Read my brand new book:
Happy Hour is 9 to 5
Learn How To Love Your Job, Love Your Life and Kick Butt at Work
By Chief Happiness Officer Alexander Kjerulf
Warning: May cause severe unhappiness
We’ve looked at what we think makes us happy at work but doesn’t, and what actually makes us happy. But what makes us unhappy at work, and what can we do about it?
You can look at the six happy actions mentioned in Chapter 2. These make people happy at work, and their absence makes people unhappy. A workplace that does not allow people to be positive, learn, be open, participate, find meaning and express love is bound to be a horrible place to work.
However, aside from a lack of these positive factors, what are the major things that make us miserable on the job?
I used to be the Public Relations Coordinator and Editor for a local non-profit organization. A couple of months before I threw in the towel my grandmother became very ill. After a phone call from a family member I was told to come to her bedside, as death was imminent.
I told my boss that I needed to leave for a family emergency and explained the situation and how close I was to my grandmother. My boss replied, “Well, she’s not dead yet, so I don’t have to grant your leave.” And, I was told to complete my workday. Suffice to say I did not finish my workday1.
The uncontested, number-one reason why people are unhappy at work is bad management. Nothing has more power to turn a good work situation bad than a bad boss. Sadly there are quite a lot of them around. A recent British study accused 1 in 4 bosses of being bad, while a Norwegian study said 1 in 5.
According to workplace researchers Sharon Jordan-Evans and Beverly Kaye, when people quit, they don’t leave a company, they leave a bad boss. Surveys show that up to 75% of employees who leave their jobs do so at least in part because of their manager. In the exit interview dutifully performed by HR, employees may say that they got a higher salary or a shorter commute out of the switch, but in anonymous surveys the truth comes out: My bad boss drove me away.
The reason that having a bad manager is so bad for us is that managers have power over us. Managers can change our work situation, allocate us good or bad tasks, and, ultimately, fire us. This power imbalance is why a good relationship with your manager is so important.
What kind of manager makes people unhappy at work? A bad manager does not practice the six things that make people happy at work from Chapter 2. Bad managers:
Know any managers like that? Are you that manager, at least some of the time?
Managers face pressure to create an innovative and creative culture, one that allows employees to realize their full potential. A good manager should motivate rather than command, coach rather than control. This is possible, but only when employees are happy at work, meaning that managers must learn the new leadership style.
However, there’s very little established education available on the new leadership style. So, let’s cut our leaders and managers some slack. Many of them are trying hard to learn a way of working that is new to everyone.
How to deal with a bad boss
If you have a bad relationship with your boss it’s vitally important that you do something about it as soon as possible. It can be tempting to wait, thinking that it might get better on its own, or that your boss might be promoted, transferred or leave. Don’t wait—do something! Here are the steps you must take.
1: Classify your boss
Which of these three categories does your bad boss fall into?
Some managers who make their co-workers unhappy are simply unaware of this fact—nobody has ever told them that what they do isn’t working. Some managers know that what they’re doing is wrong and are trying to improve—these people need our support and good advice.
And then there’s the third category: Those who steadfastly refuse to acknowledge that they’re bad leaders, or who revel in the fact that they make people unhappy at work. These managers are usually beyond helping and may never learn and improve. Get away from them as fast as you can.
2: Let your boss know what they could do better
Presuming your boss is in category 1 or 2, you must let them know what they can improve. This can be scary because of the power imbalance between managers and employees, but it needs to be done. Managers aren’t mind readers, and they need honest, constructive feedback.
3: Assume no bad intentions.
While some of the things your boss does may make you unhappy at work, it is probably not why they do it. Assume that they mean well and are simply unaware of the effects of their actions.
4: Choose the right time to talk.
In the middle of a meeting or as a casual hallway chat are not the best ways to approach the subject. Make sure you’re in a quiet undisturbed place and have time to talk about it fully.
5: Do it sooner rather than later.
It’s incredibly tempting to wait and see if it gets better. Don’t. Raise the issues when you notice them.
6: Explain the effects on you and the effects on your work.
