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Why are you staying in that terrible job?

"Dear Evil HR Lady, my boss is terrible/screams at me/is having an affair/underpays me/promoted my incompetent coworker/and calls me up at 2:00 a.m. and expects me to come into the office immediately."

I get emails like this all the time. Often the person has been at this job for 7 or more years, and the boss (or a coworker) is clearly awful. Someone you wouldn't want to share an elevator ride with, let alone work for, every day of your life. So why do they stay at these jobs?

As some of you, in awful jobs yourselves, point out it's a terrible job market and it's hard to find a new job. This is absolutely true. But these people have been working for the same bad boss for a very, very, long time. It can take a long time to find a new job, but it's easier to find a job when you have one, and I would expect that if a person who is employed cannot find a new job in 7 years, the problem lies with the job hunter, not the economy.

In fact, most of the people who have been in these bad situations for a long time haven't even begun searching for a new job. This has always boggled my mind. I hate job hunting as much as the next person. (Or maybe even more because I'm an introvert and job hunting is an extrovert's paradise.) But, I hate mean and corrupt people even more. So, why aren't they looking?

Perhaps this study out of UCLA, Harvard, and the University of Virginia can help explain it. The authors, Daniel T. Gilbert, Matthew D. Lieberman, Carey K. Morewedge, and Timothy D. Wilson looked at how people processed insults from "partners" versus "non-partners." They would never see the non-partners again, but had to continue working with the partners. The researchers found that people would forgive their partners and have more positive feelings towards them, even after being insulted. In fact, witnesses who observed the insults had stronger negative feelings towards the "partners" than did the people who had been insulted.

So, the stranger that yells an insult at you as you walk to work can stick in your head and bother you longer than the insults that your boss hurls at you on a regular basis. You know to expect this -- you are, essentially, partnered with this person and so you forgive (or at least ignore) and stay at a job that is horrible. While I'm all in favor of forgiveness, I don't believe any religion requires you to stay in a job that stinks.

In my experience, sometimes all it takes is someone pointing out that you are not trapped and can go find a new job, for someone to leave the bad boss in the dust. If you've been dealing with years of bad pay, insulting performance reviews, and screaming managers, you can get out. If your spouse or best friend (the witnesses!) say it's time to move on to a new job, it's time to move on to a new job. Start looking today. Don't endure another seven years in a bad situation. Find a new job, move on, and then forgive and forget your old boss.

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