Should I tell my boss I don't like my job?
January 5, 2011 9:46 AM   Subscribe

Do I tell my boss that I'm unhappy at my job?

I've been in this job for a little over a year. I've never been happy with it, and at times I've been miserable. It's just not a good fit. I've stuck it out because I figure I can tolerate it and everyone's job sucks sometimes, and I need a paycheck, and I don't know if I can get a better job, and job hunting is a pain. I'm updating my resume and want to get something else sooner than later, but in the meantime I am here. I do not want and cannot afford to quit without something else lined up.

Lately I've been in a trench. My performance has been slipping, and for the past couple of days I've been crying at work. My bosses haven't said anything yet, but I'm sure they'll notice if it keeps up. And I don't have any explanation for it other than I'm just so unhappy here. Confessing that I don't like my job seems like a terrible move, but at the same time I feel like I owe them an explanation.

There is nothing they can do to make this job more appealing to me - I don't enjoy the work itself and I don't find the industry appealing. I took a vacation over the holidays, so I can't take any significant time off in the near future. It's possible that at some point I could transition to another department and I've talked to my boss about areas I'm interested in, but I'm not experienced enough to transition now, and I don't think there are any openings. My supervisors like me, and I like them, and my reviews so far have been positive.

I take good care of myself physically and mentally, and I'm happy with my life outside of work. I'm not saying my life would be problem-free if I left this job, but I can say with absolute certainty that work is the source of my unhappiness. (For the record, I do take antidepressants, and they have been working well.)

What do I do? Keep quiet, suck it up, and quietly look for a new job? If I burst into tears in someone's office, how do I explain it? Have you been in this situation, either as the employee or the employer? Would you want to know if one of your employees was unhappy? Would you be sympathetic, or would you start looking for a way to let them go?

Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Telling your boss you are unhappy, while your work performance is slipping - is setting yourself up to be laid off.

You obviously need a career change. But, line up your next gig before you start shutting down the job you have. These are tough times, it may not be so easy to get another job. If you are unhappy at work, you will be even more unhappy with no job at all.
posted by Flood at 9:52 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, if your boss did lay you off though, you could at least collect unemployment (probably) until you're able to find a new job..

Also, I disagree with Flood's last sentence:
"If you are unhappy at work, you will be even more unhappy with no job at all."

Who knows what new doors will open for you after you've left your job?
posted by Glendale at 9:56 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

If the problem is truly that it just isn't a good fit for you, then suck it up while you're there and quietly look for another job. And just don't burst into tears in someone's office. You're a grownup. This is only a job. There are others out there, and none of them should be driving you to tears. I agree with Flood. Don't set yourself up to be let go. Be a professional, do your best while you're there, and get out when you can.

I say this as someone who's been stressed in an ill-fitting position and also as an employer. I can be sympathetic all I like, but I still have deadlines at the end of the day, and I need to know my employees are up to the task. If someone tells me they're unhappy, that they just don't like their job or the industry... what in the world can I do with that info? I can't fix a problem like that. So, telling me about it just tells me I have to start looking for someone I can rely upon to stay.

If you can't leave, tell your friends/significant other/therapist about your woes. It always helps to talk it out when you're stressed. But your boss is not that person.
posted by katillathehun at 10:02 AM on January 5, 2011 [7 favorites]

Crying at work is not good. Even if it is unpaid vacation, you need to take time off to get yourself together and consider your options. Whatever you decide to do, it should be on your terms. If you go into the office in a distressed state, you lose options.
posted by vincele at 10:02 AM on January 5, 2011

If you are unhappy at work, you will be even more unhappy with no job at all.

Not true for me on more than one occasion. Yeah, poverty sucks but not as much as a few jobs I've had. That said, the wisdom is definitely to make some kind of plan before bailing from your current situation (and income).

As for talking to your boss, why bother really if ... There is nothing they can do to make this job more appealing to me - I don't enjoy the work itself and I don't find the industry appealing.

To me, the key line in all of this is: I'm not saying my life would be problem-free if I left this job, but I can say with absolute certainty that work is the source of my unhappiness. (For the record, I do take antidepressants, and they have been working well.)

Call me an idealist but I don't think you owe it to any boss (any economy period) to essentially fall into mental ill-health in order to conform to expectations. Make a change. And good luck.
posted by philip-random at 10:03 AM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Telling your boss you are unhappy, while your work performance is slipping - is setting yourself up to be laid off.

It is also occasionally just plain setting yourself up to be laid off even if you kick ass and your docs step up to provide backup for your condition.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:03 AM on January 5, 2011

I'm going to give you this advice only:

Unless your boss is a saint, they will care less about the fact that you are unhappy than the impact of you being unhappy.

Your boss is not your therapist. They may listen politely, but their internal narrative is likely to be "what do I need to do about this?" and "what do they want me to do?"

In short: if you want to tell your boss, then you need give them only the information they need to make the decision, and specifically why your problem is their problem. And in order to make that decision right for you, you need to at least have an idea of what the solution is.

