10 signs you’ve become a corporate slave (and what to do about it)

Do you ever feel like you are sleepwalking your life away?

Go to school, get a job, settle down. Every day can easily start to feel like rinse and repeat. Then at some point, you turn around and wonder what it’s all for.

We all crave freedom in life. We want self-determination, self-expression, control over our destiny.

But a lot of us end up feeling like a cog in the wheel. Feeding a system that chews us up and spits us out.

If you’re feeling overworked, underappreciated, or even exploited, then maybe you’re worried you’ve become a corporate slave.

What do you mean by a corporate slave?

Before we start, let’s define corporate slave. It might sound a bit of a melodramatic term. But a corporate slave is someone who works hard for an employer but gets nothing in return.

They don’t own their work. Their work owns them.

Of course, there are many people working in corporations who love what they do and have found meaning in their jobs. But there are also plenty of people who hate their work and would gladly trade places with just about anyone else.

If you can’t say no to your boss, if you’re grinding yourself to the bone, if you’re constantly kissing ass to try and impress, if you feel like you’re trapped in a dead-end career path with very little purpose to your day — then you might be a corporate slave.

Here are 10 strong signs of a corporate slave:

How does it feel to be a corporate slave?

1) You dread going to work

One of the biggest signs of being a corporate slave is simply feeling like one.

Maybe you feel trapped. It’s almost like you’re stuck, but you don’t see a way out. You want your working life to feel different. You want more. But at the same time, you feel powerless to create change.

Your employer has you over a barrel. They give you the money that keeps a roof over your head. And so it feels like they hold all the power.

You don’t enjoy what you do. It may even make you feel sick to the pit of your stomach as you go to work every day.

2) You are underpaid

Finances are obviously relative. How much you earn will depend on many factors. Things like the industry you work in and where in the world you live play a part.

But if you’re making less money than you think you should be, then you’re probably being paid far less than you deserve.

If you feel like you are selling your soul every day and barely coming home with enough in your paycheck to make ends meet, then you’re definitely falling victim to the system.

3) You’re ashamed or embarrassed by what you do

Not feeling proud of the work you do suggests that you are either:

a) Not living your potential or,

b) your work doesn’t align with your core values.

In order to feel satisfied at work rather than used, we need to feel good about what it is we’re doing.

3) Your work feels meaningless

It’s one of the worst feelings to realize that you spend most of your time doing something that you feel doesn’t matter at all.

If you find yourself thinking “who cares?!” throughout your workday, then your job is most likely lacking meaning for you.

We all have different interests, passions, and ideas about what is worthwhile. But if your job is devoid of any purpose, you are more likely to feel like a corporate slave.

4) You have zero autonomy

Freedom is something that all of us highly value.

Realistically we all need to toe the line to a certain extent. Society has rules — both written and implicit. But without a certain amount of autonomy, we can start to feel like our life isn’t our own.

I grasped how significant autonomy is in not feeling like a corporate slave after watching Justin Brown’s video ‘How to escape the 9-5 rate race in 3 simple steps’.

In it, he explains how important it is to feel like you have the ability to make your own decisions with the work that you are performing.

Without that, it can feel like we’re being asked to work like a robot. To simply follow the orders of other people.

It’s just one of the insights he offers on taking control and finding more satisfaction and joy in your work. Please do check out his eye-opening video for some incredibly practical tools on how to improve your work life.

YouTube video

6) You don’t have enough days off or vacation time

If you are living for the weekends. If you can’t even remember the last real break you had. If a sick day has started to feel like a treat — then work rules your life.

We’ve been conditioned into believing that most jobs require long hours. We (albeit begrudgingly) accept when employers won’t even let you take an extra hour off when you need to.

And so the cycle of ‘all work and no play’ continues until you eventually burn out.

7) You’re overworked

You stay after hours and come in early. You send emails late at night. You respond to requests on the weekends. You’re always tired.

Being overworked isn’t just about the hours you put in. It’s about feeling energetically drained by what you do.

