Unhappy at Work? 5 Ways to Turn Things Around

Image of a frowning face and a smiling face on a window.

Do you find yourself frustrated or bored on the job? It could be a sign that the “honeymoon phase” of your new job has ended. Here’s how to bounce back.

Do you remember the phrase “sophomore slump” from college? As a freshman, you were excited to be somewhere new, learning a lot and constantly meeting people. And then, your second year rolled around. Not much was fresh anymore and that initial enthusiasm faded away, while your workload became more demanding. You may have felt stressed, bored or just unhappy.

Well, the same often goes for the second year on a job. Our parent company Robert Half recently conducted a study with Happiness Works to find out what makes employees satisfied with their jobs. After surveying more than 12,000 U.S. and Canadian workers, the research shows that during an employee’s first year, he or she is happiest and least stressed, experiencing that new job “glow.” But then, somewhere in the 12- to 24-month range, workers become less happy, less interested in their work and more stressed. Hence, the “honeymoon phase” is over.

Download Our Report on Workplace Happiness

But if you’re unhappy at work, that doesn’t mean you’re doomed. There are many ways to fix those second-year blues. It’s crucial to keep the positive momentum going – and you shouldn’t expect your boss to fix it. Our research also indicates that the accountability for an enjoyable work experience falls on both you and your manager. One-quarter of the workers surveyed feel on-the-job happiness is their own responsibility, while 70 percent believe both the employee and employer need to work together to cultivate a happy workplace.

So how exactly do you fall back in love with your job? Here are five questions to ask yourself when you feel unhappy at work, with tips to re-engage and reduce stress while you build your career with a company. 

Are you passionate about your work?

One way to fix being unhappy at work is to find meaning in your everyday assignments. Step back and think about the big picture for a minute – what is your company’s purpose? How is it making the world a better place? And how does your role coincide? The research mentioned above also found that, overall, the top driver of happiness for professionals is pride in their organization. Take a moment to stop focusing on the granular details of your tasks and think about how this project – your designs, marketing campaign or whatever it may be – will positively affect the lives of others. You’ll find more purpose in your work, and things may get a bit more interesting.

Have you mixed up your routine?

Creative professionals are instinctively curious and love to learn, which makes starting a new job all the more exciting. After a year or so, you may begin to feel uninterested or unhappy at work because you don’t have anything new to look forward to. So, instead of sticking to your usual routine, try mixing it up. Consider stopping by a different coffee shop on your way to work or venturing out of the office to try a new restaurant for lunch. Maybe rearranging your workspace with some new design décor is the answer. You could also ask your manager if you could adjust your work hours or work remotely occasionally to incorporate a shorter commute into your schedule. By changing your perspective – even just a little – you’ll satisfy your creative curiosity and come back to work with fresh ideas and renewed interest.

Are you social in the office?

Most of us are at work for at least eight hours a day and we spend a lot of time with our team. But how well do you know your creative colleagues? Our workplace happiness research also found that professionals who have good relationships with their coworkers are 2.5 times more likely to be happy at work than those who don’t get along well with their colleagues. So, here’s your next task – strike up a non-work related conversation with your neighbor occasionally, ask a coworker you don’t know well to coffee or arrange a team lunch or activity. Small social activities like these can make you more excited to come to work, and it may make the difference in someone else’s day, too.

Do you want to work on some new projects?

If you continually find yourself slouched over your computer thinking “I’m bored,” then it’s time to ask yourself this question. After about a year at a job, tasks become more routine.

Proactively create a list of existing projects you’d be interested to join and other initiatives that you believe would benefit the company and would be willing to manage. Your manager will likely be impressed with your desire to take on new responsibilities and be more inclined to give you engaging assignments. Plus, it’s always a good idea to tell your manager when you have too much or too little on your plate – they want to help you enjoy your work and excel in your position.

Is it time to ask for a raise?

If you’re unhappy at work, it may also be time to chat with your manager about your increased workload. If your list of responsibilities has grown since you accepted the job offer – but your salary has not – passing the first-year mark is a good opportunity to ask for a raise. Start by researching salary information for similar positions in your area. Before meeting with your manager, come up with a list of reasons why you deserve a compensation boost based on your accomplishments and expanding projects to present with your research. When your salary matches your workload, you may find more enjoyment in your job.

Throughout your career, it’s normal to find times when you may feel unhappy at work. But it’s up to you to turn things around. To keep that “honeymoon phase” going, remember to reflect on your past accomplishments and passions to figure out what you need to reengage and find happiness in your job.