Ask the CHO: Should you work for a year in a job that sucks

Bad job

In a previous post I argued against some commonly used phrases at work, including the idea that you can take a bad job “just for a year” to make some money.

Dirceu asked this question in a comment on the post:

About the “It’s not my dream job, but it’s only for a year…??? phrase: a person can work on a not-so-good job for one year just to save enough money to do what he/she want, just for security.

Me, for example: I’m renting an apartment and paying a graduation course on a local university. If I want to change my focus from computers to, say, museums I really need to have money for security reasons.

I know about the advantages of low-rent living, but with zero money, no living. :-(

Please, talk more about this. And go on with the blog: it’s being, as always, very helpful.

Great question Dirceu!

Many, many people seem to think that sometimes you’ve just got to knuckle down and take that sucky job because you need the money. You can be a student paying your tuition, a new graduate paying off your student loans, a new home owner struggling to make the mortgage or any number of other situations that mean you depend on a steady income.

But does that really mean that you must accept being unhappy at work? There is one question you must ask yourself:

Leaving a bad job may cost you some money. Sure.
But what will keeping that job cost you?

Being unhappy at work steadily saps your energy, will power, self esteem and motivation. The longer you stay in that situation, the harder it gets to see any positive alternatives and to take action and move on.

And it doesn’t just affect you at work, it also affects you outside of work. When work is something that gives you no pleasure, has no meaning for you, gives you no victories or appreciation and is simply no fun, your life outside of work is likely to suffer too.

The worst thing about this is that it sneaks up on you gradually. Your energy dissipates slowly. You’ll hardly notice it from one day to the next but before you know it, the life has gone out of you. You become cynical, tired, uncreative, negative – maybe even depressed, stressed and sick.

The thing is, the cost of leaving a bad job is very clear to us because the effect is immediate. The cost of keeping a bad job can be much higher, but it sneaks up on us slowly, and therefore we often forget to take that into account.

What is your experience? Have you tried staying in a bad job for the money and the security? How was it? Write a comment, I’d really like to know!

Monday Tip: Write your exit speech

The Chief Happiness Officer's monday tipsImagine that you’ve been with your current company for a few years, and now you’re moving on to a new job. On your last day at the old company, your co-workers and friends get together to celebrate you – or maybe just to make sure that you’re actually leaving :)

Anyway, at this reception one of them gives a short speech about you. About:

  • What you’ve stood for in the company.
  • The results you’ve created.
  • The people you’ve helped out.
  • What they’ve appreciated about working with you.
  • What they’re going to miss about you.

Your mission this Monday is to write the speech you hope they will give you. Don’t make it too long, just 3-5 paragraphs extolling your virtues based on the points above. Remember, at a reception, they’re not going to blame your for your mistakes or list all your faults – they’ll be nice.

Of course, the real question here is: What do you want to be known for? How do you want to be remembered? What do you want your legacy to be? Then take a look at the speech you’ve written and ask yourself what you can do to live up to it.

The Chief Happiness Officer’s Monday tips are simple, easy, fun things you can do to make yourself and others happy at work and get the work-week off to a great start. Something everyone can do in five minutes, tops. When you try it, write a comment here to tell me how it went.

Previous monday tips.

By the way: Do you have any ideas for future Monday Tips? How do you make yourself and others happy at work in fun, simple, easy ways? I’d love to hear your suggestions, so write a comment if you have one.

Big news: Happy links

HappyI’ve been absent from my blog for a couple of days – things have been crazy busy here at Happiness HQ. I’ve been selling and doing speaking gigs like crazy – in fact I have another one in 3 hours, so this will be a brief message.

Anyway, I’m back and I’ve got great news: I’ve added a new feature to the blog called (so far, until we come up with a better name) Happy Links.

It’s a place where you can discover and vote on great stories, links and blogposts about happiness at work. You can also submit great stuff that you’ve found or created. There are some great articles on there already.

Go check it out and let me know what you think.

Once a week I will do a sort of resume of the week’s stories and take the highest rated stories and post links to them on the blog itself – just to tie the whole thing together. Whaddayathink?

How to deal with a bad boss

Bad boss
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, give us good or bad tasks, and, ultimately, fire us. This power imbalance is why a good relationship with your manager is so important.

The good news is that you are not powerless. You don’t need to quietly accept a bad boss – quite the contrary. If your boss is not treating you and your co-workers right, you have a responsibility to do something! And in many, many cases, bosses long for feedback from their employees – they want to know what they can do better.

Here are the steps you must take, to deal with a bad boss.

1: 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. Until proven otherwise, assume that they mean well and are simply unaware of the effects of their actions.

2: Classify your boss

Which of these three categories does your bad boss fall into?

  1. Doesn’t know he’s bad.
  2. Knows he’s bad and wants to improve.
  3. Doesn’t want to know he’s bad or doesn’t care.

Most managers who make their employees 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 in order to do better.

Paul’s new boss was constantly critical and never showed any appreciation for a job well done. In weekly status meetings, he would only comment on deviations from the budgets and demand explanations and actions plans.

Well, Paul doesn’t stand for that kind of thing. He kindly but firmly let his new boss know that in order to be motivated he also needed positive recognition for the things he did well. The result: Over the course of three months, the boss has come around and now freely and happily comments on the great results Paul is getting. At their last status meeting before Christmas, the boss even spent five minutes praising Paul’s department for the work they’ve done and the results they’ve achieved.

But this may not always work.

