Why People Are Unhappy With Their Jobs

Why People Are Unhappy In Their Jobs

More than 50% of people are unhappy with their jobs.

Think about that for a second. People spend 1/3 of their lives at work.

That means people are unhappy 1/3 of their lives.

I believe people being unhappy at work is one of the main drivers behind FIRE. People want to escape work that makes them unhappy.

How can that be? How can rational human beings stay in jobs that make them unhappy?

I know some people don’t have a choice. It’s sad, but that is the reality. However, I don’t believe that 50% of people don’t have a choice.

If somehow we could identify what goes wrong, we could do something to fix it.

I have had the pleasure of being a consultant to more than 30 of the largest companies in the world. I have met a lot of people in those organizations. I’m not a psychologist, but I promise you, people open up to external consultants over time as if we were.

I have seen some patterns of why people are unhappy. I might not be an expert on the subject, but I have a good idea. I try to avoid them myself, although it’s not always possible.

Lack of recognition

If you get insufficient or negative feedback from colleagues and management it can have a significant negative effect on your happiness.

We all need to be praised (some more than others), and if we never get any feedback for the work we do, it will affect our mood.

This is one of the main drivers behind people being unhappy.


It might be obvious, but if there is negativity involved in your work, you tend to be more unhappy.

If you often get unfair or negative reactions from clients/customers, it affects your mood. Even though you know it is unfair, it is hard to shake it off.

Unclear demands

If people do not understand what is required of them, they are at risk of becoming unhappy and burning out.

We all want to achieve goals, but if don’t know when you are a success, you will never feel you accomplish anything.

The same goes for unrealistic expectations. If it’s simply not possible to deliver on the expectations people have from you, it will increase your stress levels and reduce happiness.

Jobs that have unclear job roles, unclear responsibilities, and unrealistic expectations are a big driver of unhappiness.

Working with people

If you work in a job where your job tasks involve servicing other people – especially if it requires you to show empathy and be caring – you risk being unhappy.

Even though caring for other people can be rewarding, working with people is often associated with higher levels of stress that lead to unhappiness.

Boredom and lack of meaning

Working for a bigger cause or for an area that interests you are often associated with happiness. I have seen plenty of people who live for a subject who couldn’t imagine doing anything else all day long.

However, if you perform boring tasks or can’t see a deeper meaning with your work, you tend to be less motivated and happy.

Too many hours

From what I have seen, working too many hours can be a driver of unhappiness. However, it is not the primary driver. Often it is associated with one of the drivers above.

However, if all the other drivers above are not present, then working many hours does not necessarily make you unhappy. I have seen plenty of people working insane hours and loving it.

If you don’t have time to live your private life while working, then, of course, working too many hours can lead to unhappiness.

What can we do to be more happy at work?

I know jobs that fulfill all the above are rare. However, there are things and patterns we can look for to try to increases the chances of being happy at work:

  1. Leaders: If you have the choice to evaluate and choose different leaders, this is one of the most important actions you can do. I would always choose a better leader who focuses on limiting the parameters above over a better salary. Leaders are often the main influencer on many of the happiness drivers above.
  2. Optimism: Happiness is not only correlated with your work. Oftentimes, you have to do some work with your mind too. Reading self-help books on happiness has been an eye-opener for me (“Happier” by Tal Ben-Shahar is a great place to start).
  3. Self-efficacy: Along the same lines, your belief in your ability to succeed can play a major role in how you perceive and approach different tasks.
  4. Emotional expression: Learning to give constructive feedback to your colleagues and to show emotions in the right way can be a great way to teach others how to work better together with you.
  5. Social relations: Maintaining strong social relations at work (and outside work) is the most important source of happiness. Over and over again, studies have shown that strong social relations are the main driver of happiness.
  6. Meaningfulness: If you have the choice, try to find a job in an area that interests you or that serves a greater purpose. Chances are you will be happier in your job.

I’m not saying everyone can be happy in their jobs. Sometimes too many of the drivers above are present in a job and there’s nothing you can do about it. However, I do believe that more than 50% of people can be happy in their jobs.

Your turn: Why do you believe people are unhappy in their jobs? What can they do about it?



Carl Jensen October 23, 2019 - 11:41

You are right. That’s a very important thing. I believe it is (partly) up to leaders to inspire people and show them the meaning of their work. Frequent, elaborate and honest appreciation of efforts is one way to do this 🙂

Financial Nordic October 23, 2019 - 00:20

Thank you for this. Lots of good insights. I think that people are not stisfied in their jobs when they feel it’s a waste of time. Working might not always be sunshine and raimbows but it should at least be meaningful, at least that’s how I see it 🙂 + It should have variance.

– Financial Nordic


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