Be specific and tell your manager, “When you do X it makes me do Y, which results in Z.”
7: Suggest alternatives.
If you can, explain what they could do instead and why that would be better. Suggesting specific alternatives makes it easier to make positive changes.
8: Praise your manager regularly.
When your boss gets it right, remember to praise them. Many managers never receive praise because people mistakenly believe that praise should only flow from managers to employees.
You may be nervous about approaching your manager and giving them advice, but good managers are truly grateful for constructive, useful feedback, and will appreciate any opportunity they get to learn how to do a better job.
Another typical cause of unhappiness at work is difficult people. Abrasive, annoying, argumentative jerks exist everywhere—including at work.
The tips in the previous section for dealing with bad bosses work equally well for dealing with these people. The main point remains the same: Do something and do it now. Do not wait for the problem to go away on its own, no matter how tempting this may be.
The cult of overwork
In a feature article on workplace role models, CNN asked 12 well-known leaders, including Carlos Ghosn of Nissan, Marissa Mayer of Google and famous jazz musician Wynton Marsalis, how they manage their time and stay efficient2. My favorite answer is as follows:
I know that it’s de rigeur for executives to start the day extremely early, but frankly I feel I make better decisions and relate better to people when I’m well rested. So I usually get up around 8 after a good night’s sleep.
I also make sure to work a standard 40-hour week and never work on the weekends. This is important to me for two reasons. First of all, I have a life outside of work. I have a family who likes to have me around, and friends and hobbies that I also want to have time for. I find that the time I spend outside of work recharges my batteries, expands my horizons, and actually makes me more efficient at work.
Secondly, if I’m always seen arriving at the office at 6 in the morning and leaving at 9 in the evening, not to mention taking calls and writing emails late at night and all weekend, it’s sure to send a signal to my employees that this is what the company expects, that this is “the right way”. But it isn’t.
It’s a simple fact that for most leaders and employees, the first 40 hours they work each week are worth much more to the company than the next 20, 30 or 40 hours. But those extra hours spent at work can harm your private life, your family and your health. Which in turn becomes damaging to the company.
Frankly, if you can’t structure your time so your work fits inside a 40-hour week, you need to get better at prioritizing and delegating.
Refreshing words. Guess which of the leaders said that?
NONE OF THEM.
Instead, there’s a lot of, “I get up at 5 and arrive at the office at 6,” “I work 16 hours a day,” “I take a lot of calls on the drive in to the office,” and “I usually leave the office at 7 and then work a few more hours in the evening at home.”
I fully expected one of them to say, “I get up at 4 in the morning, half an hour before I go to bed, and work a 27-hour day, only stopping for a 3-minute lunch break in which two assistants stuff food down my throat like a foie-gras goose.” This is the Cult of Overwork, the belief that the more hours you work, the better. In extreme cases this results in what the Japanese, the world champions of long work hours, call Karoshi—death by overwork.
If you’re behind at work, the solution is rarely to work more. Most of us, a few supermen and -women aside, accomplish no more in 60, 80 or 100 hours a week than we do in 40. While we may initially and for a short time get a little more work done in 80 hours than 40, there’s a cost to making this the norm:
As Carisa Bianchi, Chief Strategy Officer of advertising agency TBWA\Chiat\Day, puts it:
You can always find reasons to work. There will always be one more thing to do. But when people don’t take time out, they stop being productive. They stop being happy, and that affects the morale of everyone around them.
In many workplaces there’s always more work, no matter how much work you finish. Everybody is always running behind, and even if you magically managed to clear your inbox, there would just be more new assignments.
You can’t fix this by working harder, working longer, working more efficiently, or by prioritizing your work better. You must do all of this, sure, but if there’s just too much work to be done, then none of this is the solution.
I used to work at a company with a strong “overwork” culture. After two years obsessing about getting in at 7, leaving at 7 (and then working even more from home), my wife had a baby. I took a week off, then felt justified in limiting my work to 40 hours for the next couple of months due to my lack of sleep and need to help around the house.
