It’s no secret that your happiness at work has a direct impact on your overall wellbeing—and, with the average American spending more than 90,000 hours at work over the course of their lifetime, it’s important to find a job that works for you. When it comes to job satisfaction, there is no one-size-fits-all solution; for some, a good work-life balance holds the key, while for others, it’s all about contributing to high-impact projects. No matter where your personal goals and priorities lie, if you suspect that your current career path isn’t leading to long-term happiness and fulfillment, it may be time to change direction. So how do you know if it’s time to look for a new job? Keep an eye out for these telltale signs.
1. You’re bored and underchallenged
According to a recent survey of over 5,000 working professionals, boredom is the number one factor that prompts people to look for a new job. While boredom at work (or “boreout”, as authors Peter Werder and Philippe Rothlin call it) may seem harmless, it can actually have serious consequences—including demotivation, anxiety, sadness, and even burnout. If you often find yourself stretching out certain tasks to fill the day, or simply feel that, even though you’ve got plenty to do, you could do it in your sleep, you may be heading towards boreout. While it’s normal to find your comfort zone once you’ve been doing the same job for a while, it’s not okay to feel thoroughly and constantly bored at work.
So what can you do if you sense that boreout is approaching? The first step is to discuss it with your manager, explaining how you feel and why. Come prepared with some ideas as to how the situation could be improved; perhaps there’s a new project coming up that you would like to be involved with, or maybe you can take on some extra responsibilities. At the same time, be clear on how you might like your role to evolve within the company. How can you and your manager keep boredom at bay both in the short and long-term?
If you’ve voiced your concerns about workplace boredom to no avail, it may be time to look beyond your current organization. When searching for a new job, have a clear idea in mind of the skills you’d like to develop and the kinds of challenges you want to take on. Whether it’s within your current role or in a new job, recognizing and proactively combating boreout is key to workplace happiness. A fulfilling career will allow you to utilize your existing skills while developing new ones; it will play to your strengths while encouraging you to grow. Not only does this make each day a little more enjoyable—it will also boost your confidence and make you more marketable in the future.
2. You dread work when you’re not there
We spend a huge portion of our time at work, so it’s normal for your job to take up headspace. However, there’s a distinct difference between occasionally thinking about work and seriously dreading it. If you find yourself feeling anxious as the weekend draws to a close, or downright miserable at the thought of going to work the next morning, it’s time to take stock of your current situation.
It’s important to identify the root cause of your workplace dread, so try to pin-point exactly what’s bothering you. Is it a fairly recent feeling related to a stressful project you’re working on? Are there structural changes that have left you feeling insecure? Are you leading up to an important deadline? If you identify that the feeling is most likely temporary or linked to a specific cause, you don’t necessarily need to search for a new job. However, you should speak to your manager or colleagues about how you’re feeling and discuss any measures that can be taken to alleviate your dread—and to prevent it coming back next time a similar situation arises.
If, on the other hand, you fear that your workplace dread is more of a permanent state, you might want to think about making some long-term changes. It may be that there’s nothing particularly wrong with your current job, but there’s nothing particularly right with it either. If work starts to become a constant doomcloud hanging over you but you can’t really pin-point why, this is likely a sign of general job unhappiness. If you don’t believe this can be fixed, don’t be afraid to start looking elsewhere. No job should impinge on your down-time or fill you with dread whenever you think about it; if that’s the case for you, consider it your cue to find something new.
3. You suffer chronic career envy
Everybody suffers career envy from time to time, and it’s easy to imagine that the grass is greener. Who wouldn’t feel slightly envious when hearing about their friend’s job as a rocket scientist or celebrity stylist? In fact, comparing ourselves to others is just part of being human; research shows that around 12% of our daily thoughts involve some kind of comparison. If you’re generally happy with your career and how it’s progressing, the occasional bout of career envy is completely harmless. However, if career envy starts to eat away at you, this is a serious red flag.
It’s important to note that there are many different causes of career envy, and you might not even realize you have it. It’s not just about thinking that other people’s jobs are more exciting or glamorous than your own; more often than not, career envy sets in when we’re not advancing as we feel we should be—regardless of the nature of the job and how it stacks up to what our peers are doing. This is especially poignant if you don’t feel that your job title, salary, or level of responsibility truly reflects your skill set and what you’re capable of. Does it seem like everyone around you is moving up the ladder while you keep getting passed over for promotion? Do you feel overqualified and under-appreciated for the work that you do? If other people’s progress only serves to remind you that you’re not where you want to be, it’s time to tackle your career envy head-on.
If a lack of progression is the problem, you’ll need to schedule a chat with your manager. Be prepared to speak frankly (and constructively) about the areas you’re unhappy with—be it job title, salary, recognition, or something else entirely—and work with your manager to outline some actionable steps you can take to get things moving in the right direction. If, on the other hand, you realize that your career envy is more to do with the nature of the job, and that you’re envious of other people’s careers because you don’t actually enjoy what you do, it’s time to consider a more drastic career change. You’ll find useful advice on how to prepare for a major career change in this guide.
4. You’ve lost your sense of purpose
One of the keys to career satisfaction is working on something you believe in. In his revolutionary book Drive, Daniel H. Pink debunks the longstanding myth that external rewards, like money, are the best motivators. Based on decades of scientific research, Pink outlines three key elements of true motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. When you first started your job, you probably felt inspired by the company’s (or industry’s) mission and excited by how you could contribute. And, although frustrations arise along the way, if you’re generally happy in your career, you’ll still feel that sense of purpose—no matter how long you’ve been doing it. If this feeling has well and truly worn off and you no longer get any kind of satisfaction from your work, you’re probably ready to move on.
Ryan Yang, a former accountant who retrained to become a UX designer, describes the moment he realized that his heart was no longer in the finance industry: “After a year of toiling away in public accounting, I realized that what I was doing was not aligning with where I envisioned myself in the future. Over time, the work I did became more monotonous, repetitive, and suppressive of free thought and creativity.”
It’s important to be aware that losing your sense of purpose is not the same as “boreout”. You might be facing new challenges and opportunities every other day—the complete opposite of workplace boredom—but if you don’t feel like your work has meaning, you’ll inevitably feel just as disengaged and eventually run out of steam. Considering the sheer number of hours we spend at work (over 90,000 in a lifetime, remember!), it’s important to do something you genuinely care about. So, if your heart’s no longer in it, it’s time to reevaluate what you want from your career.
5. You’ve already found something better
If you’ve progressed beyond the daydreaming stage and actually have a specific job or industry in mind, this is a clear signal that you’re ready to move on to pastures new. Perhaps you’ve known all along that you’re not happy in your job, but have been scared to take the plunge. Leaving the security of your old job behind to embark on a brand new career path can be daunting—and how will a sudden career change look on your CV?
If you’re keen to change jobs, you’ll be pleased to know that you’re not alone. According to a 2019 survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people have an average of 12 jobs in their lifetime—and this number is likely to increase with each generation. A varied and lengthy CV won’t hurt you, but sticking with an unfulfilling job might. So, if you’ve been dreaming of a career change, the best thing you can do is take action. Perhaps you’re keen to learn a brand new skill or want to go back to school. Maybe you’ve been anxiously waiting for a vacancy to come up with a particular organization. Whatever new opportunities have caught your eye, it’s clear that you’re itching for something different. In this case, it’s time to listen to your gut and start planning your next move.