Unhappy at Work? Here’s What’s Missing


Are you unhappy at work? It’s okay to say yes.

When you have a crazy boss or no work-life balance, it’s not always easy to know why you’re unhappy. It’s rarely that simple. It can be hard to pinpoint the root cause of unhappiness at work and harder still to know how to make that unsettled feeling go away.

Michael Hyatt wrote that there are three components of job satisfaction:

1. Passion – loving what you do
2. Proficiency – being good at what you do
3. Profitability – ability to make money from what you do

To have a satisfying career, you need all three. Hyatt says, “You can get by for a time with only two of the three elements… But that can’t work forever. If you want to succeed at the deepest level, you must eventually incorporate all three of these components.”

If you’re unhappy, are you missing one of these three pillars? If so, what can you do?

Missing passion means you’re bored. If you don’t know what to do next and feel trapped by that feeling, you’re not alone. In 2015, only 32% of US workers considered themselves to be actively engaged in their jobs. Yikes.

In Psychology Today, Douglas LaBier pointed out three common and debilitating reasons people are bored in their jobs. First, the job is a bad fit. There’s a mismatch between you and your work. The job functions don’t mesh with your talents, experience, or values – those things that define you. Second, you feel invisible. You’re underutilized because you have been sidelined, misused, or stifled due to a change in office politics. Third, you feel trapped or confined by a lack of opportunity to learn and develop.

What can you do? LaBier suggests that you think about past situations where you rocked it at work. “Identify the resources or conditions you had going for you that supported your success. What kinds of people were your co-workers or boss? Did they help or hinder? From that information, identify the specifics of the career and work environment that you really need to be at your best, including which to avoid.” Then you need to pursue these types of opportunities either within your organization or somewhere else.

Missing proficiency means, in direct terms, that you’re failing. You’re passionate about your work and get paid for it, but you don’t have the skills to back it up.

Luckily, you can work on proficiency. Break down your job into tasks and technical areas in which you need to grow. You can do the same with emotional intelligence or communication skills. Books and online quizzes can be helpful in determining growth opportunities.

Make a plan for what you’d like to work on. Take as many classes as you can find. Websites like GovLoop Academy offer amazing free training. Seek out mentors that you can shadow. Ask others how they gained proficiency. Create an Individual Development Plan with your supervisor. Practice. Take charge of your learning and create the resources you need to succeed.

Remember that mastery takes time. If you’re new in your job, you won’t know everything right away. It is important that you are learning, growing, and getting better.

Missing profitability means you have a hobby, not a career. To have a sustainable career, someone must be willing to pay for your skills. Is there a gap between what you love doing and what you’re paid to do? If you spend your free time event planning and you do logistical planning at work, you may have very little gap in the skills you like using and the skills you’re paid to use. If you like the creative part of event planning and logistics are a necessary evil, then there’s a huge gap between the skills you like using and the skills you’re paid to use.

How do you close this gap? You must really understand yourself and why you like doing what you do naturally. In this example, you could figure out how to change your perspective so that handling logistics feels creative. You can find job duties and projects in which you can exercise your creativity. You can find a new role with different duties. You can find a different job.

We all want to be fully satisfied in our careers. If you’re unhappy, are you missing passion, proficiency, or profitability? By understanding what’s missing, you can start taking steps to increase your long-term job satisfaction.

Lauren Lien is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Eric F

I would disagree with the last point. I think “Autonomy” and being in control of your work day is more important and contributes to a better work life balance and job satisfaction