Saturday, June 22, 2024

How to Tell Your Boss You’re Unhappy

Programming LanguageHow to Tell Your Boss You’re Unhappy

You wake up feeling miserable. You spend your time at work dispirited and unmotivated. You leave at the end of the day hating your life. You can’t get back the passion you used to have for your job, and you start to wonder if you ever had it! Any of this sound familiar?

Feeling unhappy at work is a grinding and miserable experience. It’s hard on your mental health and you might also find it affecting your work performance. But as they say, a problem shared is a problem halved: you might be surprised at how communicating your unhappiness to your boss can make you feel better. In this guide, we’ll explore strategies for telling your boss you’re unhappy and tips for what to do next.

1. Have an action plan

unhappy gif

Whether you’re close and friendly with your boss or have a more professional and distant relationship, this is a conversation you want to approach strategically. It’s best to communicate clearly and go into the conversation with an action plan.

That requires thought and preparation on your part. What exactly is making you unhappy, and what changes in your work life would make a difference? Maybe you’ve been in the same position for years, and the work is no longer interesting: could you be transferred to a new project or department? Maybe you find your company’s work processes frustrating: could you suggest an improvement or new system that would improve your mood?

Rather than just dumping a big problem on your boss’s lap—“Hey, I’m unhappy!”—and then leaving them to fix it, approach the problem, and your boss, constructively. You’ll find your manager responds much better to a sentence like ‘I’m unhappy because of this particular workflow, but I think if we implemented these changes it would make a huge difference to my engagement and energy.’ 

If you’re not entirely sure what would make you feel better, spend some time in self-reflection so that you can approach your boss with ideas on how to improve. You could try answering some of these prompts to understand the source of your unhappiness better:

  • The thing I hate most at work is…

  • I would be so much happier if… 

  • If only [what?] was different, everything would be better…

  • What I most dread at work is…

  • I’m always especially dispirited after… 

2. Pick the right time and place

Communicating your unhappiness is a serious issue, and you need to take it seriously. That means you shouldn’t tell your boss “I’m unhappy!” as your paths cross in the office kitchen, or in a Slack message. It’s also a good idea to avoid particularly stressful times at work, like during an intense project or at the end of a quarter. Otherwise, there’s a chance that your boss will minimize your emotions or tell you that you just need to get through this stressful period and then everything will be fine. Instead, request a formal meeting during a quieter time where you can talk more about the problem and possible solutions, when you’ll be able to receive your boss’s complete attention.

The bonus side effect is creating a formal paper trail of your request. By creating a record of your complaint, you’re safeguarding your own future. For example, if your boss notes that you’ve been less productive during your next performance review, you’ll be able to say something like, ‘Yes, I flagged to you last month that I’ve been very unhappy recently. As I said in that meeting, I would like to work together to find a solution.’

3. Avoid the blame game

Very often, it’s not a process or project that makes us unhappy at work—it’s a person. But avoid the urge to blame all your unhappiness on one particular person (or people!). No matter how annoying your colleague is, or how rude your boss is, blaming all your unhappiness on them will only make you look unprofessional and petty.

Instead, use the same constructive approach. 

Don’t say: “I hate working with Luis. It makes me miserable.” 

Say: “Luis and I have really different working styles, which can make working together difficult and even frustrating. But I think if we separated our work up until X point, we would both be more engaged and happy!”

Don’t say: “Marisa is really mean to me. I hate having her as a boss.”

Say: “Sometimes I struggle with Marisa’s management style, especially because she’s more likely to give negative feedback and I never know what I’m doing right. Here are some management styles that have really worked for me in the past.” 

4. Explore out-of-the-box solutions

Maybe the problem is bigger than a simple person or project. Maybe you’re unhappy with a huge element of your work that crosses over different concepts or ideas, or there’s something particularly stressful about your job that is impacting you negatively. Now’s the time to sit down with your boss and explore unique and unusual solutions that’ll have a positive impact on your happiness.

For example, maybe you’re struggling with your working environment. If you work remotely, you might be missing social connection: could your boss help you set up more social interaction throughout your days? Or, if you find an office environment overwhelming and stressful, could you explore a flexible work arrangement where you spend some days working from home?

Maybe you love your company’s mission, but you’re bored of your department. What professional development does your company offer? Could you and your boss explore a new path for you? Could you shadow a colleague in a different field, transfer sideways, or even engage in further study and training resources your company might offer.

Think outside of the box! Now is your chance to get really creative as you answer the question, ‘What would make me happier at work?’

Content for your skill and soul:

5. Be prepared for feedback and be patient

Conversation isn’t a one-way street. There’s a chance your boss will give you feedback on how they can see a way out of your unhappiness. It can be strange to hear feedback on our own personal feelings, but remember you’re operating within a professional environment. And your boss might really have some good ideas about what you could do differently to improve your mood.

This might not always be easy to hear. But go into the conversation with an open mind and take the time to think over your manager’s suggestions. You might be surprised at how making a few changes to your own working style can help boost your mood!

It’s also important to recognize that change doesn’t happen overnight. Whatever changes you and your boss implement will take time, so don’t be dispirited if you’re still feeling low days or even weeks later. Just make sure that you keep a close eye on timelines, and feel free to ask questions like, ‘When can I expect this change to take effect?’ 

6. Consider external factors

Work is a big part of our life, but it isn’t the only part of our lives. When you sit down for some self-reflection, consider how external factors might also be affecting your feelings about work. For example, are you particularly irritable and unhappy at work because you’ve recently become a parent and you’re operating on less sleep than usual? Have you gone through a significant life event, like grief or a break-up, that is impacting your mood?

While you should always keep it professional, communicating these external factors to your boss gives them a better sense of what you’re going through. It also reflects well on your own self-perception. And there might still be ways that your boss can help. For example, if flexible hours would allow you to take a midday nap and recover from a night up with your baby, maybe you would be cheerier and more productive in the long run! Or maybe your work has access to mental health support and resources that you’re unaware of.

7. Know when to leave

Many bosses and managers are capable of understanding people, but that’s not always the case. Some bosses are part of the problem. They might be difficult to work for, or downright toxic, in which case they could be part of why you’re so unhappy at work! Try to understand your boss’s limitations and have realistic expectations when you go into this conversation. There’s only so much a manager can do to make you happy at work. If the factors making you unhappy are out of everyone’s control, or if your boss doesn’t seem willing to address them, it might be time to leave.

Sometimes the only way to feel happy in your job is to find a new job. But you can approach finding a new job with the same constructive strategy to ensure you don’t end up in a similar situation. Make a list of the factors that are making you unhappy at your current job—for example, management style, responsibilities, job scope, company mission, salary—and ensure that you investigate each new job opportunity to be sure it offers a significant improvement.

When you’ve found a new job that makes you happy, it’s time for a whole new conversation with your boss: to tell them that you’re leaving. The good news? We have a guide for that, too.

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