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Why Some People Stay in a Crappy Job Even If It Kills Them

The author has close to 30 years of work experience across both retail and corporate.



Why do people stay in a job that's so bad it creates considerable stress and real pain for them?

I've been unhappy in several jobs during my working career and know from experience how hard it can be to take that step to get out. I have thought about this problem a lot and this is what I've learnt.

Nearly everyone who stays in such a job will give you a different reason for doing so, but they all have something in common.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to psychology; or more precisely, it's a specific psychological bias called loss aversion.

Fear of Change

Some people stay because they're afraid of change. The Fear of not knowing what they will find out there; the Fear of starting from scratch; the Fear of not being able to find something better…these all contribute to our stresses and feelings of anxiety that cause us to remain stuck and unhappy.

But sometimes, it’s even worse than just fear. Sometimes people just don't want to leave because it would be too much of an effort, too much work required or too much of a hassle. Never underestimate the power of inertia. Yes, that is correct - the dreaded comfort zone - once you get into the habit of doing something regularly, it becomes easier and easier until it seems that initiating any kind of change will elicit an enormous amount of energy.

My advice:

Always be learning! This comfort zone is dangerous when we become complacent in our jobs and stop learning new things. What you set out to learn doesn’t have to be work-related either. It can be any form of personal self-development or improvement. You have to do it for you.


Fear of Being Unemployed

Simply put, we're afraid of being unemployed. This fear is very real.

We have mortgages and bills due at month-end. We have utilities that must be paid and school fees to cover.

What if I can't find another job quickly enough and my reserves run dry? Who will feed my children and put a roof over our head?

What if nobody else wants me and my confidence takes a knock every time my job resume is rejected?

What if my skills and abilities start to deteriorate?

Wouldn’t this be ten times worse than the stress and unhappiness of my current job. At least I have a job now, right?

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At this point, you’ve already made your decision to stay. And who could blame you. With these odds stacked up against you, how do you stand a chance?


My advice:

You need a plan and preparation.

Do some homework and start networking. Create a portfolio for yourself, market your services and test the waters. You will be amazed at how big a confidence builder it is when you create your portfolio and start networking. People will want to acquaint themselves with you. Who knows where it may lead.

If you are forced to leave before securing another job, at least you will be better equipped for interviews, to freelance or possibly start up your own business. Always keep your options open!

The Grass isn’t Always Greener

Perhaps you’ve tried making a change and it didn’t turn out that well and you learnt the hard way that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

Or, you wonder to yourself, what if things get better where you are now? At least you know what you’re up against - ‘better the devil you know’. Anyway, who wants to prepare for interviews, assessments and tests, be judged by a group of panelists who don’t even know you. It's better to just stay where you are!

My advice:

Do something. You don’t have to leave your job but do something about it. Evaluate the level of your misery, and justify it. In other words, is the workplace 100% to blame or is there anything you can do to improve your situation?

If you think there are changes happening in the organization, stay tuned and keep your ear to the ground for any impending restructuring or new business take-ons.

You may end up making a change for the better without having to leave the organization.

Passion or Duty

The fear of being judged by others. By ‘others’, I mean family, friends and co-workers. Sometimes they are the people you least expected it from or at least the ones you had hoped would support you. There seems to be a certain stigma attached to ‘giving up’ or being too ‘selfish’ for not sticking it out. You have to deal with that whole ‘life isn’t perfect, but we do what we can’ attitude and ‘it’s your duty to provide for your Family no matter what,’ i.e. even if it kills you.

My advice:

You and only you can make this decision. No-one else shares the mental and physical strain experienced by your body and mind, not to mention that your circumstances are unique.

Dig deep with some introspection and make a call. If you stay, investigate your options to improve your workplace or work life.

If you decide to leave, plan and prepare as best as you can.

As far as criticism goes, and you most likely will be criticized…in my experience, I’ve learnt that silence can speak volumes.

So, it's been established that people have a tendency to stay in a job even if it's killing them.

In my opinion, it comes down to two things if you’re unhappy:

  1. You can either try to visualize the positive aspects of your job and keep an optimistic outlook (for me, this never worked for long), Or
  2. you can think of ways to fix your problem by changing your circumstances or changing yourself (or both)

You decide what works for you.



This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Raf Palmer

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