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I've been in my current role for about three years, after graduating from University. I haven't really been impacted by COVID work-wise because I'm a software developer so I can WFH.

Lately I've been losing motivation at my job, partly because it's not interesting and I have some frustrations with how the company operates which doesn't look like it's changing any time soon.

But moreso I'm starting to get worried that I'll never really enjoy a job again, because throughout my time here I've experienced the following things, and from what I hear from others, it's similar elsewhere:

  • You don't get rewarded for hard work or even being good at your job. The people making decisions about who gets promoted are typically high-level managers who don't really know you or understand your work. Getting promoted is all about appearances and playing office politics, which I dislike.
  • Companies typically don't have loyalty. Ultimately, you're a disposable resource to them, to be used and thrown away when it's convenient or necessary. It sucks knowing that, despite all the hard work I put in, I can easily lose my job like so many others.
  • Following on from that; when I first started I naively thought that if I worked hard and put in a lot of effort, I'd get rewarded. What I actually found was that when I gave more, they took more, and that was it. No reward, not even an acknowledgement, just a new expectation that I will work more than what's in my contract for no extra reward.
  • I have raised my concerns about these things and others with my manager, who is sympathetic but ultimately can't really do anything about it, so nothing changes as a result.

I used to be enthusiastic about working and learning new skills, but now it's at a point where I'm fed up and burned out. I'm still doing my work (albeit no more than I have to), but it's not enjoyable, and all the while I'm thinking "What's the point?" I know that this mindset can apply to any job, not just my current one.

By and large I do enjoy software development; I have some side programming projects on the go which I enjoy vastly more than my day job. I actually look forward to working on them, whereas I only do my day job because I "have to," and I know I'm producing sub-par work (by my standards) because of that.

I know this is a negative, unhelpful mindset, but it's how I feel right now. How can I get back to being able to enjoy work? I've been thinking about switching to a career that's more focused on the bits and fields of software development I enjoy.

Or is this just how it is, and something I'll have to accept? If I talk to friends or family about this, I usually hear "Well, that's life," in which case I'll find a way to make peace with it, but I would like to get the feeling back of enjoying my work.

Edit

Thanks for all the answers; they each made good and different points which I'll consolidate here (at least, what I got from them). There is no one objectively correct answer to this. This is mainly for my own benefit so I can refer back to it when necessary.

  1. Don't let your job consume the whole of your life.

    • In some cases, you might be extremely lucky and have a job you love 100% of the time, but more realistically, jobs are fickle; they come and go, and sometimes they go well, other times badly. If you let this translate into your life going well or badly, you're bound to suffer as it's something you don't really control.
  2. Tend to other areas of your life; always have room to do things you enjoy.

    • For me personally, I know I have a tendency to overwork and get stressed and burned out. When this happens, I have no time or energy left for side projects, which then makes me feel guilty about neglecting them, creating a downward spiral. It's easy to sink into this mindset and keep digging a deeper hole. The problem is you get diminishing returns; over time you become less effective, meaning you have to work more just to keep up with what you did before, leading to more stress, etc. So it really is important to take some time out and cultivate social relationships, go outside, exercise, and work on enjoyable things. There's nothing wrong with taking a break to refresh yourself if you're getting burned out, because even if you stress about the time you "should" be spending on work, that time is likely to be mostly spent in a mental funk not really getting anywhere.

    • Don't underestimate the importance of looking after your mental health, and don't expect others to look after it for you. Most people may actually be suffering in their own ways and tied up with their own problems, so the best we can do is to support one another as best we can and not add to their problems.

  3. Accept that reality doesn't always align with your expectations.

    • If the way to get recognised or promoted is to play office politics or exaggerate your accomplishments while downplaying those of others, ask yourself: Do I really want to be that kind of person? If not, then the only way to be happy is to simply accept that this is the way things are, and take whatever pride you can in the job that you do. At the very least, you'll still be growing and developing as a professional, and such experience is always a useful thing to have.
  4. Don't let yourself be exploited or coerced by an employer.

