Leaving a job can be one of the most stressful occasions in your working life. You may have spent years as part of an organization, becoming an integrated part of its office culture. Your routines, habits and small daily rituals -- such as when and where you take coffee breaks -- don't carry with you to a new job, and leaving that type of familiar environment behind can be frightening for even the most seasoned worker.
And then there are the personal connections. If you work in an office, you've undoubtedly become friends -- or at least comfortable acquaintances -- with your co-workers. Leaving your job means saying goodbye to these people, and to the teamwork and sense of collaboration you've developed during your time together.
But some situations make it almost mandatory for a career-minded person to change jobs. You may find your career at a dead end in your current workplace, or you might only be able to realize your full potential in another position. In extreme cases, you may need to leave a job for the sake of your emotional well-being or safety. As traumatic as it is to leave a job, staying can sometimes be even worse.
How do you know when it's time to hand in your two weeks' notice? Some situations are clearer than others, and some are definite signs that it's time to turn a new page in your career. Read on to learn about 10 of the best reasons to change jobs.
You can gain a broader base of knowledge.
Think about the learning curve you experienced when you started your current job. There was likely a period of fast-paced adaptation, followed by a longer period of learning the finer details of your work. Ideally, you ended this phase by moving into a level of mastery of your daily tasks and became an expert in your part of the organization's operation.
But are you capable of more? And could you advance your personal base of career-specific knowledge by repeating this process in a new position? The answer could be "yes."
Some researchers suggest that the typical worker masters his or her specific job over the course of three years. After that point, the pace of industry-focused learning and skill mastery slows. It stands to reason, they argue, that changing jobs after that three-year span ends resets and recharges the process, giving you the opportunity to grow and learn at a rapid pace for another three years in the new job [source: National Executive Resources Inc.].
While the three-year term isn't a hard-and-fast rule, it does provide a loose guide and a reference point to evaluate what you're learning at work. Would changing to a new position within your industry force you to learn new skills? Could those skills complement those you already have, making you a more well-rounded and capable professional? If so, this could be a good reason to start looking for a new job.
You can increase your earning power.
Not all companies are created equal. Likewise, the same job in different industries can pay significantly different amounts. Being aware of these disparities -- and finding opportunities because of them -- can provide very valid reasons to change jobs.
Some industries feature a mix of large- and small-scale companies vying for similar work. For example, you may find that a smaller contractor than the one you work for doesn't have the consistent work of its larger counterpart, but makes up for it with an exclusivity that allows it to charge higher rates. Conversely, you may find that a larger employer can provide more steady pay to its sales force than a smaller competitor, thanks to its broader market reach. In situations like these, employees in identical positions at different companies may have vastly different pay scales and growth opportunities.
In a similar fashion, your job skills may be much more valuable in one industry than another. A marketing director for a small nonprofit, for example, may make significantly less than a marketing director at an industrial manufacturer. Being aware of what your counterparts in other industries make can alert you to these disparities -- the difference in pay or opportunity may be enough to justify a job change.
Your current job doesn't challenge you.
You've undoubtedly heard friends and family members talk about wanting a "cushy" job -- one where the work is easy, slow-paced and not challenging at all. The ideal cushy job, it seems, would almost be a paid nap, with just enough work to keep you looking busy (but not enough to make you truly busy).
The reality of the work environment is quite different. A job can indeed be too easy, with disastrous consequences for your happiness and career growth.
Some sources suggest that the perfect job involves truly challenging, outside-your-comfort-zone work about 20 percent of the time. This is enough of a challenge to keep you on your toes, without leaving you overwhelmed and facing burnout from the stress [source: Shigley].
A job with little or no challenging work puts you at risk for a number of job- and career-killing factors. You may slip into bad work habits, such as playing games online or surfing the Internet, to pass time. Your morale could plummet, leaving you unenthusiastic and not ready to jump on opportunities when they arise. And your supervisor may notice your boredom and take it as a sign that you're not a valuable employee [source: Shigley].