If your boss constantly loads you up with too much work or has unreasonable demands, then no wonder you’re feeling like a corporate slave.

8) You’re not appreciated

You’re just one of many. You don’t feel like an individual. Your boss may not even remember your name.

You are there to do a job, and it seems like your employer cares very little about your wellbeing, your development, or the struggles you may face in life.

Being totally underappreciated at work is a sure-fire sign of being a corporate slave.

9) Your boss is a bit of a tyrant

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what it means to me.”

One of the most demeaning things in the workplace is having a boss or employer who shows you no respect.

All of us deserve to have dignity. Everyone deserves to be spoken to considerately, and treated fairly.

If your boss belittles or berates you, then your workplace isn’t a supportive environment.

10) You don’t have a good work, life balance

If you’re working all the hours you can, and it leaves very little for anything else — you’re stuck in the hamster wheel of life.

Your life is out of balance. You’re spending all this energy doing something you don’t enjoy. And because you’re so busy, you haven’t got time to spend with family, friends, or yourself.

Having a terrible work/life balance is another sure-fire sign of a corporate slave.

How to free yourself from corporate slavery?

1) Figure out your purpose

The reality of the society we live in right now is that we all need to earn money to provide for ourselves and our families. Whilst we can wish for the utopian day to arrive where that isn’t the case, right now the overwhelming majority of us need to have jobs.

So if we have to spend so many hours of our week focused on work, the best-case scenario is for those hours to be filled with purpose, motivation, and enthusiasm over what we do.

Enter: Discovering your purpose in life.

Finding our purpose is the holy grail of work for most of us. I’d like to think that I have found mine, and through it, meaning in the work I do.

But before I go any further, a little disclaimer. Here’s the truth for me…

I do not wake up every day fist-pumping into the air and screaming enthusiastically “let’s do this”. Some days I reluctantly drag the covers back and psyche myself up to start being productive.

Now I admire (and am slightly envious) of those people who profess to love work so much that they just can’t get enough of it. I am not that person, and I don’t believe most of us are. (Or am I just being a cynic?)

Either way, for the overwhelming majority of us mere mortals, we’re going to have flat or frustrated days, no matter how aligned we feel with the work we do.

I don’t think finding purpose means your life turns into a magically perfect version. But I do think that it makes everything feel so much lighter.

Having enthusiasm about what you do, create or contribute in this world brings more flow state and charged energy into your workday.

Knowing that you are putting your unique talents and skills to good use makes you feel prouder.

Believing you make a difference in whatever small way makes it all feel worthwhile.

For me, that has been the gift of creating work around my purpose.

But I know that for so many people working out their purpose in life is a minefield. It can feel difficult to know where to start.

That is why I can’t recommend Justin’s video ‘How to escape the 9-5 rate race in 3 simple steps’ enough.

He talks you through the formula he used to quit his own corporate career and find more meaning (and success). And one of those elements is embracing your purpose.

Even better, he will tell you how to easily identify your purpose, even when you don’t have a clue.

YouTube video

2) Dig deeper into your beliefs around work

It’s easy to think that the chains of corporate slavery are external bonds. A symptom of a system outside our control.

But the real thing that keeps most of us tied to unsatisfying jobs and meaningless work is internal.

It is our beliefs about the world and our place in it. Your beliefs about your value and how you can contribute.

That is what leads us to sell ourselves short, underestimate our potential, undervalue our significance, and question our deservedness of more.

The truth is that we’re shaped and molded from an early age.

The environment we’re born into, the role models we have, the experiences that touch us — all form the silent beliefs that we establish.

These silent beliefs work away in the background calling the shots. They form an internal glass ceiling to how much you earn or where you will reach on the career ladder, way before any practical external obstacles get in our way.

Being from a very “normal” family, my parents left school at 16 and worked every day of their lives at the same job until the day they retired.

This heavily shaped my attitudes and beliefs around work.

I believed that work was something you just had to do, not enjoy. I decided there were limits to what I could be and do in life because of my background. I created mental ceilings about what was “a lot of money” because great wealth was not part of my environment.