    • Ultimately, you are employed to do what's in your contract; anything else you do for your employer is a bonus. Whether or not you choose to do that is always up to you, not your employer.
  5. Remember why you're working in the first place.

    • For me, it's not for money. There will always be ways to earn money, and a multitude of jobs to be done. What's important is to remember what led you here to begin with, and if you're finding yourself in a position where that no longer holds and is unlikely to change with effort, then there's nothing wrong with looking elsewhere.
  • @JoeStrazzere I don't think the isolation is helping him either – Old_Lamplighter Aug 3 at 18:05
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    Things like "disposable ressource" should go both ways. Yes, any (big) company will dispose of you if they won't make profit out of you (and law allows). But you can and should also dispose of the company if you fins a better one. – guest Aug 3 at 19:17
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    @guest easier said than done with unemployment in the double digits – Old_Lamplighter Aug 3 at 20:54
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    Why not freelance? More pay, more choice of location (I have freelanced in 16 countries, on 3 continents), and - my personal #1 - no office politics (I have been management, but was hired in that way; if they hire be in as a code monkey, I know that they will never promote me, so I don't need to chase after it) – Mawg says reinstate Monica Aug 4 at 6:11
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    @MawgsaysreinstateMonica It's getting to the point that everyone should have side gigs – Old_Lamplighter Aug 4 at 14:33
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I want to add my experience, as a software engineer with three years of work experience right after of university, just like OP.

All workplaces have flaws, they are all made of people and people have flaws. But it is a mistake to generalise. All workplaces have flaws, but not all have the same flaws. A perfect workplace is not the one without problem, but the one with the problems you can tolerate the most.

How I see it, how I coped with COVID (and the rough year I have before for personal reasons):

  1. Take pride in what you do, regardless of the amount. You can work the bare minimum because you think your environment doesn't deserve\appreciate the extra effort, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try and do your best in what you are asked to do.
  2. Focus on why you have chosen this career in first place. You are out of motivation but you had some, try to look back and see why you have chosen software in first place. Having side projects (something which I don't, so you're already ahead of me) helps with that. For me, I see software as a powerful tool. Whatever you build, it will end up helping someone, and that is what inspired me at the start, helping people.
  3. The grass isn't greener on the other side of the fence, but maybe you like that shade more. In the end each workplace has its problems, you just need to find one where the advantages you perceive outweigh the problems. You have been enough time where you are, if your mental health is getting a hit, looking for a change is nothing to be ashamed of. You owe to the company as much loyalty as they give to you.

COVID isolation has hit everybody, look for help in people that love you and that you love, look for professional help if you feel like you need.

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    Thank you. I agree with everything you said; it's easy for me to lose perspective sometimes, even though I rationally know I should see things as you described. I'll mention that, for me, having side projects can actually sometimes be a source of stress too, because if I'm burned out at work it carries over into other aspects of my life, and I end up feeling guilty over neglecting them, and it creates a downward spiral. This is a really good answer; I wish there was a way to incorporate multiple accepted answers. – Touchdown Aug 5 at 14:35
  • "Always remember, when the grass is greener, it is still grass" – Old_Lamplighter Aug 5 at 17:25
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First, seek PROFESSIONAL HELP COVID restrictions have taken a terrible toll on mental health in general. So much so, that by April, calls to The National suicide hotline are up nearly 1000%, and it's only gotten worse.

You could be suffering from burnout, depression, isolation, or all of the three. Sort that out first

Then, take the steps to move towards projects you enjoy. You may want to consider doing more freelance, and side projects, and perhaps becoming a full-time consultant and hired gun. You don't have to worry about loyalty when it's your operation.

Also, pick up a book on closing sales, and perhaps "Brag, how to toot your own horn without blowing it" to learn how to promote yourself.

Also, socialize more, build up your network of friends and associates. Break the isolation as best as you can.

BY ALL MEANS, CHANGE FOCUS

If you are not enjoying the TYPE of work, explore other options. Talk to people already doing what you want to do. Pick up a copy of "What color is your parachute?" and use that for inspiration.

