NEW YORK — You know the feeling: Getting out of bed Monday morning is a struggle, followed by five long, bleak days.
You're not alone. About a million people a day phone in sick — and it's not the bird flu. Some surveys have found that 87 percent of Americans don't like their jobs.
"We spend our highest-energy hours working, and families get what's left," says Jane Boucher, author of “How to Love the Job You Hate: Job Satisfaction for the 21st Century.” "Most of us can't just quit our jobs."
The problem of being stuck in a lousy job is compounded by the feeling that we are what we do. This attitude is prevalent among men and becoming more common as more women earn professional degrees and climb the corporate ladder higher. If you hate what you do, your self-worth is likely to take a hit.
It's just part of our culture. When you meet someone new, one of the first questions asked is "What do you do?"
Job loathing is more than just a punch in the gut. Boucher says it costs the nation an estimated $150 billion per year in treatment for stress-related problems, absenteeism, reduced productivity and employee turnover.
"There are three basic motivators for employees, and money isn't No. 1," says Boucher, who is also an adjunct professor at the McGregor Graduate School of Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and a professional speaker. "Workers are motivated by people they like and respect. A happy employee needs to feel that work is important. There has to be a sense of empowerment and independence — people don't like to be micromanaged, because it chokes creativity."
The question is simple: How do you make things better in a job that doesn't rouse your interest when the alarm clock goes off? Boucher offers ten tips:
1. Communicate.Let the boss know your achievements and problems. Don't boast and don't gripe. Create a sense of teamwork. Define the problem at hand and offer ways to solve it.
2. Do Something for Yourself.Take on a project that's dear to your heart or set aside time for what you do best. For example, if you got into medicine because you wanted to be a caregiver but find yourself buried in paperwork, find the time to be with your patients. Make an effort to connect with each patient and his or her family.
3. Improve a Bad Relationship.Some people are born grumpy and simply won't like you. Instead of fretting about it and thinking it's something you did, simply ask the person each day, "Is there anything I can do for you?" This will ease the tension and, over time, may win over the person who has the long knives out for no apparent reason.
4. Delegate.Never allow process to trump the result. Remember that you can't do everything all the time. Pass off some of the grunt work to a hungry young staffer who needs to learn the basics and a fundamental lesson in life: You don't start at the top, and you earn plumb assignments by working hard in the trenches. If you create a clear path of advancement, the smart employee won't kick when asked to handle routine stuff.
5. Seek Feedback.Ask your boss and co-workers, "How am I doing?" Make it clear that you seek feedback to improve your performance — not because you crave praise. Show others how feedback can increase their productivity and boost their career choices.
6. Tackle Tough Assignments First.Get the difficult or unpleasant work out of the way first, because it doesn't improve with age and will look truly hideous after lunch. This also allows you to finish the day with something you find challenging and enjoy.
7. Have A Little Fun.Work isn't play, but it doesn't have to be mind-numbingly serious all the time. A few quips will boost everyone's morale. If you're not the office wag, encourage the lighthearted goofball in the corner to share his take on why the Yankees are baseball's best team. It beats grinding your teeth for eight hours a day and is likely to boost morale and productivity.
8. Encourage Teamwork.Doing more with less demands increased productivity. Teamwork is a good way to achieve this goal. Working in teams is a learned skill. If you don't know the basics, learn them and share your insights with others.
9. Body and Soul.Pay attention to your physical and mental health. Stick to the basics: Eat right, exercise and get enough sleep. If you feel crummy, your job performance will suffer. You don't have to be a corporate guru to figure that out.
10. Get a Life.People who have interests outside work make better employees, friends, parents and spouses. Take the time to do whatever it is that you're passionate about. No one on his deathbed ever said, "I wish I'd spent more time at the office."
These basic steps will work at mom-and-pop businesses and across all industries, including semiconductor companies such as Intel, banks such as Wells Fargo, food processors such as Tyson Foods, software companies such as Microsoft or cutting-edge researchers such as Genentech — you name it. (MSNBC is a Microsoft-NBC joint venture.)
"Don't let your job become just a paycheck," Boucher says. "At its best, your job can be an expression of creativity."
© 2012 Forbes.com