You sound you want to unload. This is not the right idea. If you want to quit, then quit. If your job is making you unhappy and you see no viable solution then get another job. If your job is affecting your performance and you want your boss to do something about it frame the discussion like that.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:03 AM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

I was unhappy and my boss knew it and I got laid off and got unemployment and that was awesome. Job hunting was stressful, of course, but I had lots of time to do it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:12 AM on January 5, 2011

Instead of crying at work, visualize your new job. Think about what environment you'd like, what work you want to do, and focus on that instead of how unhappy you are. Network and search. The first quarter is usually the best time to job hunt.

There is no way you'll get a decent reference if you start crying at the office. If you're sure no possibility exists for you to take on responsibilities that suit you better, then there's nothing to be gained and everything to be lost by demonstrating your unhappiness.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:16 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I hear ya, man (woman? person? dogg?). I went to therapy yesterday and spent a good half of my time saying, "Lord, this job is ruining my shit." And it's the best job I've ever had. But what can you do in this economy?

Even in a situation where I feel that my boss(es) are great people, and that their recognition of me as a person has contributed to my/our success, it's true: her job is first and foremost to keep the office running and to get work done.

I find that it helps to categorize and compartmentalize some of the issues. That, in turn, helps keep the things I can control separate from the things I can't. So, for example:
--My boss has a short fuse. She didn't used to have such a short fuse, and I know it's because there's other stuff going on that she can't control either. That helps take the feeling that it's personal, or that it's because I did something wrong, out of the equation.
--Am I being assertive about the things I need? I can't work in a vacuum, because I need structure and accountability. So I might not be able to get a better office, or responsibilities that better match my skills, but I CAN get a weekly meeting to check in and make sure I'm on the right track, and I CAN get multiple supervisors to agree that I only have to report to one person.
--Do I want to cry because I hate the work, or because I hate the situation, or because I hate something about myself and the way I've dealt with it? That helps me figure out how to keep my emotions in check -- letting them out when it's appropriate and figuring out the real thing that's bugging me when it's not appropriate.

Taking an inventory about the things that upset you might be helpful for you to identify some areas which you could take to your boss and ask about. But if you talk about it, make sure you do so with the attitude that (regardless of how much you want to say, "So long, Stinktown!") you want to contribute to making the company better, and you want to make it easy for others to work with you within the parameters that exist. It's tough (ridiculously tough), but it's worth doing, even if it ends up being an exercise that shows you what you want to do somewhere else.

Your company may have an Employee Assistance Office to help balance work/life issues. Check and see if one exists, and if people have had success working with them.

If you feel comfortable doing so, please MeMail me and we can chat. I've been in some truly awful work situations, big and small offices, for-profit and non-profit, and I love to commiserate. Case in point: I especially love to tell people how I left a hot new software job to work at Best Buy on Black Friday. You'll get there. It'll be okay.
posted by Madamina at 10:27 AM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you're crying at work, your boss *might* already be aware that you're unhappy there. I don't see any benefit to telling your boss you're unhappy, but you may want to figure out what you're going to say when your boss asks you why you're so unhappy.
posted by mskyle at 10:31 AM on January 5, 2011

As the boss of 50 people my advice is to tell your boss that you are unhappy, but ONLY when you are ready with a solution that you need his/her support to accomplish.

so: "BOO HOO I am unhappy and stuck and hopeless" is a bad strategy, but I am sure that's not what you were planning. The best you can hope for with that is sympathy, or maybe pity, which are not things you want from your boss.

BUT saying: "this job isn't the right fit for me and I am pursuing these opportunities: can you help me with a reference or some career advice?" would be very welcome in my office.

It's likely that your boss already knows that you and your job aren't getting along, and since it's starting to effect your performance he/she may be relieved to hear you acknowledge the problem and respect your ability to find a new direction for yourself.

And do this soon, before you do anymore crying at work: that really doesn't help you at all and you run the risk of a coworker running to tell the boss out of concern (or spite)
posted by Ranindaripley at 10:37 AM on January 5, 2011 [7 favorites]

Ah, the 'ol battle between the emotional spirit and the logical mind.... There's nothing like fighting myself to make a bad situation worse....

It sounds like you already know what the logical thing to do is, i.e. quietly look for another job, while trying to hold it together at your current one, so you're financially ok, but emotionally miserable.... or tell your boss you're miserable and get some relief of finally coming clean, probably get laid off, thereby "solving" the problem in a way that leaves your spirit happy, but your physical self in danger.

Something I've discovered is that I cannot force by will alone my emotions to come into line with what's logical. It's like enduring a loveless marriage because it makes "sense" financially.

If I were you, I would need separation. I would need to get off my butt and do something about this like my life is on the line, because emotionally it is. The longer I try to maintain a discord between my rationale and my emotion the farther apart they become. (i.e. flipping out at work, which I've done).

