person hiding under their desk at work
Illustration by Evan Weselmann

‘I Hate My Job! How Do I Stay Motivated While I Look for Something Better?’

It can be really hard to stay engaged in work once you've made up your mind to leave.
Amateur Hour is an advice column for people who are new to the professional world and are figuring out how work even… works.

I'm in a role that is relatively new to me but I like quite a bit. However, due to a lot of factors, I am disenchanted with my employer. I am underpaid (getting my salary to the market range would be a 30–40 percent increase), have many internal blockers to success, and am overall just unhappy with my management and role. I am actively looking for a new position and have two promising options. 


However, as we all know, hiring doesn't happen in a day. So while I feel confident I'll get at least one offer, I won't count my chickens before they're hatched. But it's become increasingly hard to perform in my current role on a day-to-day basis. I'm burnt out for many reasons. My managers expressed concern today with several areas—some of which I could definitely work on, but I just keep screaming in my head "I DON'T CARE!"

Of course, my response to them was that I hear their concerns and I'll work on a high-level action plan that we'll review this week, but this is worse than running through molasses. I don't really have a financial net to just quit, though obviously that seems to be the best answer for everyone. Do I just do the bare minimum moving forward and maybe even hope I'm let go, in case I need unemployment? Do I really have to psych myself up to perform at my normal standards while I continue to look elsewhere, in another industry? I'm actually not sure what's best to do when I’m so unhappy but unable to just leave. 

It can be really hard to stay engaged in a job that you not only dislike but have decided to leave! And the fact that your managers have already raised concerns serious enough to warrant an action plan to fix them is a sign that things might be on a worrisome path.

Most of the time when you’re unhappy in a job and actively looking to leave, it’s in your best interest to try to hold it together until you’re gone. You’d presumably like to get good references from this job at some point in the future, and even though you’re hoping to change to an entirely different field, future employers might want to talk to this one to ask about things like your work ethic and attitude... and hearing that you checked out and did just the bare minimum in your final months there is the kind of thing that can torpedo a good offer. It could also turn out that some of your current co-workers would be good connections to have in the future, like as a source of job leads or to let you tap into their networks when you want the inside scoop on a company that they have a connection to.


What’s more, you never really know where or when people will pop up again. You might leave this job thinking that you’ll never see any of your coworkers again... and then two years from now could discover one of them is your interviewer at a totally different company, or that your new boss is friendly with your manager from this job, or who knows what.

If you look at it that way, continuing to do a decent job until you can leave is actually an investment in your escape! Having a good reputation will make it easier to get your next job, as well as all the ones after that. Having a good reputation gives you options, so that when you find yourself in a job you don’t like, it’s much easier to leave for something better.

All of that means that, as tempting as getting fired might sound when you’re this unhappy, you should try to avoid it if you can. Being fired isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it won’t be great for your reputation with anyone connected with this job—because of both the firing itself and whatever you have to do to get yourself fired. And unemployment benefits, while helpful, will usually be only a fraction of the salary you’re getting now.

There are a few exceptions to this. If you’ve only been at your company a very short time, like a few months or less, it can be easier to pull off leaving the job off your resume and erasing it from your work history (and your mind!). There’s still a possibility that you could run into someone from this job again and you’d forgo the potentially useful connections, but you might conclude that trade-off is worth it. Or, if you’re so unhappy that it’s affecting your physical or mental health, that changes the calculation as well.

Assuming that’s not the case, though, hold on to this: You’re actively working on getting out! You will be gone at some point, and doing a decent job until then will make your life easier, possibly for a long time to come.

Some practical tips to keep up appearances until then: Make sure you’re doing things to appear reasonably engaged, like participating in meetings and long-term planning (even if you know you won’t be there during the periods being discussed) and not strolling in unusually late or cutting out flagrantly early. Also, consider quietly working on documentation for the person who will replace you; organizing and documenting your work is a legitimate way to spend your time (as long as it doesn’t bump higher priorities) and it can be very satisfying to do an activity that’s directly tied to your eventual departure.

Get more good advice from Alison Green at Ask a Manager or in her book. Do you have a pressing work-related question of your own? Submit it using this form.