People spend 30 to 50 percent of their time at work and on work-related activities, some even more. Meaning, work is a huge part of our lives and is a considerable influence (if not the main contributor) to our overall sense of fulfillment and happiness. Interestingly enough, according to Accenture’s global study last year *, more than half of the employees surveyed (57% of women, 59% of men) indicated they were dissatisfied with their jobs. Meanwhile, a number of studies (e.g. research by the Australian National University , Concordia University in Montreal  and others) showed that having a job that you dislike is very likely to cause mental and eventually physical health issues. This is an article for those who are part of these sad statistics and who are actually willing to do something about it.
The fact that one feels unhappy with their job can have different reasons and thus different solutions. However, people do not rush into changing the situation they are unhappy with. The same Accenture study showed that more than two-thirds of the dissatisfied employees did not plan to leave their current jobs. Many American career coaches state that most people are just afraid to leave their “safe zone” and make changes in their lives. Whether you are the one who does not believe in the brighter future or has objective reasons to hold onto your current employment (family to be supported, age, experience, etc.), it is important to first of all realize that it is possible to become your real happy working self if you really want to.
There are only two things you should always keep in mind: 1) you are the person who’ll do most of the work on your way to the Real Happy Working You and 2) the Real Happy Working You won’t appear tomorrow; there is lots of ground to be covered before you find this person. Let’s take it step by step though.
Step 1. Realization:
A strong lasting feeling of dissatisfaction or unhappiness with your current job that makes you realize that something must be done. An important thing here is not to mix the concepts. Temporary discomfort due to changing organizational structure, having to move to another office building, adapting to new colleagues, or learning a newly implemented IT system is something completely different from what we are talking about here. Unless they lead to a situation you can’t possibly bear now and won’t be able to deal with in the future. If this is the case, move to Step 2.
Step 2. Analysis:
What makes you unhappy? The possible answers to the question are endless, but I would put them into two main categories: 1) your current working environment or external factors and 2) the job itself, your functions, the core of your daily activities.
The first category may include salary/income, relationships with your boss or colleagues, lack of advancement perspectives, lack of independence in day to day activities and decision making, too much workload, etc. Most studies in the field point to the importance of such factors as autonomy or a sense of competence for the majority of employees. So, a suggestion here would be not to try to find a perfect job. Instead, seek to get more of the general satisfactory traits like autonomy, respect, a sense of impact or achievement at your current one. Generally speaking, there are two solutions. First you try to solve the problem by adjusting your own behavior or by discussing the problem with your employer/ boss/ mentor. If this doesn’t help, you then try to find better conditions somewhere else. I don’t mean these issues are easy to solve or not important, but they do not require changing your career path. They just need you to make certain adjustments to the one you’re already pursuing.
However, if you realize that your functions, the work itself, your day-to-day activities are the root of your unhappiness, a whole different strategy should be applied. Almost every career coach would tell you that people are more effective at a job they are passionate about, and lots of research shows this correlation to be accurate. It may be very hard to leave your secure zone and go out there, taking on huge risks (prolonged period of unemployment, running out of savings, losing your good relationships with the current employer, gaps or inconsistency on the CV, etc.) However, as they say, there is “no gain without pain”. Of course, your personal risk management should be on high alert at this stage – make sure you understand what is at stake, what your possible losses and possible gains are, and whether you have enough motivation to change your whole life to become Your Real Happy Working Self.
Seeking advice while making such an important decision is absolutely natural and highly advisable. However, be careful with your closest circle: people you are surrounded by (including family members and close friends) may act (and think) in your best interest, but they may also be just used to who you are and what you do at the moment. The one who really knows what you want and are capable of is you, and only you.
Step 3. Money Pillow and Further Analysis:
So, if your decision to make a serious career change is firm, get ready. If there is an opportunity for you to stay employed while you are engaged in reshaping your career, you may consider yourself lucky as you won’t have money and time pressure. On the other hand, as you have your current job to fulfill decently and responsibly, it is easy to get into a morass of daily routine that will delay your bright future significantly if not endlessly. What is more, in this scenario the time for carrying out all the activities to get closer to your dream career would be a luxury. In this situation you have to make a clear plan, with goals, milestones, and deadlines, and follow it rigorously.
If you find your current employment unbearable or decide to leave your current job for any other reason, e.g. company is to be liquidated in several month, your contract expires soon and you don’t want to renew it, etc., do make sure you have a comfortable money pillow. A good vacation to clear up your mind may seem a great idea, but you should be prepared to hold on without an income for at least half a year. Plus, you should keep in mind that your next employment may not pay as well as your current one due to lack of experience. Thus, if you don’t have a “fat bank account”, save as much as possible during your last months of occupation to ensure bearable living for the period of transition to your dream career.
