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Feeling Trapped at Work? You’re Not Alone

Editorial Team

A recent Gallop poll found that nearly 20% of U.S. workers—some 30 million Americans—are underemployed: either jobless or able to only find part-time work.
But there are millions of more who have full-time jobs that aren’t stimulating, don’t pay enough and require working for a boss who couldn’t care less.
Yet in this stressed economy with few new jobs, those workers stay because they feel they have no choice. They are part of a growing number of employees who feel trapped at work—powerless to do anything about it

Does this resonate with you? Do you feel powerless in your position? If so, what keeps you going everyday? Are there concrete steps you have taken to feel better or more empowered? We’d love to know. Share your thoughts and tips here.


  1. lynn

    I have been “trapped” for 10 years now. It didn’t used to be so bad, but overtime has dried up so now I’m only making about $21K a year. I have health insurance and a 401K (in which my employer matches my contributions)through my employer, so I stay. I live in a small college town, not very industrially diverse, and few professional jobs outside of health care. I am studying internet marketing on my own and developing a product for the diet niche. If that bombs, I’m also working on outsourcing an astrology software tool and hopefully that will work. I will just keep trying different ideas until I find one that works. Ideally, I want to have a Tim-Ferriss-style “4-Hour Work Week” business selling information products online. I am single, no kids, so I don’t want to work-from-home necessarily, but working from a Starbucks or from the public library or from an airport would be nice. I would enjoy having the flexibility to travel more, and not be tied down to a windowless cubicle for yet another 10 years…

  2. Miss Mae

    I work part-time out of my business. There is nothing worse than working around people who hate their jobs or waiting to die. I work in an environment where most of the people are in their late 40’s early 50’s and all I hear all day in complaining about their position, work load, their health. At one point I thought I was losing my mind. I hated to go to my job. What turn my attitude around was volunteering, business networking events, taking classes, seminars, lectures, focusing on my business. Meeting people who love what they do and get up every morning with a purpose. I can’t tell you what it does to my spirit when I meet women business owners who are so full of life, happy in their own skin. It gives me hope that turning 50 is the beginning of a new chapter in my life and not the end of my life.

  3. Barbara Pelton

    I have been a caregiver to my Mother who is 85 years old. She just had heart valve replacement done last Wed. I want a part time job I can do at home while she recooperates in the near future. She will be home bound for a awhile and I am going nuts. I am 62 years old.

  4. Elaine

    There are several reasons for the lack of jobs. Jobs are going overseas, the economy is poor, and there are too many people. Five people are applying for every one job. That clearly states that there is an overpopulation problem in our country. Overpopulation is not only bad for jobs, it’s unsustainable in the long term. The middle class has disappeared. People are frustrated, angry, and fed up. We need to come to this realization, and address the fact that there are too many people in this country.

  5. Ann

    I feel very fortunate to have a job in this economy. After 2 years of unemployment and part time work I am employed full time. My full time employment is a 9.5 hour day. There are no benefits. No personal time for doctor appts, and no sick time. So if your not at work, you don’t get paid. Not a good environment to be proactive in healthcare. But…I keep looking for benefits, for better hours. They are still not plentiful.

  6. Belinda

    I am 29 years old and graduated in 2003 with a B.S. degree in Business Administration. In 2006 I graduated with a Masters degree in Management. I have been on my job since May of 2005 as an admin. assistant and often times have felt over qualified with a Masters making less than $30,000 per year. I have applied for numerous jobs over the years but not able to move forward and at times out of frustration suspended my job search.
    In some ways it has probably been one of the best experiences I could have had. 1) I have learned how to trust God that He has placed me on my job for a purpose. I no longer see my job as a means of income only, but I understand that I am on assignment to do His will. He has always provided for me in ways that defy logic as I remain faithful. 2) I use my abilities and talents outside of work to begin publishing my first book and starting my company. I have grown to realize that I have a destiny to fulfill and my day job does not stop me from pursuing purpose and making my dreams a reality. It’s not about doing, it’s about “being” and “becoming”. Companies are needed to produce jobs, but you can’t allow people to tell you what you do or do not qualify for. 3) I have learned how to manage my finances better. Many things I thought I “needed” I realize I am ok without. If we see that it’s only for a season and it will not last forever, it becomes easier to cope. 4) I also had to recognize that “someone would love to have my problem!” things that we complain about are so not worth it compared to what others are going through. 5) Stop blaming everyone else: For a while I thought my boss was the problem and people on my job were the problem and I “played” the victim a lot. It is true that a lot of things are unfair at times but so is life. Many things happen to us that are painful and I am one that knows the pain and frustration so well. At the same time we have to look within ourselves for happiness. We often expect others to give us what we need when they don’t even have the capacity to give it us; hurting people hurt people. We have to show mercy in order to recieve it. Sometimes our frustrations with our boss are due to us trying to do there job. If we put ourselves in there place we would understand that leadership is not easy, many of our leaders have never been trained or even know what it takes to be a leader and more often than not most do the best they can with what has been given to them.
    These are all learning and building blocks I have discovered over the past 5 years on this journey to happines in my workplace. It takes time and learning to be patient with yourself and others. Talk to God often; He sees and will take care of it in His way and in His time if you believe. 🙂

