There's a reason they call that thing we do at the office "work." And though you may get some degree of enjoyment out of what you do, let's be honest: If money weren't an issue, you probably wouldn't choose to spend your days taking orders from your boss and plugging away at your desk for about half of your waking life.

However, it's one thing to count down the hours until your shift is over and another thing to feel overcome with misery every time you walk into the office. Unfortunately, a large number of employees today identify as overwhelmingly unhappy. A recent report by the Conference Board, a nonprofit research group, found that 52% of Americans are not content with their jobs. But despite the fact that so many of us harbor ill feelings about work, sticking out a job that makes you miserable is the one thing you should never do during your career. And the sooner you escape an unhappy career, the better.

Stressed, unhappy office worker


What's making you unhappy?

There are lots of different reasons to dread going into the office. Perhaps your boss is extremely demanding, or your colleagues are difficult to get along with. Or maybe you're just dissatisfied with your salary and benefits, and you resent the fact that you're forced to do so much for so little in return.

If there's a single aspect of your job that's causing you grief, it pays to try to address it. Say your boss keeps adding to your workload, and you're feeling overwhelmed. An honest conversation might buy you a little breathing room. Similarly, if your salary is such that you're struggling to pay the bills, you might manage to finagle a raise that takes some of the pressure off. But if you're stuck in a miserable situation that you can't improve, and you're not locked into a contract (which is typically the case), you're better off finding a role that won't sink your well-being.

What's the problem with staying at a job you hate? Well, for one thing, the more you grow to dislike your work situation, the less motivated you'll be to do a good job -- and that opens the door to getting laid off or, worse yet, fired for good cause. But just as importantly, if you force yourself to continue doing a job you can't stand, you're likely to suffer on a mental and emotional level.

Remember: Not everyone is able to leave their work woes at the office. Many couples clash as a result of job-related stress, and if you're not careful, the misery you suffer at the workplace might extend to the rest of your life. And you just plain deserve better.

Breaking free

If you've reached the point where the idea of going into the office makes you want to crawl into a hole and never leave, then it's time to make some changes. First, figure out if it's your particular company that's making you miserable, or your industry on a whole. If you're a credit analyst who's just plain tired of formulas and spreadsheets, then moving from one investment firm to another may not help.

Next, jot down the reasons why you're miserable and identify different job opportunities to address those pain points. If, for example, you're tired of working ridiculously long hours at a law firm, going in-house at another company might subject you to a similar schedule.

From there, it's really a matter of updating your resume; reaching out to friends, associates, and recruiters; and seeing what opportunities come your way. This isn't to say that you should up and quit your current job before finding a new one. But if you're truly unhappy, it's time to start looking, even if that means upending your current routine and having to adapt to a whole new work environment.

Given the number of hours most of us typically spend on the job, we deserve to be happy with what we do. If you've reached the point where work is constantly getting you down, don't resign yourself to many more years of misery -- because if you do, you could end up damaging your career, your family, and your sanity in the process.