Reality Check: Can you change your workplace reality?

Unhappy at your work? Want it to be better? Don’t know what to do? Sadly, you’re not alone. And while misery might love company, knowing that others share your misery doesn’t help you every day as you trudge off to your workplace.

Last column, I suggested that when we are dissatisfied and want to make a change, we can either change our reality or we can change our perception. Those two options apply to many troubling situations, including workplaces.

How do you decide which option—a change of reality or a change of perception—might be most effective for you? Start with, “What do I want from my work?”

While your immediate response might be, “Money, of course” the answers can vary. For the moment, let’s say that your highest priority is the money that your employment provides.

If so, then one short-term suggestion is…put your head down and keep working.

Then, after you’ve earned your day’s pay, take some time to consider these questions:

Am I getting the best value from my time? Is there other work that would bring me more money for the same time? If I’m unhappy doing what I’m doing, is it worth investigating other options? There’s no time like the present to start putting a plan in place.

More questions: How much is “enough” money? Is it enough if I can pay off my car? My house? Get the kids through college? Achieve a certain level of savings?

There seems to be a natural inclination to live up to, or even slightly beyond, whatever level of income one has. This can feel like being on a treadmill that’s going too fast. You can’t quite keep up; you’re always scrambling.

You may be able to slow down that treadmill a little if you take a look at your money needs from the perspective of how much can bring you the feeling of “enough.” If your work causes significant dissatisfaction in your life, then a reduced income from a pleasanter workplace may, in the long run, bring more total life satisfaction.

However, please don’t interpret that as a suggestion to quit!

Also remember that not spending money is remarkably similar to making money. For example, say you drop a couple thousand on a week’s vacation. How long did you work to earn that? Is it worth it? If your only reason for working is to make money, then the more you spend, the longer you’ll need to work. It’s your call.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include quitting as an option for changing your workplace reality. Quitting abruptly, perhaps with the added bonus of getting a few things off your chest as you slam the door behind you, can be extremely satisfying. For about a day, that is.

Then, the rest of reality creeps in. You’re unemployed. The connections with your coworkers, even if they weren’t the best, are gone. Your income is gone. And while you may see “help wanted” ads, you are now in the position of being unemployed and having to sell yourself, as opposed to being employed with the luxury of “just looking.” Plus, you need to figure out a good answer to, “Why isn’t your former boss listed as a reference?”

Changing the reality of your workplace can take many forms, including changing the place you work. But perhaps you’d like to stay at your workplace. It may have positive qualities: perhaps you love the people you work with, or the type of work, or the customers. It just needs some tweaking. We’ll take a look at that scenario next time.

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