  7. I have had many jobs in my lifetime that I settled for. I think we have to look within and remember how as proud Americans we used to do quality work and challenge ourselves from there. There are ways to make what you’re doing better or, faster or, more efficient. Forget the boss who doesn’t care. Do it for you and your self-esteem.
    It was with this ethic, I was accepted into the Experience Works program and was invited to become an Employment and Training Assistant with them. I am still a participant in the program, but, this work experience training will be invaluable and open up doors that were once closed to me.

  8. Emily Simmons

    In 2009, I was one of the millions in America with a full-time job – one that left me in a moral quandry. For two years, I had commuted two hours a day to my job as a professional fundraiser for Pennsylvania’s largest humane organization. However, with multiple Programs that had no metrics and little organization and a Finance department that couldn’t tell the difference between ‘restricted’ and ‘unrestricted’ funds and was constantly losing donor’s checks or spending donated funds on the wrong things, my dreamy job working to help abused and neglected animals became an ethical headache. On top of these systemic problems, the Board had appointed no less than three CEO’s in my two-year tenure. Not only was I sometimes working (and thus, commuting) seven days a week, I was running the risk of tanking my career because of an accounting department that put my credibility in jeopardy. My love for animal welfare/rights made the decision to quit agonizing. What’s more: I was unsure what to do after quitting! This was because at the shelter, I had learned a rare lesson. Having an all-consuming passion for your work IS sometimes trumped by the problems within the organization for which you toil. I spent a lot of time thinking in between donor visits and calls and I decided that instead of taking ‘time off’ between jobs or diving headlong into a new, heavy hitting Development position at another non-profit, I would take a step back and buy myself the time to choose my next career move more carefully. I accepted a part-time, flexible position as a Grant Coordinator at another non-profit and have continued to apply for other opportunities and interview. Though I’ve been offered several Director-level positions, I’ve seen lots of red flags. Instead of hanging my hat on one hook, for now, I’ve also taken on dog walking, which will require I develop my entrepreneurial and marketing skills and will continue to keep me connected to animal welfare. (The Pet Industry is also one industry that continues to enjoy growth as a multi-billion dollar industry even in this recessionary time – !) I am making more than enough to happily enjoy life without debt and put away money into savings. It’s not where I thought I would be, but I am doing well even in the current economy. And in a time when so many non-profits are cutting back (including my former employer – which had three rounds of layoffs after I resigned), I am still working in my chosen profession, just not as a full-time employee. It’s empowering to know that I don’t necessarily have to rely on a grinding, high powered job with a long commute to be happy, to make a difference, or to pay the bills. I chose to resign and then adapt to what work looks like for many during this recession.

  9. TU

    I do feel trapped at my job. It’s not a horrible job but in the 7 almost 8 years that I’ve been an office manager for a small company I’ve learned that I’m not really a sit at a desk type person. My job is so not stimulating at all. I can do it in my sleep it’s so monotnous. The problem is I get paid pretty well compared to other jobs in my area. To get through I just focus on providing the best service to my customers and not on how bored I am with this job. I treat all my customers as if they have never done business with us before so as to impress them with our customer service. I know I like to be impressed with good customer serivce so I try to treat customers how I want to be treated as a customer.

  10. Lady P

    At times I feel like my strengths are not being utilized to its fullest potentials. So, I will initiate ideas and create opportunities that will benefit both me and my workplace. My motto is “Don’t wait for a door to open, but to create one.”

  11. Jani Hale

    I do feel trapped; budget cuts compacted with more responsibilities has brought the office moral to a new low. But this too shall pass. I unlike many have stayed with this company when the economy was good and continue to be here when the economy is restored. I love my job!
    But in the meantime, I have helped create a non-profit organization with a couple friends & family. Sort of a grass-roots, community empowering coalition. President Obama has sparked the need for volunteerisim and it’s a great way to get your mind off your own problems.
    I come to work dressed uber-professional and usually early (but I do not stay late). It lets you boss know, “I am valuable and prepared”. It might not seem like much, but people notice when you’re focused and bosses gravitate towards that.
    Not to say that these methods will make you feel any less trapped, but your days will go by fast and you will appreciate “yourself” more.