If you find that you're getting chronically bored at work or don't have any challenges coming across your desk, it may be time to look for a new job. You owe it to your long-term career goals to stay challenged: Find a job that does that.
You simply cannot stand your boss any longer.
Every employee gets aggravated with his or her boss now and then. But if "now and then" becomes "all the time" in your office, the friction might be justification to move to a new position.
Perhaps you feel that your boss doesn't do his or her job as well as you could. Maybe you don't like the direction he or she insists on leading your team. Or maybe you simply have a fundamental communication issue with your boss that makes every exchange tense and filled with second-guessing and distrust. All of these situations can lead to bitterness and resentment as you complete assigned tasks -- in that situation, do you think your work will be the best it can be, or will it show your disappointment and frustration with your work environment?
If you're facing this situation, think about what truly aggravates you about your boss. If it's a personality quirk or interpersonal issue, is there a way you can watch for this in a future job interview, so that you don't move from one bad situation to another? If it's a matter of leadership or decision-making, can you identify solutions you could present to a new employer, showing that you've got what it takes to be a better leader? Answer these questions before you choose a new job, so that you don't jump hastily from one bad situation into another.
Your employer is about to fail.
The old cliché about rats leaving a sinking ship isn't flattering, but it does have a ring of truth in the working world: If you can see that your company's on its way to financial ruin -- or worse -- it's probably a good time to find a new job.
There are many reasons why companies fail. Some may simply be in declining markets and are outpaced by their competitors as the customer base shrinks. Others fail because leaders make poor decisions or simply don't understand how the market shifts around them. In extreme cases, a leader's fraud or illegal actions could put a business at risk, with lower-level employees paying a price as the business fails.
Thankfully, all of these situations are easier to spot from inside the company than outside. If you see something happening in your workplace -- a large number of layoffs, perhaps, or consistently poor quarterly sales figures -- ask questions among trusted sources in the company. Together, you and your allies may be able to identify a major problem before the company's leadership admits to it. In a best-case scenario, you may be able to offer a solution that keeps the company afloat and boosts your status among your superiors. At the other end of the spectrum, however, this kind of insight could alert you to major problems that may occur in the near future. This gives you time to act, so you're ahead of the game if your company suddenly goes under.
Your life has changed in a major way.
Suppose you get married to someone who works in another state, or your spouse gets a tremendously good job offer that requires you to move. Perhaps you're about to have a child, or an aging parent is moving in with you. You want to spend more time with your family, and your current job situation may not allow for that kind of shift in your priorities.
Smart employees alert their bosses to these life changes early on, keeping them in the loop as their needs, priorities and availability shifts. Beyond being a courtesy to your employer, this practice can greatly improve your odds of adapting your work situation to your new life situation. Perhaps your employer will have enough time to adapt your job requirements or help you find a new job within the company that better meets your life needs. If that isn't possible, your employer may become a powerful reference as you search for a new job. In some cases, your employer might even be willing to help you find a new job, cultivating a long-term relationship in case you're able to return in the future.
If, however, you encounter resistance to the change from your employer, what does that say about your current job? It may be easier to endure the stress of a job change if you learn that your employer doesn't respect your need for a healthy work-life balance or expects you to put your job before personal and family commitments.
Co-workers create a hostile atmosphere.
Every company, office and job team develops its own work culture. Imagine, for example, an office full of baseball fanatics, where fantasy baseball is the center of conversation in the spring and the World Series is the main topic of conversation in the fall. This kind of connection can help co-workers bond and become a better team, but it can also make the office an exclusive -- and even uninviting -- place for outsiders.
If you're in a work environment where the culture isn't conducive to your productivity, happiness or comfort, consider what's at the root of the discomfort. If it's something generally nonthreatening, such as the group's love of baseball, for example, perhaps you can find other co-workers who share your outsider status. Or perhaps there are other topics that the office could come together over. It could take time, but with enough patience, you may see the office environment shift to focus on more inclusive topics, themes and values.