I would look for something else quite actively, cut my expenditures down to bare bones (in case I flip and storm out never to return, or just go to lunch and keep going, which I've also done) so I have some buffer in the bank, and set up some "feelers" with sympathetic friends and family for possible financial assistance should it become necessary during a job search.
posted by Debaser626 at 10:48 AM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Oh absolutely I was in your position and am somewhat now (except I really do like what I do).

The bottom line is you owe your boss nothing except when you leave is to say "I appreciate everything but this really isn't a good fit for me." If you want to say anything at all. I wouldn't elaborate further than that.

I get a sense that you like an ideal situation where worker/employee are on equal terms, human, considerate, understanding, and almost a friend. Trust me, I thought that too and it bites you in the ass if you treat a boss/employee situation like that. I told my ex boss now high director everything and vise versa. Now they got a big promotion and their tune has significantly changed towards me where I'm on the s-list and I'm sure being all "hey we're equals" and spilling my guts about work/personal stuff didn't help things. Now I have to look for a job.

I'm sorry you're crying. I get it. Never cry at your desk. Take a walk. Go to the bathroom on another floor (if possible). I get you sometimes need to let it out. Get on message boards, lock your Twitter and vent. Do something but don't let them see you cry. You don't need assumptions that you're a wreck, immature, or start spreading rumors. People at work can be asshats. Remember that.

Start the job hunt now. It wouldn't surprise me if you work at my place. It reduces many to tears. Good luck. Email if you want to vent.
posted by stormpooper at 10:59 AM on January 5, 2011

It would be unwise to tell your employer that you are unhappy. While you should probably look for a new job, you should also address the issue of crying at work. You say you're on anti-depressants. Could there be something in them that is affecting your moods and making you cry?
posted by KokuRyu at 11:18 AM on January 5, 2011

I don't know if I can get a better job, and job hunting is a pain. I'm updating my resume and want to get something else sooner than later

Is job hunting more of a pain than living with a job you hate so much it's causing you to burst into tears in public?

Correct answer: no. It is not.

Stop the procrastinatory 'updating your resume' and instead start actively looking for a better job. Right now.

There is nothing they can do to make this job more appealing to me

Then there is obviously no reason to talk to them about it. It's a job, not a relationship; you don't need to air out your feelings, you don't "owe them an explanation," you don't have to have The Talk when there is not a single useful thing that The Talk could accomplish.

I do understand that you don't want to quit before lining up other work, and practically if you can quietly stick it out for a while longer that's probably the best thing to do -- provided you don't let inertia take over. I've found that even the most miserable jobs become more tolerable once you get out of the mindset of "this is my job" and into the mindset of "this is what I'm doing for a paycheck while I look for my real job." You can care less about the bullshit and just get through the day.
posted by ook at 11:32 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I recently told my manager I was unhappy at work and I think it was a mistake to do so. In my case, I'm sure my manager already knew, and if he'd been able to do anything about it he'd have done so. He responded by emailing me about my flaws at work, wch I really think he did intend helpfully, but they were issues I already knew about and - dear lord I'm starting to rant - short version, I wouldn't again tell a manager anything about feelings unless I had clear suggestions to make to him/her about what he could do to help me improve things at work. Your feelings are your own to sort out unless you're really being exploited, abused or bullied at work.

Also, now if there are times I'm feeling better about work it feels awkward to have contact with him as I feel I need to say "you know that thing I told you a few months ago? It's not a problem this week".

As for starting to cry with other people there, I'd leave the room and not worry about explaining why I was crying. Most people have moments of unwinding at work sometime in their careers. You could think about how you'd react if someone else cried, to get sense of what other people might think and what they'd expect you to do (not that you need to do what they expect, but it'll help you think about the options).
posted by paduasoy at 12:36 PM on January 5, 2011

Looking for work these days is a full time job. If you can take the financial hit I would say leave the current job. Only problem is justifying it to future prospective employees. Saying you were unhappy isn't going to cut it. However saying you left to pursue opportunities more in line with your training/degree/job history will likely get you through some hurdles.
posted by Gungho at 12:47 PM on January 5, 2011

If there is nothing your boss can do to make you happier at work (and it sounds like there isn't), then telling him/her will be counterproductive. As other posters have said, start looking for another job!

RE: crying at work. Really reallly try and avoid crying in the office / meetings. If you have to cry (and sometimes you do), do it in the bathroom. And make sure you tell all your co-workers about your eye infection and how you have to put drops in regularly (and get some eye drops and put them in in public when you don't feel like crying as well). It will provide an explanation for you looking red-eyed after you've had a bit of a weep. Oh, and if you wear mascara, make sure it's waterproof!
posted by finding.perdita at 1:35 PM on January 5, 2011

Mod note: From the OP:
All right, so it's a big resounding no, unless I want to lose my job (which sometimes sounds like a good idea). I really trust my boss, and at the time I wrote the question I thought it was important for them to know - but it's not their job to make me feel better.

I'll keep calm and work on. And look for something new. In the meantime I'll work on being mindful at work and not letting things get to me.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 2:06 PM on January 5, 2011

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