Even though I could point to a lot of other people and circumstances that cause a bad day, I feel like it’s all my fault.
I think that I should have known better. Or that I did know better but didn’t do anything (or enough) about it.
Maybe you feel like that sometimes too.
Or perhaps you see it a little more clearly. You might recognize that lots of things that cause a bad day at work are simply outside of your control or influence.
It could be that both things are true to some extent.
Many things that can contribute to a frustrating day at the office are outside of our control. But the way we respond to those things is within our control.
It’s important to understand where a bad day at work comes from. That can help you figure out how to face it better.
Understanding that will also help you to recover from the inevitable bad day. And, perhaps most importantly, looking at these things can help us learn to improve.
What causes a bad day at work?
There are lots of things that can take your day off the rails, but the most common frustrations probably fall into one of these categories:
- A lack of support from your boss
- Negative coworkers
- Lack of praise or recognition
- Uncertainty about the workplace’s vision and strategy
- Busyness / high workload
You might also have a bad day because of things outside of work. A lack of sleep, family issues, or a terrible commute can spill over to the work day.
While I have ideas on things like improving your commute, this post is going to focus on the causes that you might face on the workfront.
A lack of support from your boss
Your direct boss is maybe the person who has the most influence over your work experience.
Sometimes people can be totally happy with their job only to find themselves miserable in the exact same role once they report to a new boss.
This might even happen to some extent when your boss gets a new boss. Any shifting dynamics upstream can impact the support that your boss is willing or able to provide to you.
Also, they might just be a bad boss, inconsistent, or even incompetent in some areas. All of that can make your work experience suffer.
You probably have certain people in mind already as soon as you hear the phrase negative coworkers. Every place has them.
The trick is to figure out how to deal with them. Or how to avoid them. Which can be tricky when they sit right next to you or when you have to interact with them to get your job done.
Some people carry such a bad energy that their negativity can affect you even if you aren’t required to work with them directly.
Lack of praise or recognition
I want to be noticed when I’m making a contribution. My guess is that you do too.
A little appreciation goes a long way. Much of the struggle and stress of working hard miraculously dissipates when your contribution is acknowledged.
Too often, too many of us are focused on problems more than successes and this can get shunted to the sides.
But when this goes missing for too long, you will notice it at some level. And you won’t feel good about it.
Uncertainty about the big vision and strategy
It’s rare that the big vision and strategy translate cleanly and clearly to every function of the organization at every level.
The gaps that occur when the trickle down doesn’t work can create a lot of stress and strain. You might be busy and working hard, but you want to be sure that you are doing the right things.
Are you in alignment? Maybe you’re not sure. But this gets worse when other people around you don’t know either. And maybe you start to get the sense that things aren’t terribly clear at the top of the organization either.
The lack of a solid foundation can generate a lot of angst and distress.
A high workload
This one is probably familiar. We are all asked to do more. With less time and resources.
Plus there is the “busyness” element where there are a lot of unproductive meetings and memos and tasks that don’t really accomplish much but are part of the norm.
Progress is what fuels motivation. So facing an endless avalanche of work plus pointless busywork can make you feel like you will never get caught up or ahead. That’s not exactly a setup for a bright and cheery day.
How to get through a bad day at work
You might be facing stress from your boss, negative coworkers. Maybe you’re noticing the lack of recognition or gaps in the strategy and vision of the place. Probably, you are facing a heavy workload.
Whether it’s any of these things or something else that’s making your day stressful, you can help yourself through it.
Put things in perspective
Whatever is making for a bad day, it could be worse. One way to see this more clearly is to step back and look at the big picture.
There is more to your life than your job, no matter how important your career is. It can help to reflect on your larger life and some aspects that are totally outside of work, like family, friends, and other personal interests.
It can help to get outside and look up at the sky. Or to call a friend to say hello. Those are quick and easy reminders that there is a lot more to life than work and that much of it is probably going well for you even on a bad day at work.
Speaking of getting outside, get up and move around. Do some stretching or other simple exercises. Go for a walk.
Doing anything to put yourself in motion can help improve your mood. Maybe even a splash of cold water on the face.
Because your physical body is a quick link to improving your emotions. Ever feel bad or upset before going for a run or to the gym and then you feel much better afterwards? That’s what I’m talking about, and it doesn’t require a full workout to get some of these benefits.