In that two-month period I realized I accomplished exactly as much and was exactly as busy as I was when I worked 60 hours a week. From then on, I was in at 8, out at 5, aside from the occasional large project, and I completely stopped working at home. I was never happier, more organized or more successful in that job.
All that I learned in this time enabled me to get a new job and a significantly higher salary.
Meanwhile, when I talk to employees at the old company, they’re bragging about the 75-hour workweeks and discussing which anti-anxiety meds they take.
—Comment on positivesharing.com
Let’s once and for all drop the cult of overwork and realize that it’s not the hours that count—it’s the results. More hours DO NOT equate to better results.
Workplace stress and burnout
Once upon a time there was a bear and a bee who lived in a wood and were the best of friends. All summer long the bee collected nectar from morning to night while the bear lay on his back basking in the long grass.
When Winter came the Bear realised he had nothing to eat and thought to himself, “I hope that busy little Bee will share some of his honey with me.” But the Bee was nowhere to be found—he had died of a stress-induced coronary disease.
—From a piece of street art by the anonymous British guerilla artist Banksy3
Workplace stress can be incredibly damaging to our health and quality of life. Studies show that workplace stress:
The costs to our workplaces are also high. According to the British Health and Safety Executive:
However, there is one fundamental misconception around stress, namely that stress comes primarily from working too much. In reality, there is little correlation between hours worked and levels of stress. It’s not how much you work, it’s how you feel while you work.
If you feel constantly behind and neglected, are being treat unfairly, ignored or bullied, or are going through large changes and fearing for the future, you can become stressed from working 40 hours a week. Or even 20. If this is the case, working less will not help at all. What’s more, you can’t fight stress—fighting stress just creates more stress.
Danish medical scientist Bo Netterstrom has been researching workplace stress for 30 years and clearly states:
Happiness at work is the only lasting cure for stress.
Instead of stressing about stress, it is important to focus on what makes you calm, peaceful and happy at work, and how to get more of that. It’s impossible to be both happy at work and stressed. There’s an exercise to help you do just that in Chapter 5.
Celebrate the work you do
If you’re feeling stressed because you’re behind at work, there is one realization that can help you:
Being stressed about being behind only makes me less efficient
Therefore, I will celebrate and enjoy the work I accomplish
It’s not that you shouldn’t care about being behind on work—you should care. But don’t become stressed about it. Instead, make sure to to constantly remind yourself of the work you have accomplished, rather than beat yourself up over the work that you haven’t. And always remember that working more is not the same as getting more done.
This goes double for the managers reading this. If you’re always focused on the work your department has not done, you’re making your people stressed—and consequently less efficient. Appreciate the work that gets done, make people happy at work, and you maximize the results.
Conflicts at work
I don’t know about you, but I hate conflicts at work. Spending a workday mad at a co-worker, trying to avoid that person and subconsciously finding fault with everything they say or do is not exactly my idea of a good time.
I used to be an expert at dodging conflicts on the job and I’m here to tell you that it just doesn’t work! What does work is biting the bullet and doing something about it here and now. I have seen what appeared to be serious, insurmountable conflicts dissolve completely when handled constructively. But, I have also seen tiny molehill-sized problems grow into mountains that threaten to topple an entire company.
You can’t win a conflict at work. If you “win” a conflict you get the outcome you want regardless of what the other person wants. This can be gratifying, sure, but the problem is that the underlying issue has not been addressed. It will simply reappear later over some other topic. Much better than winning a conflict at work is resolving it.
And resolve conflict now—the price of inaction is high. Unresolved, long-running conflicts result in antagonism, a breakdown in communications, inefficient teams, stress and low productivity. In short, unresolved conflicts make people terribly unhappy at work.
With all of this in mind, here are five essential steps to help you constructively solve conflicts at work.
1: Realize that conflicts are inevitable
Show me a workplace without conflict and I’ll show you a workplace where no one gives a damn. Having a conflict at work does not mean you’re a bad person—it means you’re engaged enough to care. The very best and most efficient workplaces are not the ones without conflicts, but those who handle conflicts constructively.
