Ask VICE, burnout, jobs - Illustration of a woman sat glumly in front of a laptop, wearing a tiara which spells out ‘2022’
Illustration: Djanlissa Pringels

I'm Unhappy at Work. Should I Quit My Job?

"My friends say I should just find something else, but it's not that simple."

This piece originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.

Ask VICE is a series where readers ask VICE to solve their problems, from dealing with unrequited love to handling annoying flatmates. Today we’re trying to help a reader who no longer enjoys their job and is potentially thinking about quitting, but is also overwhelmed by the uncertainty that comes with such a big decision.



I’ve been feeling a bit defeated lately. After years working in the creative industry, I’ve managed to get a permanent contract, which is extremely rare in this sector. I live in a beautiful house in Amsterdam and have created quite a nice life for myself. But this year has not started as well as I had hoped.

I began the year with a very positive mindset. I thought to myself: We will all get vaccinated, the “roaring 20s” will start, we’ll have a lively summer and hopefully I’ll even be able to travel to some far-flung destination and escape the daily grind.

Those were all prospects I could work towards, but unfortunately nothing actually came of it. That hopeful feeling has completely disappeared. I have very little to look forward to and I fear that this year will simply be an extension of the last, without any positive developments.

What makes things even harder is that I get very little joy from my job. My boss hasn’t given me any indication that something will change this year and doesn’t make me feel motivated or inspired at all. I'm not the only one struggling with this issue, which has had a very negative impact on our work environment. I struggle to get through the day and can't relax on Sundays either because I know I’ll have to go back to work the next day. I need some sort of perspective, something to work towards – but unfortunately there’s nothing right now.


My friends say I should just quit my job and find something else. But it's not that simple. I don’t want to – and cannot afford to – just give up my stable income and permanent contract to take on a temp job somewhere else in these uncertain times – or run the risk of becoming unemployed. If that happens, I will lose my home. And I actually don't know what I would like to do besides the job I currently have.

In short, I have been feeling very melancholic and it has had a huge impact on my daily life. Everyone seems to have all of these new year’s resolutions that they strive towards, but to me they just seem useless, because we don’t know what life will have to offer anyway.

Is it normal to feel this way? What’s going on? Should I just take a big step without carefully thinking about my future? Or should I just sit this one out and hope that things will eventually change?



Dear F.,

The feelings you’re struggling with are challenging – but relatable, too. The world as we’ve known it has changed a great deal in the last two years, and that can understandably bring about confusion and dread. It isn’t surprising that you’re not immediately excited about 2022.


In your case, you’ve established a direct connection between your negative outlook on life and your current situation at work. That’s something many people have also been struggling with – so much so that 2021 has been dubbed the year of the Great Resignation, because so many people have been voluntarily quitting their jobs in an effort to regain control over their work/life balance.

Unfortunately, there’s no unequivocal answer to your problem, but perhaps an expert can give you some perspective on things. Occupational therapist Tosca Gort specialises in analysing how people function in their workplace. Gort coaches people in their careers and evaluates what might be the best next step if they’re unhappy with their work.

“Anyone going through an unpleasant phase of their lives – for example due to a job that isn’t fun, an unfulfilling love life or COVID gloom – can experience feelings of depression,” Gort says. That doesn’t necessarily mean you are clinically depressed and have to start taking medication, but it is useful to pinpoint what exactly makes you feel so down, so that you can work on it.

“People who are not feeling well often try to change their external circumstances hoping they’ll feel better again soon. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't,” Gort adds. Instead, she thinks you might benefit from seeing a therapist and working through those feelings of sadness before deciding to take a big job-related step. “The fact that you are unhappy at work could also be about you not feeling comfortable inside your own body, since we all spend more time inside these days and generally get little exercise,” Gort says.


But what to do once you have figured out that your job really is the biggest problem in your life? Before quitting, “try to evaluate which factors in your workplace bring you joy and what makes you the most unhappy,” Gort suggests.

Once you have more clarity about what specific aspect of your job you dislike, you can start to figure out if there’s some tweaks you can do to get a little more fulfilment out of your current position. Are there certain aspects you could focus on more? Could you possibly dive into something you've always wanted to learn about? Is there room to hire someone to take over some of your tasks? Is there a way of working less?

“Many people who feel bad don’t realise there is still a lot they can do to make their current situation better,” Gort notes, explaining that there’s a psychological term for this: learned helplessness. “There is so much going on – especially now, in the midst of the pandemic – that you just surrender because you can no longer find the strength [to fight] and just feel overwhelmed.”

That means you might find yourself putting up with situations you’re uncomfortable with just because you feel that nothing can be done to alter the situation. “I’ve often found that people who are content with their job recognise opportunities more easily and are more capable to seize them,” Gort adds.

In the end, you might come to the conclusion that you need to start looking for another job. Maybe the work atmosphere has just become too toxic, maybe you don’t get along with your manager or the negatives at work simply outweigh the positives. Maybe you could realise that life in a big city and a high-pressure job simply aren’t for you.

These considerations probably don’t apply to you, since you mentioned you like your home and lifestyle and are worried about losing them. It would be completely understandable if, after two years of pandemic-related uncertainty, you find it too scary to give up that kind of stability. It’s all too difficult to try and paint a picture of what the world will look like in the near future, and what that would mean for your line of work.

Still, Gort says it might become clear to you that this is a risk you might need to take to avoid burnout or long-term depression. “People often want to work in the creative sector, but in practice, they might realise their job also exists in other sectors where the conditions may be better,” Gort advises. “Don't be afraid to move into a completely different direction, either. The job market is undergoing deep transformations and retraining will soon become the standard. In some niche sectors, you can also often work and get training at the same time.”

Ultimately, “so many people struggle with these types of feelings, the tricky part is that they often look for help once they feel they’ve reached rock-bottom,” Gort says. She suggests you contact an occupational therapist or a career coach to guide you before things get out of hand: “You will have to make the final decision yourself, but you are free to ask for help along the way.”