Having worked in a large multinational medical device company for 15 years, I have to admit that it took me over six months to make the decision to move. It was like there was a cliff in front of me and in order to leave I just had to jump off and parachute safely into my new career.
The problem was that I needed the parachute before I got to the edge but getting it involved coming to terms with a variety of issues: guilt at wanting to leave, financial worry, relationship worry, self-doubt and stories of ex colleagues who regretted having left. Each time I’d get ready to jump one of those issues would pull me back from the edge.
There are two ways to change your career in 2018. The obvious one is to move companies, but it can also be to improve how you promote yourself within your current role. The purpose of this article is to help you evaluate your current position, provide insight into making improvements (if possible) and explain the process that allowed me take that leap of faith and parachute into a new career.
I want to share my learnings during that process to help others who find themselves considering a similar change in job or career in 2018. I started this exercise by jotting down a number of bullet points. However, once I began adding content to each section I found that there was a lot of information to share. In this article I’m going to focus on two “simple” questions.
- Why am I leaving?
- Am I leaving for the right reasons?
There are so many things that need to be considered here (and a few that shouldn’t). Let’s go through some of the things that can and should be considered in relation to your current position prior to taking that jump to a new career.
Do I have job satisfaction?
If you are doing the same tasks day in day out you may find that you aren’t getting the same job satisfaction that you once did. This is perfectly natural. If and when this happens it is up to us to use our curiosity to find new challenges that will make our jobs interesting again. This could be asking for an expanded role within the department, moving to a different role at the same level or doing a course or training that will allow you expand your knowledge and in turn your day to day activities.
However, there may come a time when you realise that there is no opportunity left to satisfy your curiosity and you don’t feel satisfied with your job. If that happens it may be worth discussing it with your manager or it may be time for a career change.
Am I working in a toxic work environment?
Let me explain toxic (I’m not talking about the air). A toxic work environment is one where there is a negative attitude or atmosphere within your group and whether you realise or not it can eventually have an effect on your physical or mental health. A toxic work environment can be a result of any number of things. The most basic ones being:
o Bad management – Bullying, obvious favouritism, micromanaging, lack of direction, overloading, etc., resulting in stress levels increasing and relationships becoming frayed within a group.
o Financial Recognition – A perceived or actual imbalance in the way that people are financially recognised for their work. This can be annual salary increases, company bonuses during the year or special bonuses for achieving project milestones. I’ve used the word perceived for a reason and I explain why in the next section.
o General Recognition – A perceived or actual imbalance in the way that people are recognised for their work by written or verbal means. Remember in general as humans we value our self-worth or good standing within an organisation almost as much as the financial element.
o Promotions – The awarding of promotions for reasons such as favoritism, allegiance/affiliation, nepotism, etc. and can put a strain on the department and negatively affect morale.
o Career progression – If there isn’t a defined career path available to you or the options haven’t been discussed with you, it is easy to get de-moralised.
If you are working in an area where the working environment is toxic then you need to attempt to change it through interaction with management. They may not realise how bad things have become due to workloads or levels of separation between groups. However if you have tried this and nothing changes you need to begin the process of finding a new position within the company or externally.
Am I recognised for a job well done?
I know we touched on recognition and promotion in relation to a toxic work environment but there are other aspects of this that we need to cover. What is a job well done and how should you expect to be recognised?
o What is a job well done?
Earlier in my career I was naive in thinking that doing my job and delivering on tasks was enough. I would take a task, put all my effort into completing it and move on to the next task. I was right from a personal point of view but wrong from a company and management point of view. When it came to review time I would be told ‘Was that not Bobs project?’.
In order to do your job well you need to engage in what the Project Management Institute call ‘Stakeholder Management’. In simple terms this means keeping the wider team up to date on your progress. The task is obviously important but from a personal promotion point of view you also need to give regular updates on both negative and positive progress to the stakeholders. Also when a project is complete you should do a ‘Lessons learned’ exercise with everyone involved so that you can avoid these issues on your next project. This also gives you an opportunity to promote the project and your management of it. Self-promotion is a skill that may be alien to many of us but it is a vital one. If your company supports mentoring it may be worth engaging with someone that does this effectively and ask to be mentored by them. If not you could approach a colleague and ask them to help you. Most people should be happy to mentor. Remember that a mentor doesn’t have to be someone older than you, they just need to be able to teach you something that you need to learn. Let’s move on to recognition where I’ll explain the benefit of self-promotion in more detail.
o How should you expect to be recognised?
Why is self-promotion so important? Ultimately, no matter what systems are put in place by companies to ensure that recognition is fairly awarded, it is often at the discretion of the management team as to how recognition is applied. So here’s a question. If it comes to review time and the management team hasn’t directly heard about any of your accomplishments during the year, then how can you expect them to reward you appropriately? Often we find it hard to look at our accomplishments from the company perspective and then blame the company for not getting the recognition that we think we deserve. For many years I found myself in that situation but through mentoring I was able to find ways to promote myself without taking much time away from my work. It is ultimately your responsibility to promote yourself and in turn your manager will find it easier to sell that increase or promotion to the management team.
o Recognition through promotion and career progression
Earlier I discussed how issues relating to the way that promotions are awarded or lack of a defined career path can negatively impact on the morale of a group. Companies obviously vary in relation to how they award promotions and how they define what career paths are available to employees, but at a minimum they should do the following two things if they want to keep employees motivated.
1) Employees should be recognised for the actual work that they have done without favouritism (in this case that recognition is a promotion).
2) If for some reason management don’t feel that an employee is ready for a promotion then they have a responsibility to review the promotion criteria with that employee, identify ways of overcoming the obstacles to promotion and find alternative ways to recognise that employee if necessary.