2: Handle conflict sooner rather than later
This is the single most important tip to successfully resolve conflicts: Do it now! It’s very tempting to wait for conflicts to blow over by themselves, but they rarely do. In most cases they just get worse with time.
In the early stages of a conflict the most powerful tool to resolve it is simple: Instead of getting annoyed at someone, ask why they did it. Do it nicely. Say, “I was wondering why you took the last coffee yesterday without brewing some more,” or “I’ve noticed that you often leave your cell phone unattended. Why is that?” are good examples. “Why the hell do you always have to talk so loudly on the phone?!” is less constructive.
4: Use giraffe language
For more serious conflicts that have been going on for a while, use giraffe language. It’s the best tool around for constructively conveying criticism and solving conflicts, and don’t worry—no actual animal noises are involved.
Giraffe language, also known as non-violent communication, works so well because:
I won’t give you a complete rundown of giraffe language here, but you can read all about it at this book’s website.
5: Get mediation
Some conflicts are so entrenched that they cannot be solved by the participants themselves. Outside help is needed in the form of conflict mediation, i.e., finding a third party to help find a solution. The mediator can be a manager, HR employee, business coach, or co-worker.
The place where I work is managed by good people who don’t want to be bureaucratic jerks, but they can’t grasp one simple concept: They are giving me money in exchange for doing something I love—they don’t have to shackle me with schedules and policies to get me to produce! I will be here working my little heart out because *I want to be*.
I try to block out the memos and TPS reports and remind myself that those things aren’t really changing what I get to do here, but damn, every time the red tape is thrust in my face it just deflates me and I don’t even feel like trying to design or build something.
—Comment on positivesharing.com
Red tape kills the soul. There you are, an employee with brilliant ideas, trying to do the best possible job, and the corporate rulebook is holding you back against common sense and everything you know to be right.
An August 2000 survey of 1,100 American employees from various organizations concluded that organizational red tape, cumbersome work rules, and tangled processes take up an extraordinary amount of time. On average, workplace bureaucracy steals 9.4 hours from the weekly schedule. For one in five people, more than 16 hours per week go down the bureaucracy drain.
Furthermore, there is a clear correlation between workplaces with more bureaucracy and workplaces people want to leave. In other words, people flee organizations burdened with red tape4.
As CEO of Oticon, Lars Kolind went on a war against bureaucracy in his organization. This turned Oticon around, transforming it from a marginal player to the world’s leading manufacturer of hearing aids. It’s a remarkable business case that is now required reading at most business schools around the world.
In his excellent book The Second Cycle: Winning the War Against Bureaucracy, Kolind writes:
As organizations grow larger, older and more successful, they introduce more management layers, more departments, more procedures, plans, budgets, reports, meetings, traditions and the like.
This leads to management developing its own agenda, increasingly detached from employees and customers. It becomes more important to win awards than to care for customers and employees. Management loses touch with the business, which becomes increasingly complacent and even arrogant.
This all leads to less action, slower action and no action outside the well-known patterns.
That kind of thing makes people desperately unhappy at work, because we all want to do great work! To be held back by stupid rules and irrational regulations makes no sense and makes your job more complicated than it needs to be. Read Lars’ excellent book to learn his cure for bureaucracy—and to thank him for writing a great foreword to this book.
It was like a cloud of evil had descended on the factory. Everyone was afraid of this evil.
I knew that I was being harassed and bullied, I felt like I was being forced into resigning. Every reasonable step I took to resolve my situation was refused, or worse I was totally ignored. All the time my treatment seemed to get harsher, I was given totally menial tasks, which when complained about would result in me being given physically impossible tasks.
To cut a long story short I eventually suffered a breakdown. This not only devastated me but all my family too5.
We human beings are highly social creatures, and feeling that we belong is perhaps our deepest, most primal need. Bullying means cutting a person out of the community, and singling them out for scorn and teasing. Such treatment may seem trivial when viewed from the outside, but it’s not the actions of the bullies themselves that create the damage—it’s the fact that the one being bullied has been excluded.
