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How to get out of your crappy job ... without actually quitting

The authors of "Designing Your Work Life" offer four approaches you can take to change things for the better.
Shoreditch Office
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By Courtney Gisriel

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In the last year, at least half a dozen people I know have quit their jobs (or come extremely close to it) because they just couldn't take it anymore.

But what if you didn't have to leave your job to start liking what you do? That's the idea Bill Burnett and Dave Evans are proposing in their new book, "Designing Your Work Life."

Using the principles of design thinking, they provide actionable tools employees can use to face pretty much everything we dislike about work. From office politics to burnout to meaningless jobs, the book offers guidance on a range of issues including tips you can put into play today.

If you too are among the 66% of Americans who are disengaged at work, here are four approaches you can take to change things for the better.

1. Reframe and Reenlist

This strategy is useful when you really are just stuck in your current work situation — but don't worry, it doesn't just mean "suck it up."

"The thing that is really troubling you is unchangeable for a time," says Evans. "So what you have to do is reframe: Redefine why you come to work ...that can actually be transformative."

This involves rethinking the "why" for your job. If you're not finding fulfillment, but the job is offering you much-needed security, focus on that benefit as your new "why." It seems small but the authors insist this psychological shift can be hugely impactful.

2. Remodel

There are two ways to remodel an existing job: through cosmetic changes (and no, that doesn't mean redecorating) and through structural changes.

A cosmetic change means doing more of what you do enjoy (or taking advantage of something new that gets you excited) in your current role, without totally changing the job description. For example, if your role involves a lot of time in front of a computer screen, but you enjoy interacting with people face to face, you can try adding more informational interviews with people who are interested in your field to your schedule. It doesn't change the function of your existing role and it doesn't take too much time, but you're able to get the interpersonal interaction you crave while also having a positive impact on the person you've met.

With a structural change, you'll want to work with your boss to design a new framework for your current role. Are there certain things you'd like to stop doing in your current role? Create an alternative solution that allows the work to get done without it falling on your plate. Present it to your manager and see if it's something that can be formally implemented.

"Often you do the cosmetic thing — frankly for free — for a while, then the boss or the colleagues go, 'That's a really cool thing that you're doing, can you just do that a lot more?'" Evans explains. "Then all of a sudden, you're getting paid to do the thing that you want to do."

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3. Relocate

"I like the company and I like the culture, but I just don't want to be in accounting anymore," Burnett offers as an example.

If that sounds familiar, the authors suggest getting curious about other job opportunities at your company. Burnett recommends asking yourself, "Where else in the company can I employ the things I'm good at?"

Start having conversations with people who actually do the thing that you're interested in. Get your hands dirty — ask to do some work for another team on the side to make sure it's what you really want. For this strategy to work, you'll need to already have the transferrable skills to make the jump. They also say you'll want to make sure you have the positive social capital within the organization to earn a recommendation — i.e. you haven't been phoning it in because you hate your job.

4. Reinvent

Unlike relocating, reinventing is required if the opportunity you want will require skills you don't already have. For example, if you work in the accounting department and want to switch into a creative role on the marketing team, you'll have to go through some level of ongoing education to make that transition. Whether that's going to school at night or taking some online courses to master a new field, reinventing is a more labor-intensive option than the first three. But if you've done the reflection to know for certain that all the work will make you happier with your career in the long run, it could be worth it.

Burnett and Evans acknowledge there are, of course, some real problems that can't be addressed through these design theories. If you work in a toxic environment or have reached a true state of burnout (very different from being overwhelmed), quitting might actually be the best course of action.

And with bigger moves like relocation and reinvention, the authors offer a word of caution: "Be careful. You might get what you want and then you might discover, it's not exactly what I want." You'll really want to do the research and get some experience before you attempt to take the leap.

Still, in a world where it seems almost revolutionary to love your job, these tools just might help you find a few more ways to like going to work.

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