How to Avoid Bad Jobs

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Woman Flees from building where she has a bad job.
Written by Jennifer Mayberry
Graphics by Krystn Stockbridge

Bad Jobs; Bad Days


Most of us have had some bad jobs and sometimes even good jobs can have bad days.

“It’ll be fun,” they said. “It’ll be like acting,” they said.

Then a drunk customer walks up to you, grabs the side of your face and pulls it like she’s unmasking a villain at the end of a Scoobie Doo episode.

“Is this a mask?” she asks.

“No,” you say” “It’s real”

It’s my face.

Maybe one day you are a little too optimistic about that spare pair of pants you grab at the beginning of your shift. They’re a little tight, but you’re in a hurry so you put them on anyway. A few hours in, just as you bend down to open a drawer full of product, you hear a “rip!” Your pants split on the middle of the sales floor.

“Come here!” you motion frantically to a co-worker, but she shakes her head “No.”

She’s taking the high road and she won’t gossip about the department manager with you.

“No!” you whisper insistently, “My pants!”

You turn to show the big rip all the way up your backside.  “Walk behind me!” you say before she finally understands and the two of you make a quick four-legged shuffle to the back.

Dysfunctional Jobs and Red Flags


Anyone can have a day of bad luck at work, but some bad jobs involve truly toxic workplaces. Have you ever gone into a store or restaurant and wondered just what a certain employee’s problem was? Maybe you found a bad seed who somehow got through the interview process and landed a job working with the public. Chances are, however, if you find a whole crew of unhappy workers, it’s a sign that conditions have become intolerable at this establishment. Faced with an entire staff of unhappy employees, you may wonder what you did to get stuck on this sinking ship of misery even for a moment. As you wait for your chance to get away, the doomed crew stares at you, resenting your inevitable escape. Worse, you may be part of the crew.

The possibilities for dysfunction are really endless. Looking for red flags can help you avoid bad jobs before you start them, and help you decide when it’s time to leave.

Mean Boss


What is that saying? “The person who is nice you but isn’t nice to the waiter is not a nice person.” The same is true for that charming employer who butters you up while stomping on those already under their rule. You’re next. If they aren’t nice to the people under them the first time they meet you, they aren’t going to be nice to you in a week either.

Boss Without Boundaries


There’s the boss who tries to poison you against your coworker who wouldn’t be her best friend and the one who demands all access availability from you. There’s the one who makes fun of your really very fashionable scarf. However, until you’ve removed cat hair from your boss’s backside with a piece of packing tape, you really have nothing to complain about.

Man looks scared and clutches his face. Caption says, "The Horror!"

Too Little Regard for too Many People


Some companies look out for themselves, but not their employees. They hire many part-time workers to make sure their busy hours are covered but they don’t offer benefits or enough hours to the majority of their employees. Instead of fixing problems, the company just keeps hiring new people. When workers realize what is happening, a certain number of them will quit, perpetuating the need for yet more people. Is it a surprise that their employees call out and quit frequently?

Another variation on this theme happens with companies that hire too many private contractors. These companies cover their bases by gathering more contractors than they could possibly use at a given time. The company’s needs are covered, but their workers have to fight to get enough work to even make the gig worthwhile. As a result, morale is low, and those that stick around resent the inevitable rounds of newcomers sent in to cover all of the company’s possible bases.

Bad Jobs are born out of places where workers aren’t valued. Researcher Sarah Kalloch of the Good Jobs Institute took a job with a major retailer in order to research how to make front-line jobs better. Of her frustrating experience, she says, “How am I supposed to care about my work if no one cares about me? The statement is like an invisible meme that hangs in the air at bad jobs. It’s more obvious than a lot of companies seem to think.

Do Your Research can reveal red flags you don’t know about, and confirm the ones you sense. The site allows former and current employees to check out what people who have worked there say about the company. What you read about a company on Glassdoor can be eye-opening and help you decide whether to take a position or to let go of a current one.

Researching a company can reveal not only the bad but also the good. No company is perfect, but those who make choices that show that they care about their employees are worth considering. A living wage, managers who always make sure their employees get lunch breaks, and overall employee satisfaction are all good signs.

Beware of Your Own Baggage


Perhaps, like some of us, you, again and again, find yourself in a swirling vortex of chaos. In her article, The Workplace Where It was Normal for Colleagues to Bite Each Other, Alison Green speculates that past exposure to toxic workplaces may condition us to accept unsatisfactory work conditions in the future. As Green explains, “You’ll often end up accepting things, that you shouldn’t tolerate at all, like unfair pay or being yelled at—and these expectations can shadow you into your next job too.”

Whether or not we have had bad job experiences in the past, being in a vulnerable emotional state during a job search can affect us. Desperation can make us agree to things that deep down we know are dysfunctional or just not right for us from the get-go. This is especially true when we are starting or transitioning into a new career. When you are having a hard time with your job search on your chosen path, consider a decent survival job. A survival job can give you the chance to grow while avoiding bad jobs in your chosen career that will burn you out.

Bad Jobs Can Just be Wrong Jobs


Maybe you chose something that just wasn’t a good fit. There are jobs at good companies with nice managers that may still be a bad job for you. Consider whether or not your current job or career path is actually right for you.

It’s worth taking the time to define your goals, who you are, and what your preferences would be if you could choose them. Think about your preferred lifestyle. Even seemingly trivial, or nit-picky wishes can reveal personal needs that if met, will make you a much happier camper. Devin Quick from suggests writing down your goals and values. What matters to you? Defining goals can feel overwhelming, but most of us can name some things we don’t like right off the bat. Eliminating jobs that clash with your personality can clear your path so that you can get to the kinds of opportunities that will suit you.

Ask Yourself Those Fundamental Questions


Figure out what you do need in a workplace. Do frequent social interactions make you feel alive or drain your very lifeblood? It matters. “I want a job where I can sit” may not exactly be reaching for the stars but it’s a start. It can help you break the mold of “Just what I’ve always done,” or it’s “Easy for me to get” when the job type ultimately fails to check off your most basic needs. We may not be able to waltz into a dream job as easily as we’d like. However, considering and acting according to our basic personal preferences is a good place to start.

Learning From Bad Jobs


Maybe your bizarre collection of life experiences has made you unusually skilled at dealing with difficult people. Perhaps you can thrive in situations where others might lose their cool. You don’t have to commit to a job forever to learn something from it. Look around, is there something for you to learn? Some situations are truly toxic. They should be left behind without a second thought. Once you have an opportunity, however, it’s worthwhile to see what you can gain from it. Stay awhile, and you might walk away with more skills than you started with. As Kat Boogaard points out in this article, sometimes bad jobs can help you learn stuff and give you an understanding 0f what you don’t want to do next time.



Every job can be scary sometimes. Be sure to research companies online to avoid bad jobs before you start them. Use your experience in past bad jobs to think about what you want and don’t want. Clarify your personal needs and values. Eliminate the jobs types that are simply not a good fit. If you are in an unhealthy situation, don’t let yourself stay long enough to get used to it, but sometimes even bad jobs can provide learning experiences. To read more about workplace stress check out this article, by Gabriella Lobianco.