I travel a lot and everywhere I go, I always seem to run into people who are overworked, underpaid, and unhappy with their jobs. Are you one of them perhaps? Whether these down and out folks are coworkers, vendors, friends, relatives, or complete strangers, the unhappiness in their voices and faces is undeniable.
A Widespread Dilemma Of Gloom
Just today I met a flight attendant who has been flying for 25 years and is so sick and tired of it. How sad, but can you really blame her? The only non-negative thing she had to say about her job was that “Well…it’s different.” The airline industry has changed a lot over 25 years, so it’s not a huge surprise that she’s dissatisfied dealing with cranky, cramped, and hungry passengers in coach three or so days a week.
But there are so many people today in tons of different industries who are just as miserable as she is, if not even more miserable. Even the most exciting and adventurous jobs can become draining and mundane after awhile. That flight attendant enjoyed her job a lot when she first started out, but things faded over time and she didn’t have a plan B or an escape hatch.
I consider being a flight attendant to be quite an untemplate job in the grand scheme of things, but it’s not an easy one and certainly has its challenges. Traveling is a lot of fun when you’re young, unattached, and it’s still new and fresh, but I completely understand what it feels like to be a burnt out traveler even if you’re getting paid to do it.
Why Are So Many People Overworked?
Boy do I know what it’s like to be overworked, phew it’s tough. A lot of you have probably been stressed and pushed to overcapacity in your careers too. Remember that thing called the recession? Those were scary times indeed. We all saw a lot of people get laid off, but the overall workloads stayed the same! So those of us remaining had to pick up all the slack. I had work to a couple extra hours more each day myself from the reduction in force at my company, but fortunately it’s not as bad now. I finally managed to get a promotion I was initially denied, which has helped alleviate my workload from insane to hectic. Hectic isn’t great, but hectic I can handle.
And I don’t know about yours, but my company is still understaffed today. Although my firm stopped laying people off, we aren’t able to replace everyone who quits automatically anymore. It’s a lot harder to get approval to hire people now than it was pre-recession. It’s good that businesses are paying closer attention to their operational costs, but it does slow things down since there are more hoops to jump through to increase staffing.
Is Your Manager Fully Aware Of Your Workload?
Another reason I think people are so overworked is they don’t fight for more manageable hours. In my many years managing people, I’ve seen a lot of employees who are too afraid, lazy, or simply unwilling to talk about their workloads. As a manager, it’s not always easy to tell if one employee is overwhelmed versus another. Some people are really good at masking their stress or won’t ask for help. I myself used to be too stubborn to ask my manager for help.
I’ll never know for sure why some people didn’t/don’t come to me with their concerns. I don’t think I’m a scary or hard to approach person. But what I do know is that the few times people have come to me with concerns about their work hours, I’ve made every effort to be accommodating and find ways to redistribute work and find ways to improve efficiencies.
Never assume that your manager is fully aware of your workload and stress levels. It’s good practice to build a strong relationship with your manager and get them on your side. It makes things a whole lot easier when things get tough and they’ll be more willing to help you. I’ve spent many years getting to know my boss and it’s made such a difference in my day to day.
Know What You’re Worth
There are lots of reasons things can go bad at work. I think being underpaid is one of the worst demotivators because I’ve been there, done that. Some companies and/or bosses are extremely cheap when it comes to salaries! But that doesn’t mean there’s no hope. First you have to know what you’re worth based on your education, years of relevant work experience, skills, title, industry, niche, and location.
Someone working in New York City is going to earn a lot more than someone in Atlanta because the cost of living is so different. One issue in San Francisco is the cost of living has gone up a lot in the recent years, rents and property prices are insane here, but a lot of salaries haven’t kept up. So there are lots of things to consider in figuring out how much you’re worth. Don’t just assume you deserve more money because you feel underpaid. Do your research.
Next you have to think about the operational costs at your company, and what’s going on behind the scenes. If you’re unhappy with your compensation, spend some time going though my tips on how to ask for a raise. It doesn’t hurt to try.
When I Was Overworked, Underpaid, And Unhappy
I remember when I was overworked, underpaid, and unhappy all at the same time! Those were difficult days indeed. I learned a lot about myself and my limits both mentally and physically, and my one regret is that I let things stay miserable for as long as I did. I used to be so stubborn about trying to do everything myself and being too proud to ask for help.
I wanted to remain in control, and I thought that getting help would weaken my position and stature. Gosh that was just dumb! I made myself suffer mostly because of pride, and I’m not even a type A or big ego personality. Now I know to speak up before things get completely out of control. I’ve learned to say no, I happily delegate work now, I don’t wait to ask questions, I seek support, and I no longer try to bury my stress. Help doesn’t always come right away, but it does in time, and knowing I’m not alone makes such a difference.
I remember earlier on in my career too that I never thought I could have the courage to ask for a raise. It wasn’t easy, but I practiced and prepared, and was fortunate to be successful in my attempts with a little patience. I was underpaid for many years, but with persistence, hard work, and dedication I’ve gotten myself to a respectable salary that’s in line with the local market. Things may not work on your first try, but don’t give up!
What Should You Do If You’re Overworked, Underpaid, And Unhappy At Work?
Are your hours bad? Is your commute too far? Are you paid below market? Are your coworkers just plain awful? We all experience bumps in our careers, myself included. The key is not to accept being overworked, underpaid, and unhappy. There are always ways to change if you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone, take risks, and make changes.
In addition to the above tips, here are some of my other articles for further reading as well as some fantastic resources. Even if it’s so dim you can’t see it yet, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve come out the other side and you can too!
- How To Engineer Your Layoff ebook by Sam Dogen that teaches you how to profitably quit your job if you need to get out. He was able to negotiate a severance worth 6 years worth of living expenses!
- The Unconventional Guide To Working For Yourself shows you how to become your own boss and make your own freedom
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Updated for 2016 and beyond