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How to Deal With Your Dead-End Job

Aaron Guerrero
Office Space (1999): It wasn't exactly a huge hit when it came out. But like the Coen brothers' "The Big Lebowski," Mike Judge's "Office Space" has gained a cult following over time through the magic of cable television. Now, you can mumble about your stapler or gush about the importance of wearing 37 pieces of flair and everyone will probably get the reference. Ron Livingston stars as a miserable drone at a generic tech company who gets stuck in a hypnotic state and ends up turning the place -- and his whole life -- upside down. It's silly wish fulfillment, but Judge does hit his targets in depicting the dead-end monotony of cubicle life. And Gary Cole is wonderfully slimy as Livingston's passive-aggressive dictator of a boss. Yeaaah ...

You used to enjoy B.B. King's classic blues tune "The Thrill Is Gone," until you realized the title perfectly summed up your sentiments toward your job.

It wasn't always this way. Shortly after being hired, you had the impression that your then-new company was a promised land for higher pay and promotion. Months in, it's turned out to be a place of zero growth for both the former and the latter.

While a recently released Gallup poll reveals a small number of workers in the United States are completely satisfied with their jobs when it comes to pay and chances for promotion (30 percent and 33 percent, respectively), the roots of a deadbeat profession can be more nuanced, explains Teresa Amabile, professor at Harvard Business School and co-author of "The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work."

[See: The 25 Best Jobs.]

Other dead-end jobs may pay well but the work is meaningless, she notes, or the management is so poor that workers aren't receiving the kind of feedback or tutelage that improves job performance. "There are all kinds of reasons people may be unhappy with their job," Amabile says.

Whatever your reason, here are some tips for perking up your dull work life without emailing your resignation.

Focus on the favorable aspects. Many of the responsibilities associated with your job may be less than exhilarating. Still, look for the silver lining in the task (or two) you enjoy. "Try to find an aspect of your work that is meaningful to you and focus on that. See if there's a way you can expand your job so you can do more of that kind of work," Amabile says.

[Read: What to Do When You Loathe Your Job.]

Conquer a challenge. If finding a single, favorable task is impossible, "write about a setback or an obstacle that you encountered," Amabile suggests, nothing that her research shows those who keep a daily work diary feel better about their job and the progress they're making, plus they feel more creative. "Think about what you can do the next day to try and overcome or get around that obstacle," she adds.

Expand your skills by taking on new assignments. Don't let the lack of mobility stymie you from adding other valuable skills to your professional repertoire. "Volunteer for stuff that's interesting to you and that you think will stretch your skills," Amabile suggests. For example, she says if you have a knack for mentoring, you could ask your manager if you may oversee teams working on projects that play to your expertise.

Amabile notes that doing so not only makes the job more interesting but also allows you to become more "marketable externally." Moreover, she adds, acquiring new skills may catch the eye of another supervisor in the organization and prompt him or her to offer you a position that's more to your liking.

Enjoy your co-workers. While your job has failed to meet several of your expectations, the company, or even friendship, of your colleagues has made the chore of coming to work each day tolerable. Try dwelling on the bond you've formed with those around you rather than the job's shortcomings. "If you can't enjoy the work, then enjoy some of the people at work," says Anna Ranieri, a California-based career counselor and executive coach.

Don't give up on hard work. The temptation to slack off may be great or even easy, particularly if your manager's head is in the clouds. But "it's important for yourself that you keep being who you are, a hard-working person," Ranieri says.

Moreover, the sight of your hard labor, particularly after being denied want you were hoping for, may cause your boss to "circle back and find some more money" for a raise or "get that promotion going for [you]," she adds.

[Read: What to Say When You Ask for a Raise.]

Direct your extra energy toward something outside work. Your job may not be stimulating, but at least it's not burning you out. By having a manageable workload, you can energetically pursue other career-related interests or properly tend to personal issues, Ranieri notes. "It's OK for you that the job allows you to work just hard enough and have enough energy left other for those other things," she says.

Explore other internal options. Your current role may offer nothing in the way of progress, but that doesn't mean the company is void of other promising positions. "Maybe you could move to some other position within the same organization, which is often possible, and it's something that people may not even explore," Amabile says.

Stay on the hunt for other jobs. While your financial obligations prevent you from quitting on the spot, that doesn't mean you can't browse the external job market during your down time. Also be willing to apply for work that is beyond your scope of expertise or experience. "You can test the outside market, see what possibilities there might be for you outside this organization," Amabile says. "Even if it means somewhat stretching yourself in terms of the kind of work you would be doing."

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