The global workforce is unhappy with their jobs. That’s the conclusion of a recent research study that looked at nearly 60,000 employees at 1,600-plus companies across the globe between January 2020 and June 2023. The study, by US HR software firm BambooHR, concluded that job satisfaction has suffered a steady decline since the pandemic started, with varied reasons from low compensation and unbearable workload to absence of support from colleagues and managers.
While several companies have recognised the importance of a work-life balance and are making efforts to boost employee morale, the drop in job satisfaction has been consistent. In the State of the Global Workplace 2022 report released by global analytics and advice firm, Gallup, it was found that workers across the world experienced high rates of disengagement and unhappiness, with 60% of the respondents admitting to being emotionally detached at work. In fact, a staggering six in 10 employees acknowledged quiet quitting—a trend that implies disinterest in work or doing the bare minimum to keep a job.
Back home, a study conducted in 2022 across India by happyness.me, a neuro-analytical software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform that measures the happiness quotient of organisations and its people, showed that close to 60% of the 1,360 Indians surveyed were unhappy at work. About half of them expressed the intent to quit their present jobs.
It isn’t, however, easy for every individual to quit their job, even if they don’t enjoy it. There could be many reasons for it, from having financial commitments to the fear of not finding another job amid increasing layoffs, or being overtly loyal to the workplace.
“When covid-19 altered workplace dynamics, I was certain that work from home would help me feel greater work satisfaction. Things have only gone downhill because our managers expect us to work far more than before without adequate compensation,” says a 38-year-old Mumbai-based corporate employee. “It feels like they are constantly micromanaging us, which leads to further stress. But I don’t have the courage to quit. It gives me a sense of purpose in life. There’s really nothing else I can think of to build my self-worth.”
For some, the work they do could be attached to their identity, points out Neelima Chakara, executive coach and founder, PurposeLadder, a coaching organisation that aims to increase the capacity and effectiveness of executives.
Under these pressing circumstances, how is it feasible for unhappy employees to maintain efficiency at work and deliver targets? While it isn’t easy to be happy and enthusiastic, it is possible to stay objective.
“The employee should reflect on what they hate about their job. Is it a specific activity or part of the work?” asks Chakara. “Is it a particular person or certain behaviours? Double-clicking on what one does not like may help in finding possible solutions to the problem.” She also recommends keeping an eye out for other opportunities within an organisation that aligns with an employee’s strengths and interests.
A 44-year-old marketing professional from Bengaluru who works in an e-commerce startup, explains how he gathered the courage to discuss all his concerns with his boss two years ago. Unfortunately, he was reprimanded for his decision to speak up and ultimately lost out on an upcoming promotion. Ever since, he has not received an increment and is constantly worried about losing his job.
“I have been ill-treated by my superiors for a long time, but I still do not have the heart to quit my job,” he says. “I joined the company 12 years ago in its early stages and have shed blood, sweat and tears for its growth. While my professional growth is stunted, I feel a deep sense of loyalty towards the company.”.
However, it’s crucial to be cognisant of certain behaviours that point towards a toxic workplace. Is it that an employee’s emotional, mental and physical health is being affected owing to an organisation’s culture or subculture, or is there simply a general disinterest in work?
Toxic jobs do not respect any boundaries and violate values like trust, respect and a sense of belonging. On the other hand, disinterest in a job may arise due to stagnation or the absence of a learning curve. Some may experience zero inspiration towards the problems their job needs to solve, says Chakara.
In this case, it helps to shift your perspective and focus on parts that are working for you, suggests Preeta Ganguli, an independent mental wellness professional from Gurugram. What’s more, if the absence of work-life balance is a sore point, exercising boundaries like leaving the office at a certain hour or not entertaining calls once home after work may help.
“That being said, if you are staying in a job against your wishes, it is essential to acknowledge your feelings and the loss of what you wanted to do. You must allow yourself to process all the emotions that are coming up. If needed, seek external support through co-workers or your close friends and family,” adds Ganguli.
It is also important to find something outside of work to engage in that can fuel your passion and offer you joy. Identifying activities like listening to music, writing, or creating art are sustainable ways to channel emotions in a healthy manner.
That’s not all. A study, titled Very Happy People, published by the US-based Association for Psychological Science in January 2022, showed that work satisfaction is linked to the quality of work relationships. In fact, the happiest 10% of the people admit to having strong relationships at work and thus exhibiting higher workplace productivity.
“Look around for a colleague who seems to thrive in the same environment that is stifling you. Observe how they make it work. Seek permission to treat them like a mentor or coach and learn from them,” advises Chakara.
By Neelima Chakara, executive coach and founder, PurposeLadder
It might be harder to be productive in a job you dislike, but there are some tips you can follow in such situations:
2. Set realistic targets for each day.
3. Set the non-negotiables for the day and ensure you address them.
4. Manage your focus. There are many apps available that can help you stay away from distractions.
5. Take short breaks during the day to rest and recharge.
6. Work consistently towards the role you aspire for.
7. Do not build your entire identity around your work. Make time and space for activities that nurture you and help sustain your productivity.
Geetika Sachdev is a writer and journalist.