Should I stick out this job or move on?
Here’s a question I get frequently: I don’t like my job but I feel stuck. What should I do?
Below are 8 questions to diagnose what’s going on and give you a few realistic options.
For context, I have worked in a wide range of organizations and roles, including a huge financial corporation, an even bigger multinational, a small non-profit, a highly political NGO, a mid sized creative company and am now a solo entrepreneur. Functions have included: research, policy, marketing, management and advisory roles.
What I learned is that every path has trade offs. Yet, career is a vital part of happiness and we owe it to ourselves and the world to find the best fit possible. I also am living proof that transitions are entirely possible, with a bit of ingenuity.
- Did you change jobs in the past 6 months?
- If so, you may be reacting to a steep learning curve. I always want to quit a job initially, even if I love it later. Remind yourself why you choose this role in the first place. What were you hoping to gain. If after 6 months it’s still not working, read on.
- Are you just a little burned out or totally over it?
- When you return from vacation well rested and refrehsed, are you interested and engaged at work? If so, then you probably just needed a vacation.
- Do you dread Sunday nights, knowing you have to work on Monday? If this is happening consistently then something is off. Read on.
- Are you aligned on the major objectives of the industry today?
- Can you easily sell its products or services?
- Are you happy to tell your friends which industry you are in or what you are doing for the industry, such as making energy cleaner?
- If not, consider how it impacts you. For many, industry isn’t important. However if you are feeling conflicted or drained, switch to an industry you can align to. You will do better work.
- Do you enjoy about 70% of the typical work that you do?
- Or are you in managing timelines and crave being creative? Are you crunching numbers alone all day and long to be with people? Did you love doing the work until you got promoted and now realize you managing people isn’t your thing?
- If you don’t enjoy most of the work you do, then it is the wrong role for you. Having worked in different functional roles, I believe people do their best work and feel most fulfilled when they are in the right function. Can you leverage your company and product knowledge and move laterally to better function within your organization? This is much easier than moving to a new function at a different organization.
- Do you respect your leaders and the way your organization is run?
- Even more important, does doing the job require you to act in a way that conflicts with your beliefs?
- Acting against your personal beliefs causes tremendous stress and can damage your reputation. If you don’t respect the leadership it will be hard to do their bidding, which weakens your career trajectory. You owe it to yourself to find a better organization.
- Does the organization generally support your lifestyle?
- Outside of crunch times, are you able to do what you need to do to maintain your personal health & happiness?
- Do you value your family or taking care of your health, yet consistently work 70 to 80 hour weeks?
- If this is an issue, explore what you can do within your organization first. Often a lot more is possible than you think. Most companies will take as much as you give them. It’s up to you to take care of yourself. Watch how the senior executives at your organization manage their time. Many live by clear boundaries and downtime rituals. For example, change how you manage your workday so you can be home for dinner or exercise class. Set specific times to check email on weekends (eg. Saturday at noon and Sunday night). You may want to discuss options with your boss to get buy in and set clear expectations.
- If after doing everything you can reasonably do the lifestyle is still unmanageable, look for an organization that supports your lifestyle and values. You don’t want to wake up in 20 years sorry you never had kids because you felt like work left you time to date or parent.
- Do you spontaneously think about projects while not at work and find yourself curious or happy? Are you learning and growing?
- If not, then you are bored. The truth is, there will always be moments when you are on a project longer than you would like. Can you get transferred to a new project within the next 6 months or so? Can you take on something else you enjoy in addition to this project, perhaps volunteer for a stretch project that could lead to a promotion?
- Are things going well with your boss?
- You don’t have to love your boss. Having a boss is more about what you can do for them then what they can do for you. As long as you have what you need to do your job, you are in a good situation. Take a step back to see it more objectively, through your boss’s eyes. What is their objective?
- If you feel ignored or unsupported by your boss? Can you set up a regular status meeting to share your progress and request advice or support on specific items?
- Is your boss a slave driver or micromanager? If so, can you find something of value in the situation, such as expertise, attention to detail or learning how something really works?
- Do you feel like you are doing all the work? Fresh out of graduate school, I had a boss who seemed to do nothing but talk to people. He was never in his office. I felt like a sucker, until I asked about a project and he showed me all the behind the scenes work required to align leadership on our projects. I walked away respecting him 10x more, and learning a tremendous amount.
- Caveat: if your boss is actively out to get you and is there to stay, then you must get out of there to keep your reputation and upward momentum. A few good books on this: “Art of War for Women” and “Corporate Confidential” to understand the politics in these situations. I personally suck at office politics.
I hope this has given you more clarity on the nature of your career issue as well as a few concrete next steps.
If you find that both your current function and your industry or organization no longer fit for the life you want to lead, then a larger jump is needed. This is often extremely fulfilling. I invite you to read my story or my clients’ stories for inspiration. However, it takes openness, a smart strategy, using your connections and doing the legwork.
I highly recommend focusing on what lights you up – what you enjoy and are good at. I can help you figure this out and how to get there.