Today, I’d like to talk about whether it is time to leave your job.
No, this is not a theme emerging but my interest has been aroused. All things around changing jobs, occupations, work and status I find very interesting at the moment.
No wonder then, that when I spotted an article on LinkedIn asking when is it time to leave your job, I ‘jumped on it’ with extremely high expectations. Just to be disappointed!
This article didn’t answer the question, didn’t even try. It was simply posing the question soliciting answers from women – some women’s network on LinkedIn.
As for me, I was exactly where I was when reading about the ten steps between an idea and its realisation – all interested and frustrated for the lack of a solution. And when this happens, I usually go off and try to work things out.
When is Time to Leave Your Job? (The Difference Between Work and Job)
Before I tell you what I came up with, I would like to mention a very important difference between work and job. Simply put, work is what we do. It is all activities that we carry out day in, day out to do our jobs. A job, on the other hand, is the contractual obligation between you and an employer. Want an example?
Take me, for instance. My work as an academic involves teaching and research with all the supporting activities of ongoing reading, learning, thinking, conducting research, developing courses, learning about how people learn, developing lectures, enabling learning and supporting students through a variety of means.
Oh, and of course writing, flirting with journal editors, publishing and marketing (making sure that people cite me even if they don’t read me). This last bit may sound a bit cynical but statisticians have done some nifty research showing that even very highly cited work is not read.
My job, at the moment, is as a professor at a university. This means that I have particular obligations to the organisation and for fulfilling those I get paid.
Can you see where I am going? When we think about a change of job, in my case, this will mean moving to a different university (even a different country, continent etc.). Talking about a change of job, this may mean me ceasing to be an academic and becoming an ‘academic leader’ – a dean or similar, which involves an entirely different set of activities and demands different skills.
If we talk about a change of career this would mean me becoming a full-time blogger, business consultant or a pole dancer. See the difference?
Now I’ll share the five main signs that it is time to start looking for another job, even if you love your work.
Sign One: It is time to leave your job when it stresses you silly
There are different reasons to start feeling very stressed in your job but usually, this is associated with a dramatic, unsupported change. It may be that:
- Your job description changed suddenly and was outside your control. It has happened, it happens and will happen again. Are any former secretaries reading? Well, in Britain most secretaries became ‘administrators’ in the space of a breath. How does one cope? Well, most people can’t so they get stressed and ill.
- Your employer is a ‘dysfunctional organisation’. Do you know how to recognise a dysfunctional organisation? It is one where people break cultural conventions. For example, you ask ‘How are you?’ and instead of the customary ‘Fine, thanks’ you get their whole string of frustrations and misery. If this happens often in an organisation, you can bet your house that something is wrong – either it is trying to hit above its weight, or the senior management is in crisis or profits have plummeted.
- You don’t get on with your co-workers. Yep, you don’t have to socialise with your colleagues but you still have to be able to tolerate their presence; after all, you spend most of your time with these people.
There may be other factors for stress but you get the message. The main thing is to watch yourself and if your start losing sleep and talking obsessively (or thinking) about work when you are supposed to play with your kids or make love with your partner…it may be time to leave your job.
Sign Two: When the job doesn’t allow you to achieve
You know, one thing that really rubs me the wrong way at my university is when someone starts telling people that they underperform and expects them to feel guilty about it. I would have thought that I work with reasonably intelligent people who understand that performance is an organisational matter – one performs depending on how the organisation enables them to do so.
Our concern as employees and individuals is not performance but achievement!
I am not bothered at all whether someone ‘performs’ but they ought to ‘achieve’. So when the organisation (your job) starts limiting your performance by not providing the necessary condition, it is time to leave your job.
Sign Three: If you and your employer have grown apart
To feel happy in a job one has to share the values of their employer, or at least to make sure that their values and those of their employer are not completely opposite. If for you human life doesn’t have value, you may be quite happy as a contract killer – an extreme example, I know, but it gives you the message.
This alignment of values sometimes trumps other factors. For instance, our oldest son works for a bank (which I would have never thought possible) and he is happy in his job because he really believes in their values (it is the Coop and buying dodgy debt aside).
Your values and these of your employer can grow apart and then it is time to leave your job.
Sign Four: You just don’t give a damn any longer
Jobs should bring excitement, and please don’t tell me that it is easy for me because I am an academic. I am with Mohammed Ali on this one; if I was a rubbish collector I’ll still find something to be excited about.
In any occupation, excitement and commitment show. For a variety of reasons, however, the excitement can fizz out and then we are left with the drudgery of everyday life; this is when people treat customers badly, colleagues snap at you and workers don’t understand that one of their jobs is to make each others’ life easier.
Do the ‘flutter test’ tomorrow morning: if you wake up and there is a fluttering in your belly at the thought of facing the new day you are fine. If, on the other hand, there is the feeling that someone is squeezing your insides or even emptiness it is time to throw in the towel.
Sign Five: Leave when the job has become completely unbearable
This one is tricky to write about because it is very personal. Jobs can become unbearable for a variety of reasons. It is likely, though, that you feel really sick thinking about your job.
Were this the case, it may be better to just get your stuff and leave; without even worrying about what happens next. There is no job that is worth getting ill because of it and there is no situation worse than this one.
Is it Time to Leave Your Job?
These are the five key reasons to leave your job and not look back.
Start looking for another job at the earliest sign of any of these. If three or more of these signs are present you are waiting too long – don’t wait till you are really desperate because desperate people don’t have the power when it comes to labour markets.
Can you think of, or have you experienced, other signs and what did you do about it?
(This blog post has been updated in January 2023.)