Since approximately half of Canadians feel unsatisfied and unhappy in their current job, it’s no wonder that the question “How do I know that it’s time to move on to a different job” is one of the most common questions that I hear.
What follows is a description of four factors that I often help my coaching clients to explore when deciding whether it’s time to pursue a different job or career.
Four things to consider when deciding if it’s time for a career change:
One of the advantages of being an employee is that while you are earning an income you’re also developing work experience that you can list on your resume to help you obtain better jobs in the future. So, it often makes sense to stay where you are if you have access to learning opportunities that are aligned with your interests and priorities. For instance, if you’re an engineer who has studied more traditional topics while in school, it may be worth working in a relatively lower paying position (on a temporary basis) if it allows you to develop skills in an emerging area like big data or artificial intelligence both of which are very lucrative.
When, however, you’ve been in a similar role for quite a while and your typical work responsibilities don’t seem to be changing much you’ve probably outgrown your job. At this point, when there are few opportunities to learn or develop, it might make sense to contemplate a shift. Hopefully, you work in a field where there are other places where you can work in the same field but at a higher level, or with more depth.
The career shift does not need to be radical. You might be satisfied by taking on a part-time volunteer role that allows you to develop skills that you can’t develop during your day job. This significantly lowers the risks associated with changing jobs. Trying a volunteer role while keeping your day job may be especially appropriate when you like your current work environment. Likewise, if you like the work environment but have outgrown your current role then another option may be to take on lateral projects or short-term roles that exist within your current workplace.
2. You’re under-employed and labelling yourself in a way that may compromise your future success
One of the more discouraging things that I see regularly is people who are chronically under-employed and may be getting themselves stereotyped in a way that does not suit their long-term interests.
We’ve all heard of the fully-qualified teacher or lawyer, who, to start paying back student loans starts working as a server or as a barista. There is something noble and honourable about putting in honest work for money. In this situation, when they accept roles that they could have done prior to obtaining their education it undermines their education and it may undermine their ability to make progress in their career when they have not been working in their area.
I have spoken with engineers who work at a local chain copy centre. While this is good for their employer, I don’t believe its good for the employees. I’m not confident that this is what most graduates of university engineering programs had in mind while they were on campus. Further, working in these roles for too long may mean that their degrees, skills, and abilities become stale and they become unemployable in their primary area.
3. You feel uncomfortable at work … but not in a good way
I recently wrote about some signs to watch for to help employees tell if their challenging interactions with their boss should be a cause for concern (read Does My Boss Like Me? for details). On the surface, this might seem like a trivial topic but for many new employees, it is difficult to tell where you stand because of the type of boss you have.
As our workplaces become more diverse and include people with more interpersonal styles there will be more room for misunderstandings. Sometimes we feel uncomfortable because we are stretching and growing in our work. Just as when participating in weight training/resistance training there are times when it’s very uncomfortable bordering on painful yet it’s beneficial and it’s not hurting us in the long run. So, to recap, when our work makes us feel uncomfortable, but the net result is improved competence, experience, confidence, and maturity then it’s a good kind of uncomfortable. But, when the discomfort only yields discontent but now growth, it’s wise to consider moving on.
4. Work is making you feel worse than uncomfortable, it’s making you sick
One problem that is finally getting some attention, is the fact that mental health issues can develop as a direct result of very bad workplace experiences. In Ontario, legislation has been tightened to increase the responsibilities that employers have to ensure a physically and psychologically safe work environment that is free from harassment (details are available here).
In the previous section, I talked about the distinction between feeling uncomfortable because you’re learning by taking on tasks that are outside of your comfort zone vs. uncomfortable because you’re not being treated well at work. In this section, I want to address situations where you feel much worse than just uncomfortable … work is making you sick because of bullying, sexual harassment, or other toxic workplace characteristics. From what I’ve seen up close, in these situations, when there’s inadequate support from the leadership and HR, it’s usually wise to leave. The toll that these circumstances can have on your physical and mental health can be extremely severe.
With all this said, I do know that leaving an unsuitable job is difficult. Sometimes, the relative comfort that comes with steady employment acts like a set of golden handcuffs that keep you stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Do you have career-related questions or concerns? I invite you to contact me by email, a free 15-minute initial phone consultation, or via direct message on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn if you’d like to discuss any of these topics in more detail.
Dr. Helen Ofosu, Career Coach and HR Consultant, I/O Advisory Services