A great job ticks all the boxes. It provides challenging work that gives you a sense of accomplishment and purpose. It rewards your contributions and meets your financial and personal needs. It provides you with opportunities to learn new skills, seek advancement and make progress on your career goals. And it surrounds you with the kind of people and environment that makes you feel good about coming to work every day.
But not all jobs are great, and most require some compromise in expectations to meet your current needs. Change is also a constant. Businesses succeed or fail. Business strategies are updated in response to new technologies, market opportunities and by competition. Operations and lines of business are created and retired. Projects are completed and resources shifted to new priorities. People transition through management and leadership positions. And you and your personal needs change over time with changes in your personal circumstances.
It’s best to be prepared and to try to stay ahead of the curve so that a job search isn’t an unexpected necessity. Career vitality also requires regular reflection on your needs, and a game plan for what comes next. Even when you currently enjoy a secure and satisfying job, it is useful to reflect from time to time on whether you’re ready for a change. Here are eight questions that can help you find that answer.
- Do I Need to Start a Job Search Now?
Starting a job search may be a necessity, the only question being how soon? To determine that, you need an awareness of how secure your current position is. Are things going well for the company? Are they meeting their financial targets? Are they growing and hiring? Does it look like a layoff or furlough is imminent?
The other aspect of necessity relates to your personal circumstances. Are you making enough money to pay the bills? Are you facing a family or health issue that requires a change in your work situation?
Necessity may not be an immediate driver, but something on the horizon that you need to plan for today in order to meet your future needs. If there is no immediate necessity, you can take the time to reflect on what your next step will be while keeping an eye out for opportunities that may arise.
- Am I Happy in my Current Position?
It has been estimated that the average person spends one-third (or 90,000 hours) of their life at work. With so much of your life invested, it is important that work also contributes to your happiness to the greatest extent possible.
How you feel about your job when you wake up in the morning is a good indicator of whether you should be looking for a new job. If you don’t want to get out of bed, or if thinking about work causes feelings of anxiety, then it’s important to reflect on why you feel that way. If the reason has to do with the work itself, or the office culture, or the terrible commute, or the demand of the job on your family, or the lack of money, or any other cause, then you can consider whether the root problem can be addressed and make the necessary adjustments. If a solution seems unlikely, then it’s probably time to look for a new job.
There are a number of things that can affect your job satisfaction and overall happiness that are important and should be addressed proactively. Are your employer’s corporate values and your personal values in conflict? Are you being asked to do unethical things at work? Are you being discriminated against or treated unfairly and denied your legal rights as an employee? If so, and there is no reasonable remedy available, it’s time to move on.
- Do I Like the People I’m Working with and the Environment I’m Working in?
Feeling you can be yourself at work is empowering and improves employee engagement, trust, relationships, and happiness. Working with people you like and respect can make work rewarding.
At the same time, it’s not necessary to be best friends with your co-workers or boss. It is important that you can communicate and work well together with respect, and with the trust that you’re all working to common purpose. There is always likely to be an outlier who you find difficult to work with, and there are ways to make those interactions more productive. A change in management or turnover in the team can disrupt working relationships, but new relationships can be built and problems solved through open communication.
Some workplaces, however, are so toxic that there is no ready solution. What makes a workplace toxic? Here are some warning signs:
- Communication is a problem. There is lack of clarity around projects, goals and responsibilities.
- Hostile or aggressive behaviors are tolerated or encouraged.
- There is no respect for personal time and no regard for work-life balance.
- Management is incompetent.
- Workers feel exploited.
- Resources needed for success are not being provided.
- Jobs are being filled with people who lack the requisite skills.
- Workloads are not distributed equitably.
- Success is not recognized, and good work is not rewarded.
- Basic human needs aren’t being met.
- There are health and safety issues in the workspace.
- No one listens or seems to care.
If any of these describes your workplace and the overall office or management culture is so toxic that you fanaticize about quitting, it’s time to look for a new job.
- Am I Being Paid What I’m Worth?
Compensation is just one aspect of what makes a job rewarding. You may enjoy the types of problems you’re asked to solve and the people you get to work with. You may value the benefits package and the job security. You may appreciate the work accommodations provided that allow you to maintain work-life balance. So, it’s important to look at compensation holistically.