  12. Angela Wright

    It’s a great company. My disadvantage is promotion within the call center only and it may take another year at a lower pay. With the economy continuosly growing and being the only employed in my household I desparately aim for entreprenuership returning to continue my degree and or certification looks promising. I have learned that there is not a challenge i won’t except and be successful.

  13. Louise

    For me it is important to take care of myself on different levels so I can keep a healthier prospective. Community and Friends are important for my spiritual and mental health; so I attend a worship community and am involved there. I also consider my exercise place a location of community, Curves, there are a lot of problems solved around the circuit. Curves also helps my physical health – it is easier to get rid of stress when you’re working the muscles where the stress gets imbedded.

  14. HM

    Hello. Please know that I do remain hopeful and optimistic, but …. I’m one of the 20%+ Americans that you mentioned in your summary … and not one that is counted by the US gov’t due to not being eligible to collect unemployment. (We all know that the actual unemployment rate in the US is closer to 20% – 1 in 5 adults!) After having returned from working abroad over the last 2 years, I find myself unemployed – without a full-time income or career position. I found a part-time (but inconsistent) job as a scientific manuscript editor for minimum wage … earning less than $400 / month in the interim as I continue my global job search. I have a Master’s from Harvard, 19 years of experience including international, and yet I’m ‘slipping thru the cracks’. Out of financial necessity, I am staying in my parent’s guest room, (gratefully) living out of 3 suitcases in a small rural town with no car nor public transportation; … not where I thought I’d be at this time in my life. I have to spend much $ to train to nearby cities on a regular basis and to attend networking events (none are free unfortunately) for the job search – watching my savings account decrease steadily. I try to remain optimistic and hopeful most days, but it’s truly challenging and scary, as the middle ‘class’ is shrinking, along with the overall job market. I hope that we as a nation will capture (find) another ‘industrial revolution’ (i.e., clean energy industry) and keep those jobs here. PS – luckily I returned to a state that has a public health care option … so I could be covered albeit minimally (I still have to have $ to pay the premium every month). How is one to save for retirement? I will be trying to work until the day I die – truly.

  15. PBTJ3033

    I have been working for a department within an amazing company since graduating with a BS in 2004. I started as an intern and have moved up twice within this department. The second time I moved up I was led that the position would lead to management. It has, but only the workload and not the title. I’ve interviewed twice for a management position in this department (which the workload would be everything I do now, with the exception of the legalities of what managers do and the title. The last time I interviewd for the job, I (nor my fellow coworkers) were told we had an opening. We also now have two temp. managers and, once again, (me nor my fellow coworkers that do the same job) was never told about the opening. I have amazing comments, remarks, and discussions about my job performance and personality from coworkers, guests, and managers…but for some reason it seems I’m good enough to do the job but not good enough to have the title. So, with all hopes for over 5 years that I would finally land that management position with the title and experience, I’m finally moving on. I will be starting school soon working towards my Master’s and looking forward to future full of possabilities! I just can’t believe it took me this long!

  16. Anonymous

    I am 40+ and I feel stuck working at a for-profit as an underpaid manager working for romper-room directors who sneer at me when they think I’m not looking, and who pass judgments on me as though it were the gospel. Not a day goes by where they are not trying to stick it to me.
    What keeps me going? I pray. I forgive daily. I keep my one-year anniversary as a carrot in front of me, which is now just a week away. I remember how I got this job and how my age and my leadership skills are needed somewhere else and how it’s more critical for me to be patient than not. I also remember that when people act like this, they are indirectly telling me that I am all that! I just despise wasting my talents on the ungratefuls and immature. Maybe this experience will help me spring-board my confidence to a greater level.

  17. Deborah

    I wrote the comment about the for profit and forgot to write my info above.

  18. Raheema Al-baqi

    I don’t like my job, but I thank GOD everyday for this job. I look at my job as a step and stone to get me where I want to be. In my career doing the work I love to do making a differnt in someone organization or my own business. I’m a problem-solver. I get down to the bottom of the issue. I implement changes in organization to make them efficient and profitable.

  19. PK

    I’m looking for some ideas/avenues on how to legally document with a local/state/federal agency the issues that I have experienced with the company I am currently employed. I have had two major issues with the company, the first and foremost being that I took a new position at the start of 2010 and I have yet to be paid the salary the position pays and I have been given no timeframe as to when I can start receiving that pay either. Aside from the CAO, everyone in my chain of command is aware that I am not receiving my pay. The approval and bottleneck is in the hands of the SVP. I have gone 5 pay periods without receiving the pay increase promised to me.

