5 Stages of Underemployment

5 Stages of Underemployment

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Being unemployed is one thing, but what about being underemployed? What happens when you end up in a basic job for barely minimum wage, yet you have the credential to do so much more? 

It Sucks.

You spent all that time getting a degree, certification, or diploma of some sort and you get stuck doing menial office work, or have to resort to fast food just to attempt to survive. Here are a few things I learned while being unemployed.

It’s a Bit Demeaning 

If you graduated college in the past 10 years, you know how incredibly hard it is to find a job if you’re not set up before graduation. I spent almost 2 months before graduation and 6 months after sending out resumes left and right. I was an English major that didn’t have (and still doesn’t) any idea what I wanted to do. I figured I’d settle for office work. 

When I got hired at my first job, while I liked the people on most days, I spent 7.5 hours a day standing in front of a copier feeding in documents to scan or copy. I picked up the coffee creamer at the grocery store. I was given anything the paralegals felt wasn’t worth their time.

It sucked. And I was only making $10 an hour at that point. I barely had enough to pay my rent and utilities at the time. Meanwhile I was stuffing envelopes for invoices for more than my college tuition. 

Related: 4 Ways to Tell You Need a Self Care Day

It Drains Your Soul

Doing doing menial work will start draining your soul. I had about 1 year 8 months in before they let me go. My position was created due to an overflow of work the receptionist and office manage couldn’t get done. When they had to hire a new paralegal, they figured it would be cheaper to hire her and split the duties back up.

I think the last 8 months I started thinking about and sort of searching for different jobs. I just had such low self esteem and confidence in myself that I didn’t think I was worth more. I mean, I fed paper into a copier for a living.

There were more than a few days where I would wake up and have a panic attack about going to work. I’ve definitely called out far more there than I have in my current job. I dreaded going in, I dreaded standing for 7.5 hours, and I hated getting home so tired that I never wanted to do anything but sleep.


5 stages of underemployment (2)


You’ll Get Frustrated

Getting frustrated while under employed is pretty much a given. You’re doing what seems like an endless stream of work for barely enough to pay your bills. That alone is enough to aggravate even the most reasonable of people.

But you know that if you push too hard for a raise, or act out due to your frustration, they can just reach back into their candidate pool and hire someone else. There’s no job security at all at that level. That’s how I felt every day. Working with lawyers will raise your stress levels unbelievably high. 

Once you start to feel that disdain for your job, it will slowly start to take over your mind. There’s no way out. 

Related: 5 Signs that It Might Be Time to Jump Ship to a New Job


Your Performance Will Go Down

Once you’ve reached the stage where you’re actively starting to hate going to work, you’re in for a downward battle. Right off the bat your performance is going to suffer. It tends to whenever you’re stressed and not enjoying your work. 

But now you have the reality of how much you dislike your job, how frustrated you’re getting. Because you know the little things are starting to get to you more than usual because you’re reaching a breaking point.


You Leave/Burnout

The final stage is when either you voluntarily leave to save your sanity or you’re fired because your frustration is starting to get to everyone. I was let go before I got to this stage, but I’m glad it happened. I wasn’t too fond of the year of unemployment (see here) but I know I never would have had the courage to quit the job on my own. If the circumstances were right, I could be standing there still feeding a copier for $10 an hour.

If you’re looking to leave, it’s best that you have a new job lined up, or some sort of fall back plan. Maybe you need a month or two to get yourself together, or you want to go back to school, or whatever.

If you don’t leave, you’ll end up burnt out. You know those people who are completely apathetic and don’t really care about their job? That’s going to be you soon. Get out now before it causes any more problems.

Related: How to Prevent Burnout While Figuring Out WTF to Do With Your Life


Have you ever been underemployed? How did you get out? What did you do? Let me know in the comments!


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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Yes I totally get this – I worked as a museum assistant (spent my days telling tourists to take their hats off) and even the restaurant was draining. Now I’m much happier working online, doing little side hustles and staying away from the corporate world.

    I hope you’re enjoying your current job much more now!

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