Bullying is often devastating. People break down mentally and physically, and can take years to recover. If you’re being bullied, it’s immensely important that you act immediately. Talk to someone. Go to your boss. Request a transfer. Quit. Whatever course of action you feel is best for you, do something.
A survey of 2,000 employees by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development in the UK found that 20% had experienced some form of workplace bullying or harassment in the last two years.
I cannot stress enough how dangerous this can be, and how important it is not to just wait for it to get better. If you or someone you know is being bullied at work, act now.
Got any chronic complainers where you work? It seems like every workplace has them—the people for whom the weather is always too warm or too cold, the boss is a jerk, the food is lousy, work sucks… No matter how good things get, they still only see the bad—and they go to huge lengths to point it out to everyone around them.
I’m not saying we should outlaw complaining; as we saw on page 69, it’s possible to complain constructively. But we need to do something about the chronic, unconstructive complainers, because they tend to make everyone around them unhappy too. Negative people are highly contagious, and one chronic complainer can easily bring an entire department down.
There are several strategies that people typically use around complainers, none of which really work.
1. Cheering them up doesn’t work
“Oh, it can’t be that bad,” “Come on, cheer up,” or “Time heals all wounds.”
This shows the complainer that you’re not taking their pain seriously. When you downplay a complainer’s pain, they will often complain even harder to convince you that their problems are very serious indeed.
2. Suggesting solutions doesn’t work
“Why don’t you just…,” “Have you tried…,” or “You really ought to…”
The complainer’s problems are really serious and can’t be solved by a few smart-ass suggestions from you—or so they’ve convinced themselves. The more you try to suggest solutions, the harder they will work to convince you and themself that these solutions could never possibly work for them.
3. Telling them to pull themself together doesn’t work
“Quit complaining and do something about it,” or one of my favorites, “You either want the problem or you want the solution.”
This is telling them that their problems are trivial and they just need to pull themself together—not a good idea.
4. Complaining about the complainers doesn’t work
“Damn, that Sally complains a lot doesn’t she?”
Guess what? You just became a complainer.
5. Ignoring/avoiding them doesn’t work
This makes complainers clamor for attention, which usually makes people ignore them even more, creating a vicious circle.
6. Complaining along with them doesn’t work
“You know what, you’re right—the boss is a jerk. And the weather sucks. In fact, everything sucks.”
This can seem kind of cozy because it creates bonding and an us-against-the-world feeling. Ultimately, though, it’s a bad idea because the more people complain, the less prone they are to doing something about their problems.
I remember one of the first jobs I had where my manager was a complete dolt. My co-workers and I couldn’t start a meeting, go out for a beer, or just meet in the hallway without spending 15–20 minutes complaining about him and his stupid ways. But all those man-hours spent complaining changed nothing, and none of us ever did anything about it. We all just quit the company, one by one.
So what does work? How can we stop chronic complainers from their constant grumbling? Here’s a simple but very effective trick:
A friend of mine who’s a dentist told me about an elderly, grouchy patient of hers who, every time he came in for an appointment, would spend most of his visit complaining about the weather, his children, his car, taxes, society, and any other topic that might come up.
Now you might think, “Hey, she’s a dentist, fill his mouth with gauze and cotton and let’s see him complain then!” but my friend is a naturally happy person and would instead try to cheer him up. It didn’t work, it just made him complain even more.
So, I taught her this simple trick and the next time he came in for an appointment she was ready. Mr. Grouch sat in the chair and, as always, immediately started complaining.
After listening to his usual litany for a while my dentist friend said, with deep sympathy in her voice, “You know, that sounds terrible. I don’t know how you deal with all of these problems.”
Guess what he said?
“Weeeeell, it’s not THAT bad!”
This approach works because it gives the complainer what he’s really after: Empathy. No cheering up, no solutions, no cheering on. Just simple, human understanding of what is, for them, a difficult situation.
There are two important things to notice here. First, don’t be sarcastic when you say it. Be sincere. Secondly, you don’t have to agree that these are huge problems. Even if everything the complainer says sounds trivial to you, remember that it feels like a huge problem to them or they wouldn’t go on about it. What seems trivial to one person can be a huge problem for another.
