Sometimes you might feel like there’s no recovering. You feel like you’ve broken your relationships with your coworkers or that their perception of you can no longer be changed. After you’ve tried our techniques (like creating quiet in your cubicle, adjusting your work life balance, introducing happy elements, etc.) you might find that you simply have one choice left: Change your job.
Just change it. I know that sounds callous or unhelpful, but when I was in a bad job early in my career, I wish someone had told me that I should leave. I probably stayed there 2-4 years longer I should.
We did offer advice on how to accept and love what is great about your job, but a few passionate readers wrote in to say that they needed the opposite advice. They needed strength to stand up for themselves.
Here are some signals to look out for so you can determine when it might be time to move on:
It’s not always easy to identify the precise moment in your career when you stopped growing; but, like many things in this blog, it takes mindfulness and introspection to discover when you’re stagnating. There are many ways to learn on your own, but it’s a reasonable expectation that a career gives you on-the-job learning. Ask around first, because your management might be able to share with you opportunities that you were not aware of. Or consider taking a lateral move within the company to find a way to challenge yourself. Keep in mind that learning opportunities are not always technical or trade-related in nature, sometimes the opportunities are for growing soft skills, like how to interact with your coworkers or with customers. If you can’t find these opportunities then it is probably time to leave.
Assuming you have taken the time to listen to the person you’re fighting with (because listening and understanding is the root of all conflict resolution), and that you’ve analyzed that you’re not contributing to the suffering, then you probably have a clear mind to see if the workplace environment is unhealthy. Once you have identified the truth, either make the necessary change or get the heck out of there. Seriously, if you can’t improve your morale or the morale of others, don’t let yourself suffer any further.
In my time in the “real” working world, inflation was around 1.5% to 2%. There were a couple of years when I was learning a lot (because I was not always a great programmer); but even still, my yearly raises were non-existent. I was OK with that at the time because I intensely value learning. But there came a point when I had grown in my skill set and had given back to the company, yet my salary was still not recovering to its Salary.com expectations… I knew I had overstayed. Learning to balance humility and self-respect is a challenging thing for any of us. If you know that you tend to favor one, force yourself to try the other. In my case, I had to pretend to have a surplus of self-respect. I left and I started at a company where I was able to learn, get paid well, and (most importantly) I was able to give back to real users. Speaking of which…
Your ability to improve the lives of other human beings should be in the metrics by which you measure the value of your job. I’m not saying that every job should save lives (I know my software job doesn’t directly do that), but there should be at least small and appreciable ways to gauge your impact.
- If you are in customer service, does your company provide you with the resources to improve the mood of the customers?
- Do you have an opportunity to foster an environment that encourages others to smile? (If not, consider smiling anyway. Science has discovered that your brain will introduce happiness hormones when you mimic a smile.)
- Are you that person at work who can lighten the mood at a tough meeting with a good joke?
- Can you can start a forum or a mailing list at work for people to share lessons learned?
- Perhaps your impact is simply that you do your job well? Without you, would there be a hole in the fabric of your team?
Those are just a few examples, and you may have to be creative to figure out how you are impacting others.
Important note: if you do happen to have part of what you need (let’s say high social impact), but you’re not learning and you’re not being compensated as well you’d like… then you should try to analyze if the balance is right. Sometimes a small tweak such as asking your boss for more mentoring opportunities can rebalance the scales and help you to redefine happiness at your job. Don’t be afraid to ask for more money if that’s what is required to keep you happy in your job (but make sure that you’ve strongly made the case for your value first because otherwise you might be putting your position at risk).
Are there good jobs that just need small tweaks to become great jobs? Absolutely. And are there jobs that are simply beyond repair? Absolutely. Take the time to ask yourself the right questions, and don’t judge the answers that you arrive at. Most importantly, promise yourself that you will take some kind of action.
“Mindfulness must be engaged [..] Once we see that something needs to be done, we must take action. Seeing and action go together. Otherwise, what is the point in seeing?” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh, At Home in the World
So once you’re ready to take action please consider a very important practical note:
- It’s easier to find a new job when you already have one.
In other words, please don’t quit your job until you’ve found a new one. The best part of this approach is that while you’re going on interviews you may discover that you actually have a pretty sweet gig. Or you may learn that there are new opportunities that sound incredibly thrilling. But by taking stock of your needs and desires, you will now be able to proceed with calmness and confidence.
So what criteria do you use to know when it’s time to leave?