At the same time, it’s hard to remain excited about a job if you’re being paid less than others doing similar work, or when new hires are more highly compensated than older hands, or where competitors are offering significantly higher wages, or where it’s obvious the pay isn’t going to get any better. If you don’t feel like you’re being fairly compensated, not only will the work be less satisfying, but your motivation and performance is likely to be affected, creating a negative downward cycle.
There are many tools available that will help you benchmark compensation, including the IEEE-USA Salary Calculator. Financial advisers can help you project your future compensation needs based on your personal plans. If you feel your contributions are undervalued, then they can be used to help build the case to ask management for a raise or salary adjustment. But at some point, if you don’t feel good about your compensation prospects, then it’s probably time to check out what other opportunities are out there.
- Am I Able to Maintain a Reasonable Work-life Balance?
For many people, particularly STEM professionals, work is their life. They are compelled by intellectual curiosity and the challenge of problem-solving, which gives them purpose and fulfilment. They willingly work long hours and take work home with them. But not everyone is similarly motivated, and at some point, there must be more to life than work for people to be happy and fulfilled.
A great job provides a reasonable equilibrium between the demands of one’s career and the demands created by personal needs, such as raising a family or caring for your health. Does your employer respect that work-life balance or do they make unreasonable demands on your personal time? Do they provide benefits that help you address personal needs such as healthcare, childcare, flexible scheduling, or even remote work? If the balance is missing, or if the intrusion of work into your personal life feels untenable, then it’s time to start a job search.
- Is the Job Providing Opportunities to Learn and Grow?
One of the keys to lifelong career vitality is being willing to change, and having the skills needed to adapt to new challenges and to new technologies. Even a challenging job can lose its luster after you have mastered the skills and tools needed for success and the work becomes repetitive. Learning new skills helps keep you sharp and, on your toes, and can open new doors when old ones close.
A great employer invests in its workers to build their skills and create opportunities for growth. They know that they will benefit from these investments even if some employees leave for other jobs. But not all companies understand the importance of investing in capability-building or have the resources available to make those investments. If that’s the case in your current job, then that puts the burden and expense on you to sharpen your own saw and acquire the skills that will advance your career. In that case, it may be worth looking to see what learning or growth opportunities other employers can offer.
Another way to approach this question is by asking whether you still find your job challenging. Are you doing the same work you were two years ago? Do you feel overqualified for your job? Is your boss not giving you the opportunity to work on challenging assignments? If so, your career may be stalled and its time to consider a change.
- Is My Work Performance Suffering and Why?
A good worker knows if they are doing good work and making a real contribution. If you feel that your level of contribution, the quality of your work or your overall productivity is slipping, and that you’re not motivated to do what’s needed to improve that performance, then you need to reflect on why you feel that way. Asking yourself this question can be the first step towards insight and remedy. But if you can see the downward trend in performance and aren’t motivated to reverse it for any of the reasons explored in the previous questions, then it is probably time to consider a change that will restore that sense of purpose and motivation.
- Is it Time for a Career Change or Redirection?
Even a great job may only be a step in the path to achieve your career aspirations. You should always be on the lookout for that next step that will propel you toward your career goals.
Most people who are happy in their jobs don’t take the time to look for that next opportunity. But there is an old saying that opportunities only come around once and to those who are ready. So asking yourself this question is a way of making sure you’re not missing the bus.
Another possible outcome from this reflection is that you recognize that you have acquired a new passion that suggests the need to modify your career plans. It could be a fascination with a new technology and its potential applications. It could be a complete change of direction or new profession. Maybe you want to take entrepreneurial risks or start your own business. Maybe you want to give your time to an important cause or social need. Maybe you want to use your experience to teach and mentor. If this describes you, and your current work is no longer your compelling passion, it’s time to consider a change or redirection.
Change is difficult for most people. Insecurity, complacency, loyalty, or fear of the new may blind people to opportunity and can result in personal stagnation. Better to anticipate change and make regular assessment and reflection a part of your career plan. These questions can help you determine when change is needed or may be beneficial. Ultimately, though, you have to be willing to proactively embrace change in order to take advantage of the opportunities that can make the one-third of your life spent at work more satisfying and rewarding.
Julian Mercer is a management professional, consultant, teacher and occasional author with over 30 years of experience working in the technology sector.