Faking happiness at work? You're not alone.

Throughout 2021, America's workplace has experienced an unprecedented labor phenomenon. Some have dubbed it the “Great Resignation.” Others refer to it as the “Big Quit.” Both names are used to describe a trend that has seen more than 15 million Americans quit their jobs from April to the end of July. And those numbers are likely to rise in the coming months, if an August PricewaterhouseCoopers survey is any harbinger of future events. That survey found that 65 percent of workers are so dissatisfied with their jobs that they are actively seeking new employment.

Obviously, you are not alone if you find yourself unhappy at work and thinking about a change. The question is what you should do about that unhappiness, and whether those sentiments should motivate you to join the millions of Americans who are considering a workplace change. In this post, we will examine some of the most common reasons for unhappiness at work and offer some suggestions about how to deal with workplace dissatisfaction.

Do you find yourself faking happiness at work?

A recent survey from The Ladders found that more than a third of workers report being at least somewhat unhappy in their jobs. It also revealed that 81 percent of those unhappy workers fake happiness while they are on the job. Interestingly, that number is generally consistent across a wide range of demographic characteristics. For example, unhappy respondents who fake being happy at work include:

  • 86 percent of women and 77 percent of men

  • 82 percent of employees and 79 percent of managers

  • 85 percent of those making less than $47,000 a year and 79 percent of those making more than that amount

If you are genuinely unhappy in your job and find yourself wearing a fake smile as you go through your workday, there is at least some sliver of a silver lining. That same survey discovered that 52 percent of managers would prefer to have unhappy workers talk about their dissatisfaction. Only 12 percent of supervisors said that they prefer that unhappy workers pretend to be satisfied with their jobs.

The problem is that unhappy workers are also less productive workers. Worse, that unhappiness often carries over into their personal lives. As a result, it is important to deal with the root causes of your job unhappiness by identifying the reasons for your dissatisfaction. That way, you can either work with your employer to resolve any problems or begin the process of looking for a new job. The following steps may provide you some guidance as you try to figure out what to do about your job dissatisfaction.

Why are you so unhappy at work?

It might seem odd that so many Americans would find themselves deeply dissatisfied with their jobs, especially in a time in which employers across the country are struggling to find workers. However, economists and other analysts have attributed the phenomenon to a variety of potential causes.

Covid-19 and a reimagining of work-life balance

Some experts have blamed the Covid-19 pandemic and the forced layoff of tens of millions of employees in early 2020. Many of those workers found themselves at home for much of the year, as state governments forced their employers to remain closed as part of their Covid mitigation efforts. In many instances, that time away from the job site caused workers to rethink their work-life balance as they grew accustomed to spending even more time at home with their loved ones. Other workers – particularly those in low wage professions – realized that they need better paying jobs after they experienced the enhanced unemployment benefits the federal government provided in the last half of 2020.

Pandemic isolation and its impact on mental health

Of course, the pandemic also had a massive impact on the mental health of millions of Americans of all ages. Even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) repeatedly pushed lockdowns, social distancing, and quarantine efforts as part of its effort to reduce Covid's spread, the agency also acknowledged that those actions come with serious psychological costs. Moreover, those costs were paid by the unemployed and the employed in almost equal measure. The CDC's own website recognizes that Covid-related stress can cause everything from intense emotions and feelings of anger, worry, and frustration to sleep problems, worsening mental acuity, and an increase in both physical and mental health issues.

Lingering frustration and fear

If you have been experiencing frustration in your job due to overwork during the pandemic or fear that your work environment may be unsafe due to the virus, you are not alone. Those who have continued to be employed throughout that last year and a half have often been on the frontlines of the Covid war. They have withstood the worst of battles over mask mandates and have often found themselves doing the work of two employees as employers have struggled with labor shortages. That is more than enough to make anyone unhappy with their job. As the Great Resignation has unfolded, some of those workers have cited Covid-19 stresses as a major cause for quitting their jobs.