It wasn’t until I did some real digging around into my attitudes, feelings, and thoughts about work that I started to see how these beliefs contributed to my reality.

Freedom always starts with realization.

3) Understand that you have choices

Whenever we feel stuck it’s so easy to fall into victimhood. I know what it’s like to feel dissatisfied with the life you are leading, but not seeing any clear way out.

Whilst we don’t always have the exact road map in our hands, it helps to remember that you always have choices.

Sometimes those choices aren’t the ones we wish we had. But even if it’s the choice to accept and find peace with your current reality whilst you work on creating a better one, that is still a choice.

Knowing that you have a choice helps you to feel more empowered in your life.

No choices are wrong, but they need to feel aligned. That way you know that the decisions you make are for you.

Personally, I have found it helps to figure out and constantly refer back to your own unique values. What matters most right now?

You may want to chill and spend more time with family and friends. But at the same time, you also want to build a new business and you recognize it is going to take time and energy.

If you hate the work you do, you have choices. You can apply for other jobs, try to diversify your skills, study something in your free time.

Being a corporate slave requires a sense of victimhood. Making choices based on your priorities will help you to avoid that.

4) Create stronger boundaries

Learning to say ‘no’ is vital in all areas of life, and work is no different.

People-pleasing is an easy habit to fall into, especially when we feel vulnerable. Our livelihood comes from the work we do.

It doesn’t get much more vulnerable than relying on someone to pay the rent and put food on the table. This makes it very tempting to turn into a “yes man” at the expense of your own wellbeing or even sanity.

Creating strong boundaries can help you to avoid becoming a corporate slave. That might include:

  • Work your set hours — Don’t go in to work early. Leave on time. Refuse to do unpaid overtime.
  • Don’t respond to work requests at home — Don’t reply to emails or texts. It can wait.
  • Learn to say “no” to your boss and colleagues — “No I can’t come in on Saturday.” “No, Friday evening doesn’t work for me as it’s my daughter’s recital.”
  • Don’t take on too much — Make it clear to your employer that you only have a certain amount of hours in a day. And if he/she wants something extra doing, then something else has gotta give. “I’m already busy on a project. Which would you like me to prioritize?”
  • Have realistic goals and standards — Know your strengths, your limitations or weaknesses. Don’t demand things of yourself that aren’t fair, and don’t let other people either. It sets you up for failure.

5) Strive for better work-life balance

It may be a cliche, but it’s true. Nobody on their deathbed thinks to themselves “I wish I’d spent more time at the office.”

When your time comes (hopefully many, many years from now) and your life flashes in front of your eyes just before you die, I strongly suspect long nights spent doing extra paperwork are not going to be the defining images.

That’s not to say that sacrifices don’t sometimes need to be made in the pursuit of our goals and dreams. But let’s all try to remember what we’re doing it for.

It’ll be different for each of us. Maybe it’s to create a stable life for yourself that you never had growing up, maybe it’s to take care of the people who you love most, maybe it’s to afford all the comforts you want in life, or perhaps it’s to save enough cash to travel the world and broaden your horizons.

But keeping perspective of the people and things that matter most in life can help us to value a better work-life balance.

To conclude: How do you not feel like a corporate slave?

When you start to feel like your work life is on your terms, and not solely on somebody else’s, you will no longer feel like a corporate slave.

There are many routes to get you there. And no matter how far away it feels right now, you can get there if you want to.

For more practical ideas, and a step-by-step guide out of the rat race then do watch Justin’s video.

He’s a real inspiration for anyone looking to create a work-life based on contribution, meaning, and enthusiasm.

He understands the path because he has already walked it.

Picture of Louise Jackson

Louise Jackson

My passion in life is communication in all its many forms. I enjoy nothing more than deep chats about life, love and the Universe. With a masters degree in Journalism, I’m a former BBC news reporter and newsreader. But around 8 years ago I swapped the studio for a life on the open road. Lisbon, Portugal is currently where I call home. My personal development articles have featured in Huffington Post, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, Thrive Global and more.

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