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 workday. (source)

There’s also the third category of boss: 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.

3: 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.

4: Do it sooner rather than later.

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 – sooner is better.

5: 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.

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. If you can show how his actions reduce motivation, hurt business, or increase expenses, you’re more likely to convince him that this is a serious issue.

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: Make a plan and follow up.

Agree to follow up at a later date, to evaluate the new situation.

9: Praise your manager when he gets it right.

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.

10: If all else fails: Get out of Dodge

If you’ve tried to make it work and can’t, it’s time to get away. You can go for another job inside the company (with someone you know to be a great boss), or you can quit and go work somewhere else.

And you?

What about you? Have you ever dealt with a bad boss? How did you do it? Write a comment, I’d really like to know!

This post is an excerpt from my book Happy Hour is 9 to 5, which is all about making yourself, your co-workers and your workplace happy.

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Journey into leadership: Performance appraisals

New leaderThis post is part of a series that follows A.M. Starkin, a young manager taking his first major steps into leadership. Starkin writes here to share his experiences and to get input from others, so please share with him your thoughts and ideas.

Two weeks ago I asked this: Should I keep believing in my unpopular deputy? Will I be able to sell anything? Never tried. And will my operations manager finally begin taking initiative?

With regards to the first there were quite a lot of comments in response, and I think once I made it clear how reliable the words about my deputy’s cheating were, people agreed with me that I should stay on the track of coaching her instead of firing her.

Today was the day were we did the yearly performance appraisal – through a rigid and elaborate procedure. She had clearly prepared an efficient and versatile defense, bringing papers to prove this and that. I began by telling her in some detail what a great person I find her to be and that I thought she could go far with her skill set if she developed this and that trait.

I think I managed to keep her listening – and talking honestly – for two hours, which is not bad! I was expecting to have to fight in order to keep her defenses down, which didn’t seem necessary. There’s a lot to absorb, because among suggested ways to develop, objectives for 2007 and a lot of scores and grades, there was some honest feedback about her disloyalty and her very varying morale.

It ended up a very constructive dialogue, where we agreed on a lot of things she need to work on, and I think it cleared up something for me:
If I plan on doubling activities in here within 12 months, I need her to do much more. And as mentioned I have only 1 day per week to give.
So, I more or less decided – as a result of our discussion -to stop managing emails, financials, etc etc for at least a couple of months, so that I can focus on giving my deputy and our ops manager the skills they need to work on our strategy independently.

I plan on spending my weekly day here:
1) Doing a meeting to get a feel of what is happening and give people a chance to discuss
2) Meeting with each manager (have 3 in total) to go through their action plans and coach them to deliver.
3) Be really happy and an example of how positive it is possible to be in the face of all the hardships we have.

– and that’s it!

Let’s see how that works out.

With regards to my ops manager – he is definitely a firework of initiative and ideas, but he has begun to do what I tell him. Let’s see!

And sales? I won’t have time – but I have the green light to hire a salesperson.


More in a couple of weeks – I simply HAVE to go skiing now!

AM Starkin

Previous posts by A.M. Starkin.

Monday Tip: Ask for feedback

The Chief Happiness Officer's monday tipsThis monday tip comes from Marco of

Some of us have always thought that a compliment which we ask for is never worth receiving. Maybe we think that if we ask for it, then it must be insincere.

Is that always the case? In fact, even a compliment that we don’t ask for can be insincere and sometimes by asking for a compliment we can get an honest feedback. How can that happen? Some people are simply not accustomed to paying compliments and need encouragement. Even people very close to us might be unable to understand what kind of recognition we need unless we ask.

So what about asking your boss for feedback on a recent project which you have successfully completed? You will make yourself happier, teaching him how to be a better manager in the process!

I gotta say that sounds like a great idea. And why limit it to the boss? Your mission this Monday, is to ask a co-worker, team member or employee for feedback.

Thanks Marco!

By the way: Do you have any ideas for future Monday Tips? How do you make yourself and others happy at work in fun, simple, easy ways? I’d love to hear your suggestions, so write a comment if you have one.

The Chief Happiness Officer’s Monday tips are simple, easy, fun things you can do to make yourself and others happy at work and get the work-week off to a great start. Something everyone can do in five minutes, tops. When you try it, write a comment here to tell me how it went.

Previous monday tips.

Happy Links

LinksBeing nice helps you get customers. “When we asked our new client what put us over the edge, they said that of course they liked our work, but they also were impressed by the way we related to each other–cracking jokes, bantering, etc. “You guys just seem to like each other,??? they said.”

Slow Leadership on The Road Least Taken to Happiness at Work. “Most people make decisions about their life and work based on what is generally considered “right??? and “good.??? This is living from the outside in: letting others people’s expectations, rule your life. You do what you do because that’s what you have been told to do. It’s a good recipe for frustration and stress.”

Bob Sutton explains how The Billable Hour Turns People into Workaholics. “Once you’re paid by the hour,??? he says, “you start placing a monetary value on that hour. Lawyers watching their kids play soccer admitted to mentally ticking away lost income for each minute they stood on the sidelines.??? Ouch!

Paul English, the CEO of travel site, on stuff I’ve learned at work. “Jim and i were struggling for many days making a difficult decision about a reorg which would probably hurt some people. We argued with each other about the options we had. Neither of us were really sure which one would be best, and one day he said since I am not sure which one will produce the best business result, let’s choose the path that does the best for the people, and let’s hope the world works that way; I would not want to participate in a system which worked another way.”