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Are You an Unhappy Corporate Employee? Don’t Lie to Yourself

Employee:  One employed by another usually for wages or salary and in a position below the executive level.

Unhappy Corporate Employee:  Bitter + Definition Above

That’s not my definition. That’s how Merriam Webster defines the term.  There is nothing wrong with being an employee at all.  But there is something VERY wrong with an unhappy corporate employee. Unfortunately, there are many more of these than we could wish for.

When you have unhappy employees, things fail to operate the way they should.  Can you imagine an unhappy corporate employee on the assembly line of Ford Motor Company manufacturing your next vehicle?  What about that grumpy gal behind the Taco Bell counter preparing your steak taco? I bet you can’t wait to taste that taco. . . eh?

Forget about the blue collar for a minute.  Let’s talk white collar air conditioned office corporate employee if you can better relate to that one.   What’s wrong with them? Nothing until they start moving up the corporate ladder and making a ton of money.  Counterintuitive isn’t it?

Why Exactly are Corporate Employees Unhappy and What’s the Root Cause?

Let’s examine an employee’s evolution to get to the root cause of the unhappiness.  See, many entrepreneurs were employees at one point.  Many successful entrepreneurs even held high executive level positions in fortune 500 companies earning a very high salary.  Sounds good so far, so why the negative connotation attached to the rat race?

What typically happens is that the higher you climb up in the corporate ladder, you will find yourself given a ton more responsibility and much longer working hours, and a salary bump not nearly enough to justify the added workload and stress levels.  Increased stress levels lead to poorer physical, mental, emotional , sexual and sometimes even spiritual health.

Because of unrealistic workloads, what typically happens is that highly paid employees work a ton more hours, dread the idea of going home late night just to return back bright and early the next morning.  What’s the point living a life like that?  What good is all that money when you are always exhausted, have no time to enjoy it, are becoming unhealthy in the process and hating life?

So why not just quit the job?  Unfortunately, many people are stuck in their corporate jobs and they don’t realize this until it is too late.  There is also always someone just as foolish waiting to take over.  For the fortunate that have the option to walk away, many do so and start their own businesses.

Many corporate employees also feel that they are not getting ahead in their careers.  The corporate ceiling, and many times the executive slap (sometimes referred to as the white man’s slap by an immigrant non Caucasian) inherently prevents moving on to the next step after you’ve reached a certain level in the company.

Many times, the possibility for promotion also depends on your boss leaving his or her position.  The higher you get, the slimmer the pyramid becomes and the fewer positions are available, and of those even fewer are up for grabs.  So what incentives remain for you to work hard? What are you aspiring to? Unless your boss is 98 years old, chances are you are going nowhere.

Now there are some exceptions to the rule. There are some organizations that will make room for the qualified.  Some professions strictly reward performance over tenure. These are far and few however.  For the most part, regardless of whether you bust your butt and work hard or sleep under your desk on the job all day, you won’t get paid any more or less.

Sure, you might save your job by working harder during times of cuts, but a good actor pretender can do the same without really working as hard or as much as you do.  It is at this point when most souls start to die. There is a reason why it is commonly said that most people die when they are 40, but they simply refuse to get buried until 40 years later.

When I transitioned from consulting to industry (corporate), I observed many hard working and successful professionals who kept plugging away, working hard hoping to gain more experience so that they can get promoted to the next level.  All that belief was wishful thinking however.  The company chose to bring in younger, cheaper talent from the outside and instead laid off higher salaried employees from in-house. Sound familiar?

Solution to the Root Cause

This is an increasingly common trend today.  As you can see, there are several factors that contribute to the root cause behind why many employees are unhappy in their corporate jobs.

Although many experienced corporate employees may want to quit their jobs, they might feel that if they go to another company, they will have to start from scratch all over again and instead they stick around, take the abuse and continue to kill their soul in the process.

A few exceptional ones seek alternative options and start a side business in their spare time while maintaining their jobs.  Now this is the route that resonates well with me, and I fully support this initiative.  I certainly don’t advice quitting your job right away. Even if you have the option to walk away from your job completely, why not experience with your side business and keep the cash flow coming until you see some progress with your business?

Chances are, your new endeavors will give you the enthusiasm and energy to get through dreadful days at work to get to the “real work” during after hours.   Now that’s what I am talking about.   Other employees simply don’t have an option as they have current financial obligations and therefore can’t afford to walk away from their jobs.

If you are in a similar situation, now may be a good time to start your business.  You do not need to quit your job. You can build up a business on a part-time basis while still remaining employed. The important thing is to get started and do something now.

If you are the rare breed that is satisfied with your day job / career, I am very happy for you.  But if you are not, the least you can do is to be true to yourself.  You owe that much to yourself.

Readers: Where do you stand on the spectrum? Are you, or do you know a unhappy corporate employee?  What’s the solution to the unhappiness?

Here are some of my additional thoughts on breaking free from being a corporate employee.

Not Envying

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10 Responses to “Are You an Unhappy Corporate Employee? Don’t Lie to Yourself”

  1. Interesting article! Before I started university I wanted to work as a food technologist, then I realise I was going to make a lot of money from it. I heard about IT then I went on to study IT to become a software engineer. Worked in the 5 years and hated it. Love the money but I had no passion for it. It was really eaten bits of me. I remember leaving work having a terrible head, so stress and total bumped out. While I was working I took an interest in marketing. Love it, started a side hustle on it after given birth to my first child and still enjoying it. We can still make money, working out passion. Who says otherwise?

    It takes time to find once way but when we do it totally fulfilling, even if I have to work long hours in my business ,it’s worth it. Now, I don’t have to do that because I outsource a lot of things. I don’t want to loose my freedom just to start a side hustle. Right now, I’m still digging me little baby (Small Business).

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  3. You’re right Sunil. The Corporate world is not all that it’s cracked up to be, and a promotion always means more hours and more stress. Unfortunately, I’m also living away from my friends and family! I am currently making an effort to move closer to family, plus I’m starting a business on the side!

    Just the thought of creating my own hours and making my own business makes me smile, and it makes my 8-5 job much more bearable.

    • Sunil says:

      I can understand what you mean. Some people love it and some do ok in it, but the fact remains that many people don’t enjoy what they do for a living. Of those many, several absolutely hate it.

      Seems like you are on your way to defining the lifestyle you are going to be most happy with. I continue to wish you all the best.

  4. Janet says:

    A very good article! As I didn’t get the job I have always wanted to have I started to look for opportunities to work from home being flexible and having more time for my family. I am still working as an employee but only part time. My goal is to leave my job one day and to work from home. I don’t want to be an unhappy employee forever. Nobody should work in a job he is unhappy with.

  5. I wonder if there would be less unhappy employees if they didn’t hear about so many entrepreneurial successes like Groupon and FAcebook?

  6. Sunil says:

    I don’t think it is the home runs that get to the “employees”, rather it is the day to day illusion around them that others are getting ahead further and faster. Whether or not that is the case, it is the illusion indeed.

    Think about it – people talk in such high regard for company so and so who has now become the biggest in so so, as well as the mega entrepreneur who is now in the top 10 richest of the world. You can see the sparkle in their eye as they get so excited talking about this. However, how often do you see people get excited about their neighbors progressing and getting a bigger house or a nicer car?

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