Should I Stay or Should I Go? Seven Essential Questions When You Are Unhappy at Work

by Mundell, Heather Friday, September 22, 2006
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You’re sitting in another long meeting and glancing at your watch. I can’t believe what a waste of time this is, you say to yourself. I’ve got five phone calls to return and probably twenty-five new emails in my inbox. Guess I’m staying late again. I just wish I cared more about what I’m doing here anyway.

Nearly all professionals, whether they work in the corporate, academic or non-profit sectors, have similar thoughts about their work at least occasionally. But what do you do if you notice that your complaints are becoming more frequent and serious? How do you know when it’s right to weather the storm and when it’s time to take another tack?

Here are seven essential questions to ask before deciding whether to leave your position. Answering these questions is the first step in taking charge of your own career.

  1. What do you enjoy and what don’t you enjoy about your job?

    This is a basic yet essential exercise. On a sheet of paper create two columns. In the first list all of the aspects about your job that you enjoy. In the second, detail your complaints. Be honest and specific. Now compare the two lists and notice any patterns. How long are your respective lists? How meaningful are your likes and what are the impacts of your dislikes? What percentage of the time do you enjoy what you are doing? What percentage of your time are you putting up with things that you dislike or abhor?

  2. How long have you felt the way you do?

    Like individual employees, every organization and work group experiences good times and rough times. These rough times may be seasonal, related to the evolutionary stage of the organization, or associated with particular periods in the fiscal year. Are you hating your job because it’s budget time or review time? Are you in a good phase because sales are up in the summer? Have you been complaining for two solid years? Get some perspective about your overall satisfaction level.

  3. How does your job align with your strengths and your values?

    People are usually happiest when they are encouraged to play to their strengths and values. Make a list of your strengths and values and consider them in light of your current job and organization. How well does your job fit you? Are you an extroverted leader in a job involving a lot of data analysis? Are you committed to a particular cause and work for an organization whose mission runs counter to your ideals?

  4. What is your job costing you?

    Even those of us in lucrative positions face some degree of “opportunity cost” in their lives. Others face real emotional suffering. How mild or severe is the cost of remaining in your current position? Are you working so many hours that you’ve missed all of your daughter’s soccer games? Is your marriage in trouble? Are you having problems sleeping? Are you depressed or suspect you might be? Be honest about the impact your job has on your health and sense of well-being.


  5. Will this job get you where you want to go?

    You need to have a clear vision before making a dramatic decision about your current position. If you haven’t done any thinking about an overall vision for your career, now is the time to start. What would you love to be doing one, five, and ten years from now? How will this job get you there? Is this job a natural stepping stone or a dead end?

  6. How is your boss supporting you?

    Your boss’s skill as a manager is a critical factor to your job satisfaction and success. She can give you challenging assignments, assist your career progression, mentor you, and support you. Or she can ignore you, dump unappealing projects on you, treat you unfairly or undermine you. Whose team is your manager on? How is your manager helping you or hindering you? If your boss is intolerable, it may be time to move on. Fighting to have your boss removed or waiting for your boss to change or get fired are rarely successful enterprises.

  7. What’s keeping you where you are?

    Now it’s time to be brutally honest. What are your primary motivating factors for working in this position? Perhaps you’ve made lifestyle choices that depend on your salary level. Maybe you spent many years and thousands of dollars obtaining an advanced degree to get where you are. Perhaps you enjoy the status that your job brings you. Maybe you have convinced yourself that there is no better job out there. What are you committed to in your life? How does your job support those commitments?
Take some time to analyze your work experience in light of your answers to these seven questions. By noticing your desires and honoring your aspirations, you can achieve more clarity about what you want and what is in your way. With clarity, you can transform your vision into a plan for action.

However, suppose you have taken some time to analyze your situation and you still feel stuck. Perhaps you found some clarity but you are struggling with identifying your goals or formulating a career plan, either of which seems overwhelming. Fortunately, you don’t have to go it alone.

Many individuals who want to make significant changes in their lives are hiring professional coaches to support them. As a result of coaching, individuals can define what they want, make new and better choices to get what they want, see possibilities around what hadn’t seemed possible before, and create and act on plans that are successful and fun.

If you are feeling unhappy in your work and are unsure about your next steps, consider hiring a professional coach. A coach can walk with you down those challenging paths that you’ve felt anxious or confused about so far. With coaching, you can more readily take charge of your career and move closer to achieving your dreams.