Sometimes, however, a work environment is rigidly exclusive or is based on unhealthy themes, such as sexual discrimination or the use of drugs and alcohol. If this is the case, you should familiarize yourself with Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and anti-harassment laws in your state and country. You may be in a position to stop a culture of illegal discrimination through an EEO complaint.
If the problem is one of simply not being part of the office's culture, however, you may decide it's best to find a new job.
Your job focuses on your weaknesses.
Perhaps you started your current job under the impression that it would let you use your unique strengths to do fulfilling work. When you began work and started learning the ins and outs of your job, you realized that instead of playing to your strengths, the position requires skills, strengths or a disposition that aren't in line with who you are.
If you're in a position that plays more to your weaknesses than your strengths, is there a way to shift that balance? Perhaps you can learn new skills that make you better suited for -- and more satisfied in -- the job. Maybe there's another position within the company that suits your interests, and you can orchestrate a transition. If the difference between what you need to do and what you want to do is severe, however, you may benefit from talking with your supervisor.
Be honest with your boss: Explain that the job doesn't capitalize on your strengths, and you feel it's best to find an opportunity that better uses what you do well. If you've presented your case well, your boss may be willing to work with you and adapt your position, or help you move into a position within the company that better suits your strengths. This isn't always possible, but giving your boss the chance to help you before you leave will ensure that you're respected as a professional if you ever need to come back to your boss for a reference.
You have a better offer.
Professionals who are good at their jobs get noticed. Companies want to employ the best in their field, after all, and where better to find the best in the business than within a competitor's upper ranks? If you do good work and are skilled at networking within your industry, there's a good chance you'll be noticed by competitors.
A better offer may come as a surprise. If you're good at your current job, odds are you're happy there. But another company that wants you bad enough may be willing to offer whatever it takes -- more money, more flexibility or better benefits -- to convince you to join its team.
If you're approached with a better offer, don't be afraid to ask tough questions about the company's business and its work environment. You're the one holding the power, after all: You can simply reject the offer and stay in your current position if you so choose.
A good outside offer may put you in position to ask for more from your current employer, as well. It's common practice -- and considered courteous in most industries -- to give your present employer a chance to counter-offer and keep you on staff. Negotiate right, and you could end up gaining a raise, promotion or other benefits without having to change jobs. If your current employer won't negotiate, however, you should take that as a sign that you may be better off in a new job.
You're ready for a new career.
Much like a major life change, a change in your career objectives or desires may make it necessary for you to change to a new job. Maybe you completed a college degree that opens new doors for you, or you might be at a point in life where you simply want to pursue a different occupation. This kind of transition often comes after a long period of thought, discussion at home and training outside of work. You may have been planning this for years.
If you're currently in a healthy job situation, this kind of transition could be an easy one to make. It's likely that you've built close relationships with your co-workers, and they know that your career ambitions go beyond what you can reach in your current job. Your supervisor may have worked with you to set a schedule that let you go back to school, and your co-workers may be very supportive of your hard work to move your work life in a new direction.
The key to making this kind of transition a success is communication. If you're pursuing a new degree, don't keep it a secret. Get co-workers and your employer used to the idea that you may be moving your career in a new direction, and you could be surprised by how supportive they are when you finally make that leap into the next chapter of your working life.
For more career-related articles, check out the links on the next page.
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- Federal Communications Commission. "Understanding Workplace Harassment." (July 25, 2011) http://www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/understanding-workplace-harassment-fcc-staff
- National Executive Resources Inc. "The Strategic Case for Changing Jobs: Four Good Reasons to Change Jobs Within the Same Industry Three Times During Your First Ten Years of Employment." June 2006. (July 13, 2011) http://www.nerisearch.com/neri-newsletter-career-development-june-6-changing-jobs.html
- Shigley, Debra. "8 Good Reasons To Quit Your Job." Psychology Today. Jan. 22, 2010. (July 13, 2011) http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/second-act/201001/8-good-reasons-quit-your-job
- Sundheim, Ken. "When It's Time To Resign And Move On." Employment Digest. April 18, 2011. (July 13, 2011) http://employmentdigest.net/2011/04/when-its-time-to-resign-and-move-on/