There are many versions of “really awful” at work. Your boss is absent or worse – an unappreciative, narcissistic bully. Or maybe you’ve realized that the philosophy or direction of your organization just doesn’t fit your values and you feel out of integrity. Perhaps you have realized that you are in the middle of a hyper-political battle that you are not going to win. In short, it’s not the job you thought it would be. And when things become chronically awful, it’s time to make a choice.

Faced with a chronically bad situation at work it’s useful to ask two questions:

Do you believe you can significantly influence the situation to make it better?
Do you care enough to try?

According to social science researchers, your answers to these questions point to four possible choices you can make.

Choice 1: Exit
Quit the job and get out of the situation. But to the extent possible, make this choice only after you are clear about the lessons you are taking with you (e.g., what were the conditions that made this situation so difficult for you and how might you have contributed?).

Choice 2: Carry On
Remain in the job and tough it out. In this case you may feel committed to the organization or to your own security but accept that you can’t influence the situation. Sometimes what makes it possible to persist in a bad situation is a change of perspective (e.g., “right now my priority is to have financial security so I will stay while I actively look for another job.” ).

Choice 3: Neglect
Stay in the job but reduce your effort. Invest a minimum of your effort (and self-worth) in the job while finding your sources of satisfaction and happiness in other places. If you believe there’s no way for you to influence the situation and don’t care, you’ll choose this strategy.

Choice 4: Confront
Actively try to improve the situation. Approach those who have influence and might help you address what’s not working. The choice to voice your concerns and ideas is available to you only when you believe your actions can make a difference and you care enough to speak up.

Remember, even in awful situations you have choices.

What choices have you made in awful situations and what did you consider in making these decisions?

Photo Credit: Carollina_Li

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