Three Things to Do If You Can’t Quit Your Job

Over the past two years, there has been a wave of people quitting their jobs, a phenomenon known as the “great resignation.” This year we also learned about the Great Reshuffle , when workers completely change their profession or industry. The message is clear: never before have so many people abandoned what they used to do to do something else.

What we hear a lot less about is people who are stuck. People who are unable to leave their current gigs for a variety of reasons, from personal to professional. While it’s hard to get statistics on how many people are in this situation, these stuck workers definitely exist. I work with them, you probably know a few, or you yourself may be one of them.

Employees who can’t get away from work are often blamed for choosing to be a victim of their circumstances or not having enough grit, perseverance, or courage to find something else. Many may not fully understand how employer benefits can act as a leash, tying someone to a job they don’t want or a work environment they hate.

Example: Due to the health of the spouse and the insurance provided, a former client I worked with could not quit a toxic job. Their family’s medical needs were too great (and the insurance coverage too good) to leave. Another client received a degree using an education reimbursement program that he would have to repay if he quit within five years. In both cases, the employees got stuck.

There are dozens of other reasons, and indeed, some of them may also be related to the fear of change. Wanting to quit smoking and knowing you can’t causes stress and even depression. Taking care of yourself is a priority. Here are some tips.

Try journaling “it could have been worse”

If you’re feeling stuck at work, it’s a good idea to make a gratitude list: each day, write down three things you’re grateful for. Some research indicates that this technique improves mental health . It is widely touted as a strategy to increase resilience and get rid of the feeling of being stuck.

But for some people, gratitude lists don’t work. To these people, the lists seem fake, and the exercise is useless. In my experience, these are people who tend to see the glass as half empty, see flaws before strengths, or be the first to criticize new ideas. I believe they can also be people who tend to have a darker sense of humor.

These people could have gotten more out of the magazine “could have been worse.” This is the place to chronicle everything that could be worse than the job you want to quit but can’t. This negative visualization exercise goes back to the Stoic philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome. For some, this approach elicits gratitude in a more authentic way. This does not mean reveling in the misfortunes of others, but accepting that being stuck in the current circumstances might not be such a bad thing.

Prioritize rest and take more breaks

A job you want to quit but can’t, especially if it’s a heavy workload, is physically and emotionally exhausting. This will drain your energy and leave you with very little at the end of the day. This means that you are not only tired, but also probably irritable. The best way to get that energy back and improve your mood is to rest—not just before bed, but throughout your work day. So take frequent breaks.

The Human Performance Institute , a leading provider of evidence-based strategies for wellness and high performance, has determined that switching between energy expenditure (work) and energy recovery (breaks) results not only in improved overall performance, but also in improved well-being.

Breaks should not be long. Just 10 minutes of walking or stretching (away from the screen) every couple of hours is enough to keep your mood and focus going. This will not only help you maintain a healthier attitude towards work, but your friends and family will also thank you. You will have energy at the end of the day for them too.

Prepare for the next step

As trite as it may sound, it’s true: this, too, will pass. The current situation of being stuck at work is, by and large, likely to be short-lived. Sometimes it is enough to keep a temporary mindset and realize that circumstances will eventually change in order to maintain a productive attitude.

It also speaks to the importance of being ready to act when things are moving in a new direction. So prepare yourself now in case an opportunity comes your way, because sooner or later it will come. Can you describe what you want from the new job? What about your strengths and what you bring to the team? Has your resume been updated? Have you recently met with someone to discuss your career aspirations? Readiness means that you have answered yes to all of these questions. If you said no, now you know where to start investing your time and effort.

A lot of career satisfaction comes from a sense of progress and movement. That’s why it’s so annoying to have a job that you can’t escape from. Staying productive, managing your energy, and being ready to respond when the opportunity presents itself are the best ways to keep moving forward even when you get stuck.


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