Feeling underpaid or underappreciated

This one may or may not be related to Covid. There have always been workers who want to quit their jobs due to dissatisfaction with their pay or a sense that they are not appreciated. Covid may have brought that timeless problem to a head for many workers, but this cause for job unhappiness existed long before that virus appeared.

You have a decent job, but still hate it

If you find that you make more than enough money but still hate your job, there may be a variety of reasons behind that unhappiness. It could be that you are disconnected from your coworkers or that you dislike your supervisor. Maybe you are bored or just feel like you have become trapped in a dead-end career. Or perhaps you are just working too many hours and are just getting burned out from overwork.

Millions of workers have experienced unhappiness for those same reasons, so it is important to recognize that you are not alone in that frustration. Often, these problems are signs that an employee is questioning the very meaning of their work and their relationship with the company that employs them. When you find yourself experiencing this type of dissatisfaction and unhappiness, it is important to find a way out of your frustration. In most instances, there are two viable paths back to happiness: correct the problems with your employer or find a new job.

Is your company open to discussing your unhappiness?

Obviously, there are steps you should take before you raise these issues with your employer. If you are feeling stressed and overworked, you should try to deal with those feelings with proven stress mitigation techniques. Make sure you get the rest you need, try to exercise regularly, and do not be afraid to ask for help. You can check out our great post on handling stress at work, Unhappy at Work? What You Can Control and How to Handle What You Can't.”

When your own efforts to work through your unhappiness at work fail, however, it may be time to address your concerns with your employer. That is, if your employer is open to discussing your dissatisfaction. In a perfect world, every employer would be eager to discuss employee dissatisfaction – if only because retaining good workers is easier and more cost-effective than hiring and training new ones. Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world.

Still, you may not know how receptive your employer is to such discussions until you have the courage to approach them with your concerns. The best way to do that is to make a list of the top 3 or 4 reasons why you are unhappy with your job and propose reasonable solutions that would address each concern. Then ask to meet with your boss and bring that proposal and list to the meeting. Then discuss everything in a rational way and try to find some common ground that can create a winning environment for you and the company.

Is it just time to quit and start looking for a new job?

On the other hand, there may be no way to fix your unhappiness with your current job. Maybe you are so burned out and depressed that there is nothing that your company could ever do to win you back. That would certainly be the case if your company culture has somehow led to a toxic work environment. In those instances, there may just be no alternative to finding a new job.

Of course, any mental health issues or concerns should be addressed in concert with mental health experts who can provide the help you need to get back on track. Never be afraid to reach out for assistance from medical professionals. Doing so can help you to overcome depression, anxiety, and other serious concerns that can make your life miserable. Whether caused by Covid fears, life's burdens, or unexpected workplace stress, it is vital to address any mental health issues as soon as possible

You can find more information and the help you need at sites and organizations like:

  • Heads up offers workplace stress assessments and advice for employees and employers, providing critical resources and tools to help you address any workplace-related mental health concerns.

  • The American Heart Association also provides information and links to resources focused on chronic mental health concerns.

  • If you want to assess your stress level and see how it might be impacting your life, the Cigna Stress Test can be a great place to start.

  • Mental Health America provides tools for recovering from mental health issues, as well as information to help family and friends provide the support needed for a full recovery.

  •  Betterhelp, Talkspace, and other online therapy and counseling organizations provide counseling services from home.


Job unhappiness is rapidly becoming an epidemic across America. If you find yourself faking happiness on a regular basis and are wondering what to do, it is important to identify the problem and then figure out whether you should try to correct the issue or just look for a new job. Hopefully, these tips and recommendations can help you figure out why you are unhappy at work so that you can make the right career decision for yourself and your family.

When you are ready to find a job that can give you the satisfaction and happiness you deserve, we are here to help. Check out our resume writing services to take that first step in your journey toward job satisfaction and happiness!

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