So, you’re not saying, “Yes, I agree that’s a huge problem,” and you’re certainly not saying, “Oh, poor poor you,” in a sarcastic voice. You’re just acknowledging the fact that this is a huge problem for that person.
Does this make the complaining go away? Sometimes. But at the very least it keeps you from being part of a vicious circle of responses that just makes the complainers complain more and more and more. The circle is cut at the point where you take their distress seriously.
There are no jobs out there in which every single task is fun and exciting. Any job contains boring moments, routine tasks, unpleasant assignments and contact with annoying people. Of course, if your job mostly consists of tasks you really hate to do, then maybe it’s time to move on to a different job.
If your job contains occasional boring tasks, then your approach to these tasks becomes crucial. If you work with a mantra of, “This sucks, man I hate doing this, why do I always have to do it,” running through your head I can promise you that it will suck. Badly.
If you go to it with a playful attitude instead, you can make it much less unpleasant. Sometimes you can even make it fun. Here are some attitudes you can try:
And there’s always one more option: To not do it. Remember that people are different and the task you think is really, really boring might be a lot of fun for one of your co-workers to do. In that case it would be a shame to deprive him of the chance to do it, wouldn’t it? So try to find out if somebody else would like to do the tasks you hate.
It turns out that a desire for fairness and equality is built into us at a biological level. Don’t believe me? Try this experiment: Get a bunch of Capuchin monkeys, and train them to give you a small, polished granite rock in exchange for a slice of cucumber. This is tricky in itself, but possible. Soon the monkeys learn that when they hand over the rock, they get their treat.
Then try something new: Get two of these monkeys together, and give one of them a better treat. Capuchin monkeys like cucumber fine, but they like grapes even better because they’re sweeter. If one capuchin sees you paying another one in grapes, it will refuse to cooperate, and will no longer hand over the rock in exchange for cucumber. “Listen, buster,” it seems to say, “you’re paying that guy in grapes and my work is at least as good. I want grapes too, or I’m going on strike6.”
In another experiment using brain-scanning equipment, this time on humans, researchers found a center in our brains that lights up whenever we believe we’re being treated unfairly. It seems that fairness is not just a nice ideal to strive for—we have a biological need to be treated fairly7.
This explains why one of the most demotivating factors in the workplace is unfairness. People react immediately to any perceived unfairness, especially when they’re not happy at work. Jack Welch, ex-CEO of General Electric, tells this story from early in his career:
My first boss, I just didn’t like his methods. I thought I was doing well and I got $1,000 more—a 10 per cent raise, and I was quite pleased. I thought I was doing much more than everybody else, I thought I was performing at a different level and everyone came bouncing back with their raise and they all got $1,000. So the raise that sort of pleased me at one point now irritated the hell out of me. And so I quit. I had a baby and no money. I borrowed $1,000 bucks from my mother. I quit.
It matters less what your salary, your title, your bonus and your perks are. It matters much more whether you think they’re fair. And while fairness in itself is not enough to make us happy at work, unfairness can make us desperately unhappy.
Which reminds me of the New Yorker Magazine cartoon where an employee is turned down for a raise and then promptly asks his boss “Well, if you can’t give me a raise, could you at least give Peterson a pay cut?”.
Fear of losing your job
Last year, Jakob, a 37-year-old IT professional, got a job he really likes in a medium-sized IT company. His boss is a great guy, his co-workers are competent and fun, and his clients are all terribly nice people.
There’s only one fly in the ointment: Jakob’s boss’s boss (one of the VPs) is… not nice. He tends to summon all his employees to meetings and chew them over collectively and loudly for whatever problems he sees. He’s abrasive and unpleasant, always complains, and never acknowledges his people for the good work they do. His emails to his underlings are a case study in rudeness. And, of course, he’s known for summarily firing people who cross him in any way.
Now, while Jakob likes his job, he doesn’t need it. He’s independently wealthy and so skilled he can always go out and get another job, and therefore has zero fear of being fired. While other people in the company feel they must watch their tongue for fear of the consequences, he feels free to say and do exactly what he thinks is right.
