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Hate your job? Here's what to do

September 13, 2006 09:54 IST

Before Maria Schnabel, director of Latino public relations for Cingular Wireless, began her rewarding career in the corporate world, she was a young, floundering freelance writer just out of journalism school at San Diego State.

Her unpaid student internship at the Los Angeles Times garnered her experience working on interesting stories. But when she realized she was dissatisfied with the industry, she had a revelation.

"Entry-level journalism jobs were very few and very low-paying," says Schnabel, who is now 50. "This was not a career I could see myself in for a number of years." Though it was years ago, she remembers her first job well. She didn't like it. "It was, 'Do I continue in substandard living or move on into something more lucrative?'"

Her decision was difficult because she had focused on journalism in college. But, she says, disliking where she was meant changing her perspective. "It's a decision I've never regretted," says Schnabel, a native of Barcelona, Spain.

"I find PR very interesting, and I have a great career." She has approached her career -- which has included several years launching products in Latin America for BellSouth -- with that same resolve and strategic eye. "Your career needs to be planned like you plan projects," she says. And, she adds, if you don't like a job or a direction, take control. "Look inside yourself and see what else you can bring to the equation."

There are as many reasons for hating a job as there are jobs. Some of the most prevalent include a lack of autonomy and flexibility, a corporate culture that doesn't fit with your values, feeling disrespected or unappreciated, and discrepancies in pay. But the top reason is a difficult boss.

Elizabeth, 31, an executive at a boutique PR firm in Los Angeles who asked that her last name not be used, was once a practicing attorney at a small law firm. But her boss, part of the husband-and-wife team that headed the firm, frequently "freaked out" on her, she says. Once he yelled at her because she billed too many hours while catching up on a case.

Another time, she recalls, he was so angry for reasons she couldn't understand that he ordered her out of his office and then stopped talking to her for days. "I would cry every day on the way to work," she re-members. "Every day I was sick to my stomach that I had to get up and go to work." She eventually quit and is now happy at a new job.

So how much should you tolerate? People often stay too long, says Utah-based consultant and trainer Sherron Bienvenu, professor emerita at the Goizueta Business School at Emory University and visiting professor at the international M.B.A. program of the Helsinki School of Economics.

They stay because they like the location, they have a close friend at work, they don't want to let their co-workers or subordinates down, or, simply put, they don't want to lose the cash and benefits.

Articulate exactly what you don't like, she says. If it's a supervisor, perhaps you can move within the company and work for somebody else. If it's the schedule, create a proposal to suit your needs and benefit the company, and approach management with it.

If it's because you feel overwhelmed, maybe you can negotiate an intern to help with tasks or take a training course in an area in which you're weak. "Rather than making a blanket statement, be specific," Bienvenu advises.

Liz Ryan, workplace expert and founder of WorldWIT, an online network for professional women, classifies job complaints into two categories: modifiable and nonmodifiable.

The modifiable categories include discrepancies in pay or promotions (you can attempt to negotiate), problem co-workers (talk to the boss so you don't work with the person anymore) and individual policies or even job tasks (ask if you can take on different responsibilities that match your interests). The nonmodifiable aspects include the speed at which things happen at the company and office politics. "That is the proverbial turning a battleship around. It takes forever to change a culture," Ryan says.

Dividing your complaints into those categories puts them into perspective. "If you end up with a couple things in the nonmodifiable category -- say, you don't like the direction the company is going and you don't like the CEO -- those might not outweigh the modifiable things," she says. If you can change the majority of your situation, she adds, "It could be worth it to stick around."

Laura Berman Fortgang, career coach and author of Now What? 90 Days to a New Life Direction, has her clients write a list of complaints to see what's manageable. "Is it about a whole new career," she asks, "or something practical that needs to be fixed about the current one?"

She and other experts do not advise quitting immediately. But if the signs in-dicate the job is not working, take action, says Rebecca Kiki Weingarten, a career and life coach and co-founder of New York City-based Daily Life Consulting. "You spend so much of your waking hours at work, and it is so much a part of our identity," she says. "You just don't want to be miserable."

Melanie Lasoff Levs, Forbes