Remember being asked what you wanted to be when you grew up back when you were a kid?
You picked an occupation at random based on what you had pieced together of what it meant to be an adult and the most interesting jobs you’d seen on TV, colored a picture of yourself as an astronaut or nurse or zookeeper that got hung up on the wall, and felt pretty good about your future career path.
Maybe you were even lucky enough to major in your dream career of choice. But then you became an adult and realized what a crapshoot finding a job can really be.
Upon graduation you had to find a company to hire you that offered a decent salary (that you could afford to live on after Sallie Mae came calling each month) and benefits (now that your time on your parent’s health plan was limited), and hopefully treated you well. (Oh, and it would be nice if you actually enjoyed the work you were doing, too.)
According to a new gallup poll, that’s a tall order. Twenty-six percent of the world’s adult population reported having a “good job.” That is, they work 30 or more hours a week and receive a paycheck from an employer. The people with a “great job” that they actually like? A mere 4 percent.
But there’s a catch for the 26 percenters who are working at “good jobs.” Significantly more adults with these good jobs are not engaged in the work that they’re doing. In other words, millions of employed adults are psychologically and emotionally disconnected from their workplace and are less likely to be productive.
But aside from affecting your productivity during work hours, there are some other serious consequences of this disengagement. Here’s what it’s costing you to collect that paycheck when it comes to your health.
Whether you’re packing on the pounds due to stress eating, lack of energy (which the boredom of being disengaged at work can trigger) or no time to exercise, all courtesy of your nine-to-five, there’s research to suggest that the love lacking at work may be depositing itself on your waistline (love handles … get it?). One study found that psychological job stress (and the tension/anxiety and depression that comes with it) affected eating habits and led to an increase in BMI. And if your work kitchen is constantly stocked with processed snacks or Bev from sales is always trying to make you the test subject for her latest baking endeavor, it makes it that much harder to avoid eating out of boredom or to cope with stress at the office.
Mental Health Issues
When you don’t love what you’re doing, and have to sit behind a desk all day doing it, your mood suffers. When you don’t love what you’re doing (and even if you do) and you’re constantly under pressure, you live in a state of chronic stress, which has cortisol levels permanently elevated. When you don’t love what you’re doing and you’re constantly stressed and you receive frequent firedrill calls from your boss calls 10 p.m., you become anxious. One study even found evidence that being unemployed is actually better for your mental health than staying at a job you hate. The mental health of those who were unemployed was comparable or superior to those in jobs of the poorest psychosocial quality. And while you’d think nabbing a position when you are spending your days sending out resumes between episodes of Ellen, it turns out that the transition from unemployment to a poor quality job was more detrimental to mental health than remaining unemployed.
You’re probably already aware that chronic stress can take a toll on your immune system. But there are some scary studies that have been done around how disliking your job correlates with more serious illness, and even a shorter life span. One study conducted on over 20,000 nurses in the U.S. found that those who weren’t happy at work had a higher risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and even some forms of cancer. Yes, you read that right. Being unhappy at your job can give you cancer. You can work that fact into your resignation letter.
How to Increase Engagement At a Job You Don’t Like
We could tell you to suck it up, throw yourself into your tasks and find ways to be excited about it. But let’s be real, you went to school for business management and currently all you’re managing is the mail flow at the front desk of a law office. Disengaged is an understatement.
Unfortunately drafting up a poignant resignation letter (complete with scientific backing for how the unstimulating work is taking a serious toll on your health) isn’t an option for most us whose bills will continue to flow in whether you’re sorting that mail at the front desk or not.
But that doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to another year of unfulfilling work. Instead, put this two-step plan into place ASAP: start a side hustle (preferably one that aligns more closely with your career goals), and use your nine-to-five to your advantage.
Not sure where to start with the side hustle? Here’s your five-step plan to jump starting a side gig (and making the most of your five to nine, a.k.a after hours).
Now that we’ve got your five-to-nine covered, it’s time to reframe the way you’re looking at your nine-to-five. It doesn’t matter if you’re a receptionist, or a bartender, or working in a completely different industry than the one your dream job exists in. Your time spent time answering phones at an ad agency or covering weekend celebrity news (when you majored in political science) doesn’t have to be completely unfulfilling and devoid of engagement.
From taking advantage of networking opportunities and professional development courses to practicing important skills that translate across industries (like leadership, initiative, and pushing boundaries), it turns out there is much to be engaged in when you step back and look at the bigger picture. Here are eight concrete ways to extract potential from your unfulfilling day job.