And here’s the thing: When Jakob stands up to this VP and tells him that he won’t stand for his unpleasant approach and explains exactly why his abrasive style creates problems for the company, he listens. Nobody has ever told any VP at the company these things before, and for the first time the company has an employee that is totally unafraid of doing so.
The result: This particular VP is slowly changing his ways. And he certainly pulls none of his usual attacks on Jakob, who he knows simply won’t stand for it.
The risk of being fired is the biggest axe that a company or manager holds over employees’ heads. It’s a mostly unstated, but well-known fact of working life that if an employee gets too far out of line, they’ll be fired/terminated/axed/given the chop—all terms with a dark, violent flavor…
Of course, we've all been taught that being fired is a terrible thing that should be avoided at all costs, which is why many of us will accept bad conditions at work and go to extraordinary lengths to keep our jobs. People who live in fear of being fired tend to:
It’s time we took the stigma out of being fired. If you can reduce or even rid yourself of that threat then you’re granted much wider latitude at work. When you really think about it, what’s so embarassing about being fired? Here are some of the most common reasons why people are fired, and why that doesn’t reflect badly on the one being fired:
Personality mismatch—So you didn’t fit in at that one company? There are millions of others. There will be one somewhere that is a good match for you. Besides, who says you were the problem?
Skill mismatch—So you tried out a job, and you didn’t have the skills for it? Big deal. Again, there are millions of other jobs.
Refusing to go along—Good for you. If that’s why you got fired, be proud for standing up for yourself.
Downsizing—Thousands of people are downsized every day.
Unreasonable firing—If you were fired for being pregnant, for telling the truth or any other unreasonable excuse, then there’s certainly no reason to be ashamed.
The exceptions to this list are people who are fired for harassment, abuse, or simply not doing the job. These people need to take a closer look at themselves.
Of course, being fired can create problems, but you can deal constructively with many of them, and thus reduce or eliminate the consequences. Here are some typical problems of being fired and how to mitigate them.
This must be the biggest problem with being fired—how will you pay your bills, your mortgage, and your kids’ college savings?
There are two ways to deal with the financial problems that result from being fired. The first way is to increase your employability and make it easier to find a new job. This is a matter of keeping your personal and professional skills up to date and cultivating a good network. The second way is to keep your private expenses low, so that you’re not 100% dependent upon your paycheck every month. When you’re completely dependent upon bringing home a paycheck (or two) every single month you’re trapped, and that makes things much worse. A bad situation is unpleasant. A bad situation you can’t escape from is excruciating.
If you can reduce your personal spending to a level where you can quickly decide to not work for a while or to work for less money, you’re much more free and will have a much easier time becoming happy at work. This may of course mean living in a smaller house or apartment than you would prefer, no 40-inch flatscreen TV, and no second car, but you need to ask yourself whether owning all these things is worth it. If your work makes you unhappy you’re not really enjoying all the things your salary buys anyway. It makes more sense to reduce your expenses to a level that affords you more freedom at work.
Trouble explaining being fired to next employer
If you believe that being fired is embarassing and that it reflects badly on you, then this will come out in your CV and in your job interviews. However, if you hold your head up high and explain exactly what happened and why you’re not ashamed, then this will help convey the impression that, “Yeah, I was fired, but so what?”
Some employers will understand—provided you explain it right.
Many people feel deep shame about being fired and being unemployed. Being fired from your last job is not typical polite dinner conversation with strangers. Why is being fired or unemployed so embarassing for us? It simply doesn’t need to be. Don’t let others force shame upon you if you feel you have nothing to be ashamed of.
Loss of relationships
For many people, their closest relationships are with people at work—losing them can be painful. The best way to mitigate this is to make sure you have many positive relationships outside of work too. And increasing your employability helps you to quickly find a new job and establish new relationships at work.
If you reduce your fear of being fired you increase your freedom and happiness at work. At the very least you can stop feeling ashamed about something that happens to hundreds of thousands of people every year, is a perfectly natural part of working life, and which may not be your fault at all.
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