Personally I’ve been in a situation where there was no career progression available (due to departmental policies at the time) and without a defined path to promotion for the group it was difficult to motivate people. If you find yourself in a situation where there is no defined path to promotion, I recommend the following. Inquire with your manager or HR if there is a job specification or criteria for the role that you want. If no criteria exist you could look at the criteria for similar positions in other companies. During your quarterly/annual reviews request that you discuss these criteria with your manager. The aim of this review is to identify personal goals that will address any shortcomings in your experience or training. Additionally ask your manager for continuous feedback during the year so that you can address any issues before your next review. If promotion is not an option discuss alternative recognition options to ensure you are rewarded for meeting/exceeding your goals.
Finally, if you have engaged in good stakeholder management, progressed/exceeded your project goals, reviewed/addressed the promotion criteria with your manager and you still feel that you are being overlooked at recognition time then it will be a trigger to consider looking for a new position.
Is my job too stressful?
This is a complicated section as each of us can manage different levels of stress and bring different levels of stress from our personal lives. The other issue is that almost everything we’ve discussed up to this can cause your stress levels to increase. The World Health Organisation define work stress as: ‘Work-related stress is the response people may have when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope.’
They also note that ‘being appreciated is one of the most important factors that increases motivation and satisfaction as well as health and well-being.’. Excessive stress can cause physical and mental problems so it’s important for you to find ways to reduce it. This can begin by addressing issues with recognition and job satisfaction. If you feel you are overloaded with work then discussions with your manager around work level loading to share work with members of the team may help.
On a personal note I was working on a very high profile project and the stress associated with that project, coupled with stress from home, put my health at risk. After spending a day in hospital for what I thought at the time were heart related problems, I realised it was stress. Luckily I was able to find three ways to reduce my stress levels.
The first was requesting help with certain aspects of the project from the project team (work level loading), the second was to take regular breaks to allow me clear my head before starting the next task and the third was to take 45 minute intensive exercise classes in the evening where I was able to find some head space. Obviously it doesn’t have to be exercise but you need to be able to switch off from work and give your mind a break. This allowed me to significantly reduce my stress levels which in turn helped me to more effectively manage the project and my personal life. If you find yourself under significant levels of stress and your manager can’t/won’t help then it is probably one of the most compelling reasons to find a new position.
Have I been institutionalised by my job?
Having worked for a company for 15 years I personally had to come to terms with this. I know when we hear institutionalised we probably think confinement of some sort? Let me explain what I mean by work as an institution. We get so used to the day to day routines of our current work environment that we find it hard to think about changing those routines.
When I was deciding whether to change career my initial reaction was that I will lose all of the relationships that I had worked hard to make and I’d have to start over in a new company to prove myself. I also felt that I’d have to put my income at risk, the structure of my day or routines would change and job security could be an issue as I had a good redundancy fall-back. When I really sat down and thought about it I remembered that I had made a number of big moves within the company and with each move came a change in reporting structure as well as changes to the team I was working with.
Although I left behind people that I had worked with for years, I was still in contact with a few from each group (and still am). This made me realise that it was just fear of change that was holding me back. I already had a history of making changes and improving in confidence and skill set with each one. This allowed my mind to get over that hurdle and move onto the next. You will need to look at your own history to see how you previously responded to changes in your personal/professional life and use this to embrace the change.
‘The grass isn’t always greener’
This innocuous statement is often used by friends or family when you start to discuss a possible change in career. From my experience the use of this statement can actually be an attempt to hold you back (although they may not realise that when they say it). It is often used in conjunction with stories of colleagues who have left previously (often for the wrong reasons) and have regretted the decision. The difference in this case is that if you decide to make a career change, hopefully it’ll be for the right reasons. You’ll also have done your due diligence on any company you plan to approach so hopefully the grass will be greener.
Job offers and LinkedIn
Many of us now have a LinkedIn page and have been contacted by recruitment agencies in relation to open positions that they have available. At times it can seem like an annoyance to be constantly contacted but whether or not you intend to move jobs it is always worth spending time reviewing available positions. In particular you should review the required experience/education sections. Requirements within your industry are constantly changing and you need to ensure that your training is updated to reflect these. If or when you begin looking for that new job you will be better prepared and able to sell your abilities to any prospective company. If you don’t have much time to look for available positions the recruitment agencies can take a lot of that work off your plate and can often approach companies on your behalf even if a position is not advertised. It is good practice to respond to recruitment agents even if you aren’t currently planning a move. You may need them in the future when you are ready to jump.
Many of us naturally go through cycles of feeling like we are not recognised adequately for our work. This can sometimes result in a reckless and ill-considered decision to leave. In some cases we are genuinely not appreciated or recognised but in other cases it can be as much our fault as it is our current employers and it’s important for us to know the difference to allow us make the correct, informed decision. Remember, no matter what systems a company puts in place to make the awarding of recognition as fair as possible, these systems are only as good as the people who are using them. We need to do our part to ensure we get the best out of them.
2018 and beyond…
If you’ve gone through the sections above and feel that there are areas you hadn’t considered in relation to your job satisfaction then please go to your managers and ask for a meeting. In my experience there are both experienced and in-experienced managers but most should be willing to provide support if you ask for help or guidance. Discuss your ideas with them and work with them on a plan to progress your career and get the recognition you deserve. You should also look at finding a mentor to help you improve your skill sets where needed.
If there is no willingness to help from your manager or you reviewed this article and feel that you want to leave, then you will be moving into an area that is equally as daunting. That is ‘Where do I want to go and how do I ensure I get there?’.
However, now that you have your parachute the first step is to jump….
If you plan to make that jump I’ll be writing my next article on some of the challenges that you’ll face in leaving your current employment and moving to a new employer. There are many things to consider such as your CV, what do I want to do next, finding a company directly or through an agency, salary expectations, etc…