Simultaneously, figure out what you want. Some people are lucky and already know what they would like to do in their professional life. Most of us don’t, as it was always easier to go with the flow, without giving it a deep thought – whether this flow carried us in the right direction. So, a simple advice for the “lost” people would be to make a list of things you like to do. Be reasonable, though: laying on your couch all day long watching movies may be exciting, but the only reflection it can find in your list (if any) is flexible working hours. It is also extremely useful to highlight the areas other people think you are good at (other people may be your colleagues, bosses, partners, friends who know your professional side; I would avoid asking for family members’ opinions as usually our beloved ones are not all too objective). Do not stop with your first draft – give it time to grow into something serious and multifaceted. And even then your list is not carved in stone – it is a working document that can change slightly as you discover new information about yourself and the possibilities the fast changing business environment can offer.
When you have your list finalized, see what business areas these qualities would be most useful for. There are also a lot of professional tests to help you define your possible areas of employment. However, before using any of those, make sure you have your list in hand.
Step 4. Market Research and CV adjustment:
Now that you know what you want to do to become the Real Happy Working Self, you should conduct a mini-marketing research. What qualifications are in demand on the market, what are the job descriptions of the vacancies that suit you most, what are minimum experience requirements?
Now review your previous experience. You should have definitely done some of the things in your list before (otherwise how do you know you like doing them?) – and reshape your CV showing all the relevant experience for your dream job. Don’t lie in your CV. Signing a labor contract is not the end of the story, it is just the beginning. You will have to prove that all the catchy lines on your CV are true. Otherwise, not only will you lose the newly acquired job, but also damage your reputation. If you lack experience, show you’re a fast learner/proven problem solver/good organizer, etc. with clear, preferably quantified examples. Recommendations would help a lot, too. Another good idea would be to get additional training (in case of money shortage you can find free of charge online courses), an internship, or work on a project as a free-lancer in your chosen area. They would give you a feel of the job and an additional relevant line in your CV.
Step 5. Job Hunting Strategy:
There are millions of articles available in the social media on how to job hunt. From my experience, the most useful tools are the following:
– Networking. They say, it doesn’t matter what you know but who you know – and it’s to a great extend true. The right contacts can make your career move much faster. Have none? Then it is high time to start working on expanding your network. Make sure that every single person you know and meet is aware that you are looking for a job. Get yourself out there, meet people, attend networking events – be visible. A good opportunity can come from anywhere and totally unexpectedly.
– Social networks. It is easy to use the social networks to contact recruiters and to display your current “looking for new challenges” status and of course the job search tools should be taken advantage of as well. However, the most effective use of the social networks is for contacting potential employers, or even better, managers in your chosen industry, company, and department/function directly. If your dream job happens not to exist at the moment, why not create it? If you persuade a manager that you can bring value to their organization, they can create the job to fit you and your functions.
– A good headhunter. Or three. You should look at your future career a bit further than just the next employment. You will eventually grow, gain more experience and want to make another career move. This is why it is important to find a good headhunter (or a handful of them if you are lucky) who is professional, reliable, understands your background, talents, weaknesses, and also understands and supports where you want to be next. There needs to be a personable relationship between you two, otherwise you are simply one of a thousand CVs they try to match to 20 job descriptions their current clients are requiring. Ultimately, you can be placed into your new role by them now and regularly keep in touch with them in the future, so that they assist you in climbing your new career ladder. Ideally, with time you will both mature as specialists in your areas and will have a win-win collaboration throughout your careers.
And the last thing that is important. You will definitely feel frustrated or even desperate at times; you will have a lot of ups and downs. Get as much support from anybody who can give it to you and Do Not Give Up. Failures are possible and sometimes inevitable – just remember that losing a battle does not mean losing the war. If you see your goal, be persistent in trying to reach it, and you eventually will!
Marketing Communications Manager and Consultant
Brainpower CIS, BPI Group
- The Path Forward. International Woman’s Day 2012 Global Research Results, Accenture, 2012,http://www.accenture.com/SiteCollectionDocuments/PDF/Accenture-IWD-Research-Deck-2012-FINAL.pdf
* The research was dated 2012. The situation slightly improved: in 2014 the percentage of unsatisfied employees was 52.3%.2. Poor job as bad for mental health as no job, Australian National University, 2012,
http://news.anu.edu.au/2012/11/22/poor-job-as-bad-for-mental-health-as-no-job/3. Love it or leave it?, Concordia University of Montreal, 2012,