Making the most of an unhappy workplace

Sam Glenn followed some wise counsel when he found himself in a bad job situation.

His mother told him, first, don't quit. And second, to have a frank chat with his boss at the small computer communications firm where he worked.

Feeling trapped in an unhappy work environment is sending many people in search of solace and advice. With the economy sputtering and unemployment on the rise, these workers are trying to make the best of a bad situation rather than not have a job at all.

Experts say it's crucial at such a time to not burn bridges with an employer.

“No matter how unhappy you are, it's important to come in to work with your game face on so that you can be sure of retaining your current job while you're thinking about finding another one,” said Mary Crane, a Denver-based consultant to Fortune 500 companies and law firms.

In fact, she says, it's advisable to even think about arriving early or staying late, acting eager and excited even if you feel the opposite.

“Make yourself the one person that every manager would hate to lose,” Crane said.

Glenn, 37, of Naperville, Ill., relied on his mother's wisdom to survive a difficult first job out of college. Stuck with an overbearing, short-fused boss, he set up a meeting with him and asked if he could have someone else supervise him.

His mom compared it to a tactic he'd used successfully in junior high: challenging the school bully to a fight in front of the principal.

Just as the bully backed down and stopped bothering him, so did the boss. Inspired by that success, Glenn went on to become a workplace consultant and motivational speaker.

Bad managers may be even more abundant today.

“There's so much stress, anxiety and fear because of the economy,” Glenn said. “The sad thing is, all these managers feel all this pressure to keep their business in the green.”

A recessionary economy isn't new and won't last forever, Crane notes, so people shouldn't worry excessively. But they shouldn't be surprised if they are unhappy in a job, and may have to simply hunker down and take it.

“The reality is that work is work,” Crane said, “and it's not always fun.”