Feeling trapped, stuck in a rut, or just plain bored can be a struggle no matter what the subject. When it comes to your job – you know, that thing you have to do five-odd days a week to afford to live – the struggle of facing Groundhog Day every day can be insidious, tiresome, and ultimately unrewarding.
It’s also hard to just flip a switch and make a change for the better. Most of us need a regular income to survive, and the economic environment in which we exist is ever-changing and never offers complete, unflinching security.
There’s also the factor of how much time you might have already invested into your current position, not to mention money.
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Perhaps worse of all, your judgement and grasp of reality gets skewed when you’re frustrated with your work, making it hard to see the forest for the trees, the light at the end of the tunnel, or any other clichéd metaphor for that matter.
But what are some of the markers to tell if you’re too deep in a work-related rut to make sticking around a good idea? And what about the notion of figuring out whether or not a fresh start will really give you what you desire?
When it comes to finding the answers, HR expert and professional career coach Vanessa Giannos says it’s about first identifying what’s making you dissatisfied in the first place: is it your career, or just the place you’re working?
“If you are already dreading going to work on Sunday night this is a very clear sign that you are in either the wrong role or the wrong company”, she advises.
“[But] if you are demotivated and have to drag your butt to work everyday this is a very sure sign that you are in the wrong job.”
Giannos also believes that the happiest employees are those that take their career paths into their own hands, instead of hoping that consistent work and attendance is enough for a promotion.
“If you are sitting around waiting for someone to develop or promote you, you have the wrong attitude. No matter what job or company you work for, you are likely to become stagnant. Learning and developing is the individual’s responsibility and the only way to keep you at the cutting-edge of your field.
“If you have done this and requested career development as part of a career discussion and there are still no prospects for a broader role, transfer, secondment, or promotion, then you are definitely in the wrong place.
“If you enjoy your work, feel it is valuable and that you are good at it, then it is not the wrong job, but the wrong company.”
So what if you love your work but feel like you’re stuck?
The first thing to consider is whether or not you’ve given enough time to a particular role before it’s time to pull up stumps and find a different place of work. This is a much harder field to navigate than you might initially think, and is largely dependent on how far along into your career you are.
One of the first things a potential employer will look at when they peruse your resume is how long you have stayed in each previous role. If you’re relatively new to your career (three to four years) then having a handful of jobs with three to six month stints is not a good look.
The majority of employers would expect at least six months in a role before an employee can truly decide whether or not it’s for them, and whether or not they fit in within a company’s structure, ethos and culture.
According to Giannos, there are a couple of key exceptions to this rule: if you are feeling like a fish out of water, and if you are being harassed or bullied.
“If it is a wrong culture fit you should act swiftly to find an alternative role (ideally, within three to six months of starting). A bad culture fit can create anxiety and stress and other health issues.
“If you are being harassed or bullied. I strongly suggest you seek advice on this before taking any action. However, I also suggest that you do not stay in an environment that is unhealthy for you.”
Workplace harassment is sadly all-too common, and you shouldn’t see this as a judgement on your professionalism or career. An unhealthy work environment is more related to personality (yours or the people you work with) and being on the receiving end of somebody else’s vitriol. Sometimes people just don’t get along, and that’s fine. That’s one of the realities of life. Finding yourself within a toxic workplace shouldn’t be considered in the same way as hitting a simple career roadblock.
One of the biggest issues facing people who feel stuck is their own inability to think clearly. Working for 40-odd hours a week can have a certain impact on your brain, making it feel like it’s turning to mush.
Giannos says that tne of the first symptoms of feeling trapped in a role is the associated feeling of powerlessness, and the inability to take the reins of your own career: “It is critical to get support to rebuild these factors when heading to the job market.
“If you have been in a role for 18 months and you have had little development, it is time to reconsider your options.”
Arguably, however, the most important factor to consider in deciding whether or not your career path is stuck in second gear is having a clear idea of what you see that career path as being.
This may involve deciding to take up some further training to fill in any gaps in your skill set, or facing some home truths about where your talents are best applied and taking them elsewhere.
Many feel that management is an obvious career progression. It is, after all, the most logical step up within any organisation in terms of responsibility, being professionally challenging, and, of course, making more money. But the reality is that management roles are not suited to everybody and, perhaps more saliently, not everybody is suited to a management position.
“So many employees, and companies, only think in terms of vertical career opportunities,” says Giannos.
Unfortunately for many, this mentality is all too common, and it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that other opportunities for growth exist outside a rigid corporate structure.
“There are so many more possibilities. A good leader requires strategic thinking, operational know-how, strong communication, conflict and influencing skills, they need to be strong problem-solvers and proactive about implementing continuous improvement.”
Giannos says that to move in to a management role, you must first master these skills. These specialised skills, however, do not follow a one-size-fits-all approach, and the opportunities that exist outside of management are often a better path to a more rewarding long-term career.
One of the most common options is to master a specialty within your field, but this can require five to eight years’ experience, so make sure you weigh up the pros and cons of staying in your current role before making the jump.
The perception of being stuck is a pretty horrible feeling no matter what the circumstance. With the job market becoming more competitive and challenging, a lack of professional advancement can feel particularly galling, especially when you’ve poured your heart and soul into a career path that may not be delivering quite the way you had hoped or expected.
But being able to differentiate between the need for a career overhaul and simply requiring a change of tack to get more out of your job is an important one.
You may find greener grass awaits on a different pasture. You might need to reassess your goals to be more inline with your skills. Maybe you just need to jet off to Hawaii for a week and drink a fruity cocktail out of an Easter Island Statue Head Mug.
Whatever it is, it’s worth pausing to take stock. Life’s too short to waste doing something you don’t love.