Feeling Trapped in Your Job?

Tips to help you break free.

March 25, 2010— -- With nearly 15 million Americans unemployed, people with jobs often feel fortunate to have work.

But in these challenging times, being employed doesn't always mean you're happy at work. Worker dissatisfaction ranges from feeling overqualified with no sign of advancement opportunity to feeling underappreciated by bosses who treat underlings as though they're lucky to be employed. Many say they feel trapped, unable to find other work.

Of course, the best solution is to get a new job. But if that's not possible right now, consider the next-best alternatives.

Ask yourself, "How can I get unstuck?" What's the smallest thing that's in your control that could bring improvement?

Change the location of your desk. Clear your mind with a 10-minute walk outdoors at lunchtime.

Work diligently to improve your relationship with the boss.

Ask to be assigned to new projects or different tasks.

Break away from the complainers by refusing to engage in the watercooler bitterness and sniping. No more negativity.

Do one thing every day to find a new job.

In an ideal world, we'd all be happy and content at work. But if you can't find happiness on the job right now, look for an outside distraction to provide that joy and contentment.

Take a course. It could be personal (gardening) or professional (project management).

Volunteer. Serving someone less fortunate can put things in perspective.

Take up a hobby. One woman told me she feels stuck and wants to switch from administrative work to a culinary career, so she sits at her desk dreaming of the recipe she'll create that night as an escape, which helps her get through her work day.

Start a side business. Several people mentioned small ideas such as dog walking or selling crafts on Etsy.com as the perfect diversion.

Tips to Help Move Your Career Forward

If promotions/raises aren't an option right now, take the long view and ask your boss, "How can I help you? What more can I do to help you or this department or this company reach the next big goal or overcome the next hurdle?" The person who says that to me is a keeper; that's someone I'd eye for a promotion or raise when I'm able.

Think ahead because this too shall pass. Borrowing from Madeleine Albright: There's a special place in hell for the managers who treat employees poorly because they believe those employees have no other options. It's bad business, bad management, bad all around.

Plenty of organizations will lose their best people because of this when the job market picks up. So the big bosses ought to think about requiring Leadership 101 or "managing in challenging times" training for some of their managers. Management should solicit feedback from the troops to assess their cultures right now. When your people aren't happy, they can't possibly give their best work, which is what's needed most right now.

Tory Johnson is the workplace contributor on "Good Morning America" and the CEO of Women For Hire. Talk to her at Twitter.com/ToryJohnson.

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