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Are you comfortably miserable at work?

Then you're gripped by a paralysing need to maintain the status quo, but dreading every minute of it



THE term "comfortable misery" sounds like a pretty big contradiction, but believe me, there are plenty of working professionals who go about their lives this way.

Here are tell-tale signs: they have been in the job for a long time, and now go through the motions and watch the clock in the office. They dread waking up for work and are just counting down till retirement. To them, work has become a necessary evil and they are paying penance.

What stops such people from leaving is the overwhelming fear of the unknown and the belief they won't find a better job.

Sounds familiar? In some workplaces, people can get away with it due to their years of experience and seniority. But this is draining on all parties concerned, including managers, companies and the individuals themselves, who may be wasting some of their best years of their lives.

Being comfortably miserable is more than just a mid-career slump. It is not simply a lack of motivation or the feeling of being stuck in a rut - it is a paralysing need to maintain the status quo, but dreading every minute of it.

"This scenario is more common than most think," says Josh Border, associate director for sales, marketing & communications, HR & business support, Randstad Singapore. To be happy and motivated at work, he believes that three "fits" must be met, namely job fit, culture fit and boss fit.

A good job fit means that the employee is working on projects that are leveraging his or her skills and are challenging enough for professional growth. Culture fit refers to how the staff and the company function together as different people will strive in different environments. Finally, boss fit refers to the employee's professional relationship with their bosses in terms of management style and vision.

When two or more of these fits are not met, the employee will probably be highly stressed and unhappy, leading them to actively search for new opportunities, says Mr Border.

But when only one of these fits is not met, it leads to the employee being "comfortably miserable". "It's easy to overlook one of these fits when looking for a new job, or when something changes in the company," says Mr Border.

Employees are unlikely to actively pursue a new job as the rest of their experience is generally positive, yet still leading to increased stress and unhappiness. It can lead to professional stagnation as such workers are unlikely to exceed expectations on the job nor showcase inspirational leadership. Such unhappiness can also spread into the worker's personal life.

"This employee may become disinterested in things they used to enjoy, putting strain on relationships with family, friends and colleagues," says Mr Border.

The powerlessness felt - whether imagined or real - often leads to a lot of bottled-up frustration. At the most extreme, it can manifest internally as depression, or externally as lashing out at loved ones.

It may seem odd at first that people who are miserable in their jobs would not look for something more suitable. But while a worker might be unhappy, there might be a cushion of factors such as nice colleagues or a comfortable income.

Looking for a job can be a painful process of interviews and rejections - something people in their comfort zone wish to avoid. To add to the uncertainty, well-meaning people are likely to remind them just how lucky they are, especially if their jobs seem cushy.

Even so, people suffering from comfortable misery need to face the situation head-on. The longer they refuse to change, the greater the inertia will be.

"The person needs to first and foremost identify the areas that are causing them to be disengaged," says Mr Border.

If the problem is a manager or the type of work assigned, employees can seek the help of someone senior to rectify the situation. For employees who want to give the company another shot, try asking to lead a new project that will challenge you and stretch your potential.

Not all changes have to be major - you can also try asking for a secondment or a transfer instead of leaving the company altogether. But if it turns out that the problem is not fixable, it would be advisable for the employee to seek greener pastures.

Making the decision to switch jobs may be one of the biggest hurdles faced by a comfortably miserable person, but it is a necessary one.

No one's asking you to quit right away: first figure out what is the worst-case scenario and how to cope with it, then come up with a game plan to plot your exit.

If family and financial obligations are holding you back, do your homework and check your sums. The idea is to make a calculated risk, not throw it all on a gamble.

Next, blow the dust off your resume and update it. Heck, even create a proper LinkedIn account - having some social media presence shows future employers that you are making an effort.

There is no shortcut to this - build your skills by taking relevant courses, go for networking events, and keep yourself focused on your career goals when the going gets tough.

As one of my favourite quotes from the film The Shawshank Redemption goes: Get busy living or get busy dying.

Ultimately, you have control over your career and how it goes. There is little point in complaining about how you dislike your job and not do anything about it, so start by making a firm decision to move on, and if necessary, climb your way up again.