most fulfilled and purposeful moments in the job. List the little things that still work, used to work, or could be made to work again. If any of these seem fixable, give it a go.

Rebalancing your perspective is unlikely to make you fall back in love with your job. But, it may help you keep a level head when a negative thought train threatens to derail your day or damage a chance to reality check your options.

Replenish your energy

It takes heaps of energy to survive a job that sucks. It’s tough enough to stay healthy and buoyant and keep afloat. But you also need to muster additional reserves to reshape your job or plan and make a skilful exit.

First up, it’s perfectly fine to fall in an exhausted dispirited heap. Balance these vulnerable, crumpled times by doing whatever tops up your tank. I sing and bake and hike.

Generate enough energy to be able to look ahead and start to shift things.

Kickstart a side project at or outside work. It needn’t be as cool as these but it could be. Start exploring your career change options and working out how to fund them.

Stuck in a job that sucks? Book a chat.

By Jo Green, Career Change Coach

I know that when you find what you love, heart and soul, your life changes. I work every day with people who are reshaping their current careers, starting new enterprises or searching for a new direction. Basically I help people who don’t like their job to figure out what to do instead!

As a Careershifters and Firework Advanced Certified Coach and experienced career changer myself, I can help you figure out what fulfilling work looks like for you.

Drop me a note to organise a free 20 minute consultation to chat about your career change and how coaching could help.