  20. trish

    being underutilized is only one part of the picture particularly if you have your eye on the boardroom!
    For example, I was listening to Conversations Live with Vicki St. Clair whenProf. Douglas Branson shared fantastic insights on how women canimprove their careers, including hitting the Fortune 500 CEOtrack! Hard to believe, but female CEO’s still earn only a small fraction ofwhat their male counterparts make. If you want some great hints on betterpositioning yourself for promotion and career growth, take the timeto listen to the podcast here: Finally, there’s a wonderful segment on Heidi Ganahl, recognized in Entrepreneurmagazine for her Camp Bow Wow Franchise. Ms. Ganahl is a fine example of successthat comes from following your passion even in the face of adversity. I can’t begin toexpress how her story inspires and motivates – hear it in her own words here:

  21. Sandy

    Having a great deal of experience and proven record of accomplishment for helping companies grow and profit, I felt I needed to have a degree in order to move forward in my career goals. Unfortunately, I found myself out of work for almost a year and when I graduated in 2008 at the top of my class, it was a bittersweet feeling. I was broke with credit cards reaching an all time high, a mortgage, and willing to take anything just to get some money coming in to pay bills. I am a single parent and after working so hard to buy a house in 2004, I was not about to lose it. I took a factory job, something I knew I was over qualified for, because the company had professional positions too, and they only promoted from within for those positions. I was hired based on being a temp for ninety days and then after the company posted for full-time I would receive benefits. The raises, benefits and the opportunity for advancement was incentive for me to grow with the company. I thought that starting at the bottom would help me learn about the company before I moved into the public relations spot I was aiming at. I soon learned they were cutting everyone’s salary by 10% and the “temps” that were hired were going to stay temps until the company completed bankruptcy. It has been a year and a half. I am still a “temp”, even though I was not hired through any temp agency and I still have not benefits. They finally posted a position in customer service where I would have the opportunity to meet with clients and produce results for the company. Upon interviewing for the position I found the person interviewing me had no college and was hired years ago when the company first opened. I was asked why I was working in the factory and told that I was much to over-qualified for the csr position. I realized at that point, I had been wasting my time. Everyday I tell myself that I am happy to have a job. Although, I am close to bankruptcy and losing my home, I am pro-active in sending my resume and continuing to search for a company that will embrace my experience and education. I find myself over 50 and starting over. I consider it another goal and challenge to succeed in the advancement and next chapter of my life. The positive of working in a factory are the people. They are hard workers and down to earth. They are not looking to cut your throat or step over your body. There is no pressure and you do not take your work home with you. It is hard physical labor, not mental. For the first time in my working career, I am not stressed out about the job, just the money and bills. 🙂

  22. Deborah

    Hello, I am 47 years old, and have been working as a Temp for some time now. It has been very hard for me to find full-time employment, since the loss of my Full-time job 12 years ago as a Secretary/Case Aide in Foster Care. I have a College education, and great skills.
    I have worked for various Temp agencies, and have acquired a great amount of skills. It seems companies do not want to hire a Temp worker permanently these days. I have worked in various industries; Medical, Law, Media, etc. Some the assignments I have not liked in the past, but I took them, because I have rent and bills to pay.
    Unfortunately, the Temp assignments have slowed down, and there are no steady assignments at the present time. So now I am working on a part-time as needed basis. Sometimes I work 1, 2, or 3 days a week. The pay is lousy, and I receive unemployment benefits, when I’m not working.
    It has been a struggle, but I keep myself occupied and busy by doing volunteer work at a hospital in my community when I do not have any work assignments. I also pray and write in my journal. This keeps me focused and optimistic.

  23. Sachel

    I have been employed at my current job for about 3 years and I have not recieved an increase in pay that was promised nor have I recieved benefits or recognition. I have a Master’s degree and excellent background in Marketing and Administration. My employer brought me in at less than $20,000 a year for an Marketing Coordinator position, yet I am performing Administrative tasks. I am over worked and underpaid. At the time, I was in a situation where I had to take this job because I didn’t have anything else to pay the bills. This was a major pay cut and has been a pressing struggle working here.
    I stay because it is something, better than nothing at all. I have an 11 month old son who needs me to be strong. God and my son gives me the faith to know that my breakthrough is around the corner. I know I deserve more!

  24. I work as a Home Health Aide and i feel like shooting myself. The pay stinks,my client is addicted to pain killers and things are tough financially. I never thought it could get this bad!

  25. I work as a Home Health Aide and i feel like shooting myself. The pay stinks,my client is addicted to pain killers and things are tough financially. I never thought it could get this bad!

  26. Kat

    I work in an office as a receptionist and have for the past 3 years with no sign of promotion. I have been feeling that i can be utilized for different things but no am not given that opportunity. i felt even worse when me, being a 107 pound girl having to move 27 boxes to a back office and having males available but didnt offer to help. i feel used for doing busy work and not an actual job. i stay because im able to go to school and since it would be difficult to find another job. but god, how it kills me every day to smile at these people and act like im so happy with this job.

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