Work should be challenging but fun. It should help us grow. But it can be tough: commutes stressful, technology frustrating. Clients, bosses and peers can be difficult, deadlines can pile up; projects can seem insurmountable.
Even when you really like your job, the simple act of having to do something from nine to five (or thereabouts) for most of the week can sometimes be a grind. Outside of serious grievances, we can all have a bad day, and it's normal to feel fed up occasionally.
But how long do we tolerate these feelings, and at what point do they start to mean we're in the wrong place? How do we know whether we're just having one of those days (or weeks) or whether we've made a wrong turn? Here's my take on some signals to watch out for.
1) You're continually overlooked for promotion/development, despite your best efforts
It's one of those recruitment paradoxes that many companies champion the act of developing and promoting from within, and yet thousands of candidates have to leave in order to progress. Clearly, something here doesn't add up.
People are rarely overlooked through spite. Sometimes good employees are kept where they are precisely because they're good - which is foolish because ultimately, they quit for better opportunities. Sometimes people are kept where they are because we can't always see what's in front of us.
I'm an advocate of promoting from within but the regrettable truth is that people can become overlooked if they stay somewhere too long. We should celebrate companies that invest in their people, even as we acknowledge that this is the least they can do. If you've repeatedly expressed a wish to progress and asked for help or step-up challenges so you can prove yourself, think about how long you're prepared to wait.
2) You lack feedback opportunities
How often do you get to have catch ups or appraisals with your manager? It may seem amazing now that employee appraisals used to happen as little as once a year as standard. But the world has changed, and change itself is such a constant that we need to continually reassess our skills and priorities. Employers today need to invest time in staff if those staff are to have any chance of succeeding. And it doesn't need to be a full appraisal – regular check-ins with managers are fine.
Feedback works both ways. What's your employer's mechanism for capturing employee feedback and doing something with it?
3) Your job is knocking you down, not building you up
Are your role/manager/employers developing your confidence or knocking it? A career is about growing, and any culture that profits by keeping employees' confidence down is one I'd question.
4) You can't unplug
When I started in my career, I was more interested in money than balance or flexibility. But times change: now there are more distractions, people spend much longer in traffic than they used to, work is often a lot more demanding and many of us are doing the work of 2 people. I think a collective desire for a slightly kinder, more flexible life is an inevitable consequence of the more competitive, noisier world that has emerged over the past couple of decades. Technology was supposed to make life easier, but all it's done is allow us to do more work, faster, and keep us tied to our inboxes or other work signals.
It's simple: you should be allowed downtime, and plenty of it.
5) You can't handle the stress
If you have (literal) nightmares about your job on a regular basis and feel sick at the prospect of the working week, it's time to seek some help from your manager or HR (as appropriate) and take action. If you're stuck because you've become accustomed to the money, I'd suggest you consider whether you just like the money or absolutely, definitely need it: most people I know who have been deeply stressed in their jobs have ended up much happier with a lower salary but a nicer life.
6) You're not feeling it, socially
Hang on. Surely I'm not about to suggest you up and leave just because all your best work friends do? Well, no. But if you make a real effort with a new team and find the atmosphere in a company is not conducive to your happiness despite your best efforts, it's worth considering a move. I've changed jobs in pursuit of a life I enjoyed more, and there's nothing wrong with that. After all, you're at work for most of your waking life 5 days a week. It's worth enjoying.
Obviously I cannot say that if you feel some of the above, you should quit. Always give your employer a chance: take some time to assess how you feel, find out what opportunities are available to you in your job, and always have a conversation with your boss or HR if you're unhappy.
Hints and tips to assess your happiness with your job
- Ask yourself how positive you feel about your job out of ten.
- How would you describe your employer to someone who was considering applying for a role there? How would you describe your role and your team?
- Would you go for your job again, knowing what you know now? Do the negatives outweigh the positives?
- If you left your employer now, would you consider coming back in the future? If so, why? If not, why not?
- What ideas or suggestions would you give your employer to make working there better?
- Do you work in a culture where you feel you can ask questions? Do you have a voice?
- How does your current job benefit the rest of your life? How do you feel when you ask yourself that?