Good luck.

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  • Thank you; I don't deny that COVID has negatively impacted my mental health, but I'm reluctant to blame everything on it since I was feeling this way pre-COVID too. I know I have a bad habit of overworking and getting stressed out; it's something I'll have to be more disciplined about in the future. I will put more effort into my side projects and not let my day job consume all my time and energy, but before that I'll work on getting myself into a better place mentally. Thanks for the resources, I'll check them out. – Touchdown Aug 5 at 14:46
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    @Touchdown COVID has magnified existing issues for all of us, I'm having my own problems, so I know it. There is another book, "Rhinoceros success" which may also help you. Renewal is an important thing. We all need to recharge. Find something that gives you joy, and do it. – Old_Lamplighter Aug 5 at 14:49
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One of the first things (my) psychiatrists advocate is to try to have interest centers and activities that are work unrelated. Bonus point if that's sport. There is a saying, don't put all your eggs in the same basket. Otherwise, when things fluctuate badly in that area you have nothing left. It could take time before you get something you enjoy, but start thinking now. This could be various projects from do-it-yourself, cooking, searching for a significant other, art, or anything you find meaningful really.

You have learned the hard way a company isn't here to make fair deals but to win money thanks to its workforce. This may be difficult to accept, but it truly is what it is: rewards must be negotiated and aren't given ever. You are right to stop giving freebies from now on.

So, I would stop side projects and all extra hour, get some rest, try to avoid boredom (games or movies can be good fillers there), and I would avoid taking radical decisions while being in a bad mindset.

I would like to get the feeling back of enjoying my work.

You eventually will, but it may take a bit of time. Mood fluctuations are part of life, and they can be dramatic if you lack a good balance. If that becomes too difficult to bear, professional help will be there.

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  • Thank you; I definitely know I have a tendency to overwork and neglect simple things like going outside and socialising. It's a bad habit, and one that I'll have to slowly chip away at. – Touchdown Aug 5 at 14:37
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I think a lot of us have gone through similar things. Going above and beyond and not getting any benefit or even recognition from it. What helped me a lot was my friend saying hard work and getting things done is the most important to you. Management was more impressed/promoted guy who ran a "Clean Code" Book club and organized team events. Since then I've tried to balance getting my work done vs what management thinks is important. Really changed the way I looked at things.

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Reward the company how they reward you.

Whenever I join a new company, I quickly figure out what is rewarded and what is not and focus on doing the former.

Consider maintenance work/on-call. In my organization, that is neither rewarded nor that well paid. So I make sure that I never have the knowledge to do it and can never be added to the on-call rotation. Things like never learning anything about the production environment mean that a year into my current company, I "can't" actually deploy a fix or rollback anything. As proof that it did not matter to corporate, I was one of the only people to get a raise in December.

I also am regularly job searching. The only reason for not quitting my current company is to avoid being seen as a job hopper, but otherwise I am already out the door by the day I arrive. About 1/3 of my work hours go to career development, so lots of Udemy and open source type stuff.

Optimize your career for what management does care about. You will do less work, have more time for yourself, make more money and have better relationships with management. And if you regularly job hunt you can always leave your mess for someone else to clean up.

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    'you can always leave your mess for someone else to clean up' - maybe there are ways to get noticed and rewarded without increasing the number of someoneelses who might just develop the same view of the job as the OP? – Igor G Aug 3 at 21:07
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    'So I make sure that I never have the knowledge to do it and can never be added to the on-call rotation.' I'm sure you were definitely the team favorite... – Tyler Aug 3 at 21:08
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    @IgorG probably, but that depends on what management values. Most of the time they do a poor job of keeping track of the actual work as they prefer to do "strategic" things. – focusonyourcareer Aug 3 at 21:32
  • I don't see why the downvotes on this. If management really does pay on-call work bad, people with this attitude are management's fault and nobody elses. – guest Aug 4 at 15:37

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