Be nice to someone else
It’s hard to be in a bad mood when you’re doing nice things.
Sure, it is easier and far more tempting to go find someone to commiserate with. Misery loves company.
But what if you decided to try and brighten up someone else’s day instead? What if you turned that lemon into lemonade.
Maybe you could give someone a compliment, buy them a cup of coffee, or let them know you appreciate their work. Putting out some positive energy will make you feel better too.
Talk yourself into having a better day
Improve your self talk and you will improve your day. Simply acknowledging and planning out the rest of your bad day can go a long way.
If you think, “I’m having a bad day, but I am going to focus my energy on accomplishing some things anyway.” Name a task or two that you want to focus on completing. And add to the plan some sort of reward for yourself at the end of the day.
Because it will also help to put some energy into recovering from a bad day.
Recovering from a bad day at work
Once you are done with your bad day, it’s time to head home. And it’s probably a good idea to make some time to disconnect.
While it is probably tempting to zone out in front of the TV, do a deep dive on Facebook, or rant about the bullshit at work to the first friend or family member that crosses your path, you should probably unplug first.
Set aside the devices and set aside some time alone. You could think of it as meditation or gathering your thoughts. But sit in silence and just be.
This is another way to get in touch with the larger world and bigger picture around you. But not by pondering or analyzing anything specific. Instead, do it by dedicating some time to calming and centering yourself.
It’d be great if you had an hour to sit alone in a dark room and meditate. It will be super effective, though, even if you just have a few minutes to sit quietly in the car in the driveway.
Disconnect and be with yourself for a short time, then reconnect.
Now you are ready to connect with some people. You’ve cleared your mind and you need to move on.
Seek out a family member or friend and talk about anything except work. Why the heck would you want to relive a bad day at the office? Don’t do it!
Find out what is going on in their lives. Talk about your plans for the upcoming weekend. Share stories about a mutual friend or shared interest.
You want to put positive things on your mind. And one of those things is the relationships that are important in your life.
You can also reconnect with your other interests. Grab that book you’ve been enjoying, tinker with whatever hobby is waiting for you in your basement, or play with your dog. Spend time with your spouse or kids.
Do something or plan something fun
It’s quick and easy to find funny stuff on YouTube. That’s one way I like to turn my mood around.
You might like to get caught up on a podcast, finish today’s crossword puzzle, or make something tasty to eat.
Doing something you enjoy, even if it’s a Pomeranian getting groomed with a Teddy Bear haircut.
Even better, plan something fun.
Much of the pleasure we get from doing things comes from anticipation. If you plan a fun get together with a friend this weekend, you will have something to look forward to all week.
Learn from a bad day at work
Maybe the most productive thing you can do with a bad day from work is learn from it.
What is it that was getting under your skin today?
When did it start, today or sometime earlier?
Who contributed to the circumstances?
Most of all, why did it bother you?
As you reflect on these questions, you can start to get a clearer picture on your overall situation and your response to it.
You can also think about the techniques that you used to try and deal with the stress of the day.
What worked and what didn’t work?
Why is that?
What else can you try next time?
Looking for lessons is another way to step back and see things in the context of the big picture of your life.
And the lessons can apply to all areas of your life.
What you can learn from a bad day at the office can help you to improve your approach in the future. You might avoid some bad experiences. You may figure out how to deal with things better when they do happen. And you can glean a lot of insights into how the people around you operate, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how you can better leverage your relationships with them in the future.
Wrapping it all up
No matter what might cause your day to go bad, there are things you can do to make it better. And to learn from the experience.
The problems could come from a bad boss or negative coworkers. You might be missing out on praise or recognition. The big picture strategy might be unclear in problematic ways. You could be overworked.
When things like this cause your day to go off the rails, take corrective action. Start by putting things into perspective. In the bigger picture, things are never quite as bad.
Be nice to someone else. It’s a great way to spread joy while lifting your own mood.
Finally, talk yourself into a better day by acknowledging the situation and what you are going to do about it.
At the end of the day, disconnect completely and spend some time alone reflecting and gathering your thoughts.
Then, reconnect with family and friends to help keep perspective and also to enjoy one of the most important things in life, these relationships.
Speaking of those relationships, set a plan in motion to do something fun with someone so that you have something to look forward to.
Finally, reflect on the sum total of your experience, why things bothered you so much, and what you did that helped improve things. Take the lessons with you and build on them.