top of page

It Might Not Be Your Employer's Fault that You're Unhappy at Work

Updated: Jan 24

"It's not fair. I've been here for so long and no one recognizes how valuable I am to the company. Do 'they' know that if I left the whole team would fall apart! No one knows what I know. No one is as good as I am at this work. 'They' don't understand my worth."

Sound familiar? It's an argument I've heard more than once in my leadership career. It's also one I've used myself. Yes, I've been on both sides of the desk with this woefully arrogant and delusional narrative, which is how I know it to be utter BS. A victim-based story that we allow to take residence in our head and thus becomes our reality by way of our believing it.

Let me be clear…I am a huge proponent of evolving the workplace to a place of deep human connection that fuels collaboration and innovation. I believe organizations should be intentional about creating cultures that promote bringing the vast richness of diverse human experiences into the workplace. I believe organizations should be intentional about training leaders how to be vulnerable, courageous, authentic and compassionate (and yes, all of those are teachable skills!). And I believe organizations have a vested interest in caring about and promoting the growth and well-being of their employees. In fact, I spend a good bit of time convincing executives how doing all of the above could be the difference in whether their organization is relevant (or solvent) in the next 5 years.

Take Accountability for Your Own Growth and Happiness at Work

But here is another thing I believe; employees are fully accountable for their own growth and well-being. Oh, I know. I can hear it now…the ‘it’s not fair-they don’t value me-they don’t know what I do-they don’t know what they’re doing-they don’t understand-they don’t listen-they don’t care about me-it’s not my fault my job sucks' rant. I’ve heard it. I’ve used it, more times than I care to recall, which is how I know it to be, well, a cop out. Sure, some elements of the rant may be true, the company may not understand what you do, the leaders may not be good at listening and empathizing, your boss may not give two shoots about anything other than your ability to quietly and obediently get stuff done. But here's the thing, none of that gives you license to abdicate your right to joy and contentment, even at work. I know that's hard to hear. In fact, maybe you can't hear it right now. That's okay. It's a process, this owning our own happiness thing. But here's what I know, once we quite living our lives like a passenger in an Uber ride and realize that not only are we in the driver's seat, but we own the damn car, we can quite literally take this bad boy wherever we want to go.

Create Your Own Reality - Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life

"A man is what he thinks about all day long." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

What do you think about all day? Really, think about that a minute. Odds are you don't really know what you're thinking most of the time and aren't aware of the bad neighborhoods your thoughts take you to. The narrative we let run wild in our heads about how crappy our jobs are is largely a product of our own crappy, unchecked thinking. That doesn't mean everything is perfect and you have a dream job and your boss has the vision of Steve Jobs and the compassion of Mother Teresa. What it does mean is that it's probably not as bad as our crappy thinking makes it out to be.

There probably is a sliver, or maybe a whole boat-load, of greatness that comes from your work. There probably are quite a lot of positive qualities about your boss and maybe even your company's corporate strategy. Maybe you aren't aware of those qualities because you show up to work armored up, head down, dripping with 'don't look here' energy. Maybe your vibe is 'I don’t want you to know my middle name much less anything about the experiences, both good and bad, that have shaped me into the person I am today’. Or maybe the way you show up says 'I don't value myself so I can't possibly see how you could value me'. And I don’t mean the superficial value illustrated on your resume or latest performance review. I mean real intrinsic value for who you ARE, not what you do. I know. That might be a tough pill to swallow. But please sit with it for a moment. How do you take yourself to work? Even if the company culture hasn't caught up with you yet, that doesn't mean you can't show up to work ready to see and be seen. Ready to listen with an open mind and open heart. Ready to be mindful of and take control of thoughts that are not serving your well-being.

Be the Change You Want to See in the Workplace

From our cozy dens of sameness and predictability, change of any kind can feel cold, different, wrong. Our brains react accordingly and jump into protecting us from this discomfort by producing thoughts that provide an escape from our own accountability. “This shouldn’t be happening” produces a whole gang of street-thug thoughts that take you out of the present moment and out of any sense of control of your experience of the change. There is a better way. A much better way.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

But did you know this is not exactly what Gandhi said. This is a what he said:

"We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”

When we change our thoughts about what is happening, what is happening changes. And we are each divinely endowed with the ability to change our thinking. It is simple, but not easy. But given that it is “the source of our happiness”, it’s probably worth the effort.

If after you've tried all of this and the job is still crappy, if your boss really is a real-life version of Michael Scott, well leave already! I’m not advocating for staying in an environment that isn’t serving you well. I’m just suggesting that you first understand how your unchecked thinking may be first on the list of things that need to change. I’m suggesting that maybe, just maybe, what you think you know for certain may not be certain at all. And if you do leave your job, just know that you'll be taking your thoughts with you wherever you go. So make good and certain they are a good traveling partner.

"A man's life is what his thoughts make of it." - Marcus Aurelius.

What will you make of your work and your life by way of your thoughts today?


Teri Swope is CEO and Founder of SwopeLight Consulting, a leadership coaching/consulting firm. She has 27+ years of experience developing leaders and organizational cultures.

Her leadership style is inspired by the teachings of Brene Brown, Simon Sinek, Adam Grant, Stephen Covey and many other mindful, heart-led authors and leaders.

“At SwopeLight, we believe there is tremendous untapped potential in organizations; potential for deep human connection, collaboration and innovation. We believe in inspiring leaders to pursue the highest version of themselves. We believe conscious leadership is the key to this inspiration and to accessing an unlimited well of creativity and innovation.”

Teri has a B.B.A in International Management from the University of Texas at San Antonio. She holds leadership certifications from the Inner MBA Program from MindfulNYU - New York University/Sounds True/Wisdom 2.0 as well as The Leadership Challenge program.


bottom of page