In Defense of the Devil You Know

Joshua, a New York communications executive who asked that his real name not be used, had always prided himself on being a risk-taker. If he felt stymied in a position, he knew he could simply look for a new job.

Not so this year.

"This is the first time in my career where I've had to play it conservative and wait it out," the husband and father of two said of the job he has had for five years. "When I had fewer financial obligations and it was a better market, I was much more fluid about moving between positions."

Joshua knows he has nothing to complain about. At least he's earning a paycheck and keeping up with his mortgage payments. But that doesn't change the fact that the 80 to 90 hours a week he spends at a toxic office have worn on him.

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"A lot of people I work with have become very nervous, very angry, very political," Joshua said. "It's become a very difficult working environment. I've felt like I have to curb my dedication to excellence in favor of mediocre yet politically expedient solutions. Sometimes it's hard to look at myself in the mirror in the morning."

Sound familiar? Fear not. There are some steps you can take to make treading water at your job more bearable.

Trapped or Practical?

First order of business: an attitude adjustment. Accept that you might be dancing with this employment devil another 6 to 12 months, maybe longer. Then resolve to make the best of it.

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"If you have a family to support, savings lost in the recession and you live in a city where there are five unemployed people for every job opening, what else are you going to do?" said workplace expert Alexandra Levit, whose latest book is "New Job, New You: A Guide to Reinventing Yourself in a Bright New Career."

The Conference Board reported this week that 55 percent of Americans are unhappy at their jobs, the highest number since the organization began conducting its annual job satisfaction survey two decades ago.

Lucky to Have a Job

You may count yourself among the job-haters but a hundred bucks says you're pleased as punch you don't have to look for work in this horrific market.

Just ask Joshua. "I'm at a point now where spending time with family is important," he said.

Mounting a search for a new executive-level position would likely require several intensive months, at best; time he doesn't want to take away from his family.

There's also the fact that the devil you know might be less of a demon than a new position on which you take a chance in this shaky economy. "You could be joining a well-disguised, dysfunctional organization," Joshua said.

Or worse, he added, you could be laid off within months of starting your new position.

Assuming you've determined that staying put is your best bet, how do you take some of the drudgery out of the workweek?

Challenge Yourself

Joining an internal committee that has been tasked with creating a new process or product is a fantastic way to kick your office slump to the curb, author Levit said. So is sniffing out opportunities for professional training and development programs, she added.

Same goes for investigating whether it's possible to make a lateral move to a new position or department, or whether your employer offers a job rotation program (where you sample different positions at the company for several months).

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