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Career Advice

Unhappy at Work? Here's How to Tell Whether the Problem Is Your Job or Your Company

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

Last Updated Apr 16, 2018
|5 min read

Do you want to change careers? Are you absolutely sure?

From my own career change to the stories I hear from my clients and workshop students, often we think we want to change careers when the problem is our work environment instead. If you find yourself stuck, unsure what to do next, or thinking about changing careers, I recommend starting by figuring out whether the problem is your career or your workplace. Take some time to answer the following questions — and take note of your answers. You might be surprised by what you discover.

1. Do you like what you do for work? Why?

Make a list of every task and responsibility you have at work, and then next to it, write why you like it or not.  When you are done, look at your list. How many times is the reason why you don’t like something related to the way your boss or coworkers interact with you? For example, you might love social media, but hate that your boss has to approve every single tweet. Or that your Instagram posts have to be funny (you don’t like funny, you like beautiful). If what you don’t like about a task is related to your work environment, ask yourself whether you would like to execute the same task under different circumstances.

2. Do you feel a sense of ownership at work?

Studies show people need to feel they have a say in what they do in order to feel happy professionally. Ask yourself whether you would love your work if you felt you had more autonomy in executing it. This is often the reason why people want to have their own business. Before quitting your full-time job to be an entrepreneur, ask yourself whether working for a company that gave you more freedom and autonomy would be enough for you to enjoy your job.

3. Is learning encouraged at your company?

A huge reason why people become unsatisfied at work is that they stop learning. What if you could learn more about your current profession and upgrade your skills: Would you still want to change careers? Are you bored with the profession or with the level you are required to work at? Would you still love design, for example, if you could work on much more complex projects? Is your profession one that continuously evolves, or is it a fairly static field?

4. Have you had the same job at different companies? If so, did you dislike those too?

If you see a pattern where you always disliked the work you do, you should change professions. If you liked it in the past, but hate it now, ask yourself what’s changed — it might not be about the job, but rather related to the questions above. Sometimes, though, we change: If that is the case, the best course of action is to accept things shifted for you at a “soul” level, and get ready to respond to your new calling once it emerges.

5. Do you feel appreciated at work?

When we lack appreciation and don’t receive positive encouragement and feedback, we can internalize direct or unspoken criticism and start believing it. Before feeling that there is no way for you to do a good job in your chosen profession, check with colleagues outside of your current company if you have the skills required to succeed in your profession. Good managers know that positive reinforcement is always better than negative feedback, and that appreciation is a powerful tool to keep everyone’s spirits high. Often people who struggle in specific environments flourish once they join more encouraging and positive companies. Could a different boss or more positive team members make the difference you need to be successful at work?

6. Are you an empath?

Empaths are people whose nervous system is more sensitive to the outside world, noise, environment, other people’s emotions, etc. This is a spectrum, so some people are very sensitive, some less. If you are an empath and work in an open office with lots of noise and activity or work in a company where a lot of other employees are unhappy, you might be highly affected by the situation around you. One of the experts on this topic is psychiatrist and empath Judith Orloff. She has a test on her website — if you think you might be an empath, take it! I recommend learning some coping mechanisms to handle your current work, or looking for an environment that is more suitable to your senses. Don’t work against your self — embrace and love who you are instead.

7. Do you generally complain about work conditions, or what you do?

Lastly, ask yourself and your friends whether when you complain about work you usually complain about people, work conditions or what you actually do. Take a moment to listen to yourself: the answer is most likely in your speech.

In order to find the right fit, whether a new job, career or business, it is key we understand why we are currently unsatisfied. Zero in on whether it is your work environment that makes you unhappy or your actual profession, and you will be able to then find what you need to be fulfilled in your career.

Aurora Meneghello is a Los Angeles-based career coach and the founder of Repurpose Your Purpose. She works with groups and individuals who want to live a fulfilling professional life.

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