Why people don’t give up on unfulfilling, dead-end jobs

Get out, while you can.
Get out, while you can.
Image: Reuters/Carlo Allegri
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This question originally appeared on Quora: Why do people stay in a job that they find frustrating and unfulfilling? Answer by John L. Miller, previous worker and recruiter at Microsoft, Oracle. Worked at Amazon and Google. PhD.

There are probably more reasons than there are frustrated and unfulfilled workers. Here’s a few I’ve had:

Incorrect assumptions about leaving

I stayed at Microsoft through many frustrating times. Especially as I became senior, I had significant unvested stock, and I thought ‘There’s no way any company can pay enough to make up for this.’ I needed specific benefits and I thought ‘No other company offers these benefits, and I won’t be able to survive elsewhere.’

I was wrong in both cases. A friend told me that no, when you interview outside and are made an offer, they will generally try to make sure your total compensation is better than what you’re currently making. For example, replacing your unvested RSU’s with an equivalent value in their own RSU’s. And, even when specific benefits weren’t available at the new employer, when I explained them, an exception was made and incorporated into the offer.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire

A very real concern was that I would move to a new company or position, and find that it wasn’t what I thought. And be even more miserable. This is a realistic concern. Never assume you’ll like working in a new area (e.g. games)—you won’t really know until you spend a year in it. Never assume your new boss and new group won’t leave or be axed: I’ve had both happen shortly after joining a team.


After a certain amount of time doing something, despite being frustrated and unfulfilled, you become good at your job. And less flexible about doing new things. Moving to a new job takes lots of adaptation and learning. You can lose the ability to do this, or at least to do it easily.


An object at rest stays at rest until something happens to move it. It’s difficult to spend vacation or sick days to interview, to do homework on other companies, to put yourself out there with the risk of rejection. Why not just stay where you’re safe, and not in danger of being fired?

It’s worth at least examining options if you’re miserable, but it’s hard.

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