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What to Do if Your Job Sucks

How do you know if it's time to call it quits or to stay on? It's the must-read checklist before dealing with your creative career crossroads.


At a time where far too many people are facing uncertain futures, it may feel a little selfish to complain about your job.  

But 2020 has taught us to stop taking things for granted - that has to include our own happiness.

There’s no doubting it’s been a rough eight months for people working in the arts and creative industries, with so much time being spent on salvaging what work they can, and finding ways to keep earning a living.

For many creatives, having a ‘day job’ is a necessary evil to support what you’re truly passionate about. Even for those who do work in their preferred industry, it doesn’t mean you enjoy your current role. 

Whether it’s that the hours are brutal, a co-worker is creating a toxic environment or there’s an overwhelming workload - a bad job can weigh heavy on your personal life and emotional wellbeing.

So if your job makes you feel the same way about Mondays as Garfield and you’re battling contempt, boredom or resentment every time you punch the clock, here’s a checklist to work through before making your next move.

Open the lines of communication

Contrary to belief, very few bosses want their staff to be unhappy. One of the hardest issues to manage around employee satisfaction is when those who are unfulfilled in their work don’t bring up their concerns.

Sometimes that first step into the office can be too much. Photo; Daniel Mingook Kim/Unsplash.

Employers and people managers can’t fix problems they don’t know about.  If you treat your work issues like a restaurant customer who’s steak is overcooked but when asked how everything’s going by the waitstaff, smile and say it’s great - then it’s time for an honest conversation.

Get a clear, constructive plan of how you can express yourself, ask to speak to your boss and explain what’s making you unhappy. It’s important to avoid a negative tone - it’s about asking if there’s anything that can be done to make the situation better for both parties.

Swap stories

It’s easy to think that the grass is greener at rival businesses or organisations. But it can often be different gig, same problems.

If you have friends, whānau or contacts who work in similar fields - or in the industry you dream of going to next - sound them out for a coffee (or Zoom, depending on alert levels at the time…) and talk to them about how they feel about their jobs and what the pressure points are for them.  

You might be surprised by how similar your war stories are - or even that you’ve got it better than you think.

Find tools to lift your game

It’s worth working out what can make you enjoy the job again - what’s missing to make it work better for you?

One option could be picking up new skills that give you the opportunity for growth in your current job or organisation. Many employers are supportive of upskilling their staff through courses or programmes, either internally or externally.

The Big Idea’s Upsmarts education guide highlights several excellent postgraduate options to find fresh approaches and new ‘superpowers’ to give your creative career the boost you’re looking for.

Look before you leap

If you can’t find a resolution that you’re happy with, even after talking with management, then you have to make sure you have your house in order before you head to the exit.

First of all, read your contract or employment agreement. Be sure what your contractual obligations are regarding your notice period, non-compete restrictions and ability to work for or with clients - as well as how much leave you have up your sleeve. An eyes wide open approach is needed to make the right calls on your future. 

Take a look at the job market for your chosen industry. In the current climate, don’t make assumptions that you’ll be able to walk into a new role somewhere else once you’re a free agent.

If you do decide to leave, make sure you do it with class. It’s worth remembering, everyone you work with is a potential reference - or knows someone who may be asked what you’re really like by a future employer. 

As tempting as it may be to bow out in a blaze of glory in an epic ‘shove your job’ mic-drop moment, it’s unlikely to work out in the long run. Burning bridges may sound fun at the time, but it’s not a smart career move.

There may be better ways to say 'I quit.' Photo: Engin Akyurt/Unsplash.

Take a breath

Let’s face it, it’s been a hugely draining year for everyone. If your lack of job satisfaction is a recent issue, take into account it could be more feeling burnt out by life in general - rather than necessarily just your work life.

If you have a job that provides you with some kind of break over the Christmas/New Years period, riding it out for a few more weeks is definitely an option to consider. Some sunshine and sleep-ins could be what you need to recharge the batteries and get a renewed perspective on your vocation - or solidify your decision to leave.

Either way, having a clear head when making the call is crucial.


Written by

The Big Idea Editor

2 Nov 2020

The Big Idea Editor

2016 ART Venture recipients. Photo / Vinesh Kumaran Photography
The talent, passion and drive of 12 creative entrepreneurs was recognised and celebrated at the 2016 ART Venture Awards event in Auckland on 31 August 2016.
Sarah Longbottom
Framebreaking educator, founder and director of Ngā Rangatahi Toa, Sarah Longbottom has been awarded the ART Emerging Creative Entrepreneur 2016 Award.