What to Do if You Hate Your Job but Can’t Afford to Quit

Hate your job but can't afford to quit? From a leave of absence to budgeting for financial freedom, learn strategies that may help.

portrait of Susan M.K. Howard
by Susan M.K. Howard

Published on August 2, 2022

Edited by Giselle M. Cancio
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What to Do if You Hate Your Job but Can’t Afford to Quit
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There's been a lot of buzz about quitting your job or changing your career — and with good reason. As a result of the Great Resignation, workers had more jobs to choose from and more bargaining power with employers.

If you hate your job, all the buzz sounds like a dream come true. But what if you can't afford to quit?

You aren't alone.

In a BestColleges survey of more than 1,300 working Americans, almost 1 in 4 say financial barriers prevented them from changing jobs over the last five years.

Factors like potential gaps in healthcare coverage, the inability to take any unpaid time off, and expenses related to upskilling/reskilling are the main concerns.

Even so, you don't need to be miserable because of your job. Let's look at what to do when you hate your job but can't afford to quit.

Is It Depression or Burnout?

When discussing how to deal with — or quit — a job you hate, it's helpful to first clarify if you are experiencing depression or burnout.

Depression can make you feel hopeless and lose interest in your work and personal activities. A long weekend or a vacation won't be enough to get you feeling like yourself again.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) is a reference handbook published by the American Psychiatric Association. The DSM-5 states a person may be diagnosed with major depressive disorder if they have at least five of the following symptoms for at least two weeks:

In contrast, burnout is not a depressive disorder. It is a response to prolonged stress that leads to physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. It is not clinical depression. But if left unresolved, it can lead to depression and other health issues.

What does burnout feel like? BestColleges gathered insight from over 60 people across industries who have experienced severe burnout. They told us they felt numb and trapped. They dreaded going to work, hated everything, and had changed behavior. They suffered from physical exhaustion and started having negative health implications.

How do you resolve work-related burnout when you want to quit your job so badly but can't? You need to try to change the underlying problems causing your burnout.

Can You Take a Mental Health Leave?

If possible, take time away from your job. It may give you the space to determine what factors at work need to change. Or you might discover that something unrelated to work is having a bigger influence on your mental health than you realized.

Glassdoor lays out how to take a mental health leave of absence in seven steps:

  1. Talk to a mental health care provider.
  2. Determine your eligibility under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
  3. Discuss your options with the human resources (HR) department.
  4. Work on a plan with your healthcare provider.
  5. Give your employer the necessary paperwork.
  6. Discuss details about how you will take your leave.
  7. Develop a set plan to take care of your mental health.

If a mental health leave isn't available to you, personal or vacation days may suffice.

Strategies to Help You Cope

Focus on the Physiological

Don't remember the last time you had a good night's sleep? Is fast food your norm because you don't have the energy to meal plan? Do you find the idea of reaching 10,000 steps a day overwhelming, let alone a cardio workout or yoga class?

It would help if you focused on the physiological as soon as possible. Our mental health and physical health are interconnected. It is tough to think clearly and calmly when our physical bodies are out of balance. Attending to your physical needs is a priority.

Review Your Finances

Take a good look at your finances and develop a plan of action.

Create or modify your budget with a focus on financial freedom. If you want to quit your job but need the money it provides, do whatever you can to eliminate debt and increase savings. You very likely have expenses you can cut.

New to budgeting? Consider using one of the many budgeting apps out there. In time, you'll be able to leave the job you hate — and pay your bills.

Start a Side Hustle — Maybe

If you need more money before quitting a job you hate, making more money could help. Maybe.

That "maybe" is included because this is only a good tactic if a side hustle won't lead to more stress and exhaustion. You are the only one who can determine that.

Have a hobby you're already doing in your spare time? Know you can capitalize on it? Great! As long as you're not causing more harm than good.

Make the Best of Your Job While You Have It

This may be as internal as changing your mindset to one of acceptance over what you can't control. Or it may be as external as asking your supervisor or the HR staff for changes that will improve your work-life balance.

Ask for a flexible schedule, that lunch breaks be respected, or for nonessential meetings to be removed from your calendar. These seemingly small changes could make a big difference in addressing burnout.

Forget Perfectionism

If we are honest with ourselves, some of the stress we carry is self-induced. Are there any perfectionistic tendencies that you need to let go of? Any workloads that you should be sharing but aren't? Personal boundaries you need to set but haven't?

Studies show perfectionism often leads to increased stress, anxiety, and depression. So not only is perfection unattainable — face it, it isn't — it can be very harmful to your health. It can also do a great deal of harm to your relationships. Forget perfectionism, and give yourself some grace.

Start a Gratitude Journal

One way to change your mindset is to start a gratitude journal. The simple act of writing down what you are thankful for can make you more thankful over time.

Research shows that those who write about gratitude are more optimistic and feel better about their lives than those who write about, or dwell on, annoyances. It seems giving thanks can actually make you happier.

Bottom Line

If you hate your job but can't afford to quit, you can still look for ways to improve matters.

Maybe quitting is further down the road than you wish. However, there are actions you can take now that may better your situation. Start by determining whether you are experiencing depression or burnout, and take it from there.

Feel too overwhelmed for an action plan? Share this article with a trusted family member, friend, or colleague.

It can be easy to feel alone in our struggles, but we don't have to be. It can feel like things will never change, but they can.


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