As the months of the COVID-19 pandemic have worn on, lots of people have had time to reflect on their careers. For one thing, a lot of people have lost their jobs or have had to reorient their focus because of the influences of the pandemic on their work. For another, work has played a more central role in many people’s lives because social interactions and hobbies have been harder to pursue.
Some people have become more committed to their jobs and careers in this period. Personally, I was asked to participate in COVID-19 planning for my university, which led to a number of new opportunities that have enriched the work I’m doing. But many other people I have talked with are questioning how long they should stay in their current jobs. Here are four signs that it is time to think about taking a new job (or a new role within your current organization):
Your values and your contribution
Your satisfaction with work depends a lot on your core values. Research by Shalom Schwartz and his colleagues explores the values people hold. These values are driven by cultural factors as well as individual experiences. Your values influence what you find satisfying at work. For example, if you value achievement, then you strive for advancement at work and enjoy opportunities to demonstrate your abilities and successes. If you value benevolence, though, you might prefer to contribute to the well-being of people around you through your work. Being recognized for your success may be less important.
It is worthwhile to think about the relationship between what you’re working on and your broader values every so often. For one thing, the nature of your work can shift gradually over time in ways that may make your job misalign with your values. For another, your values change over the course of your life so that a job that was a perfect fit for you at one time may no longer be a good fit later. In my book Bring Your Brain to Work, I relay a number of stories of people whose values shifted over time, like one friend who quit his job as a successful lawyer to run a nonprofit, because he wanted to express his value of benevolence later in his life.
Learning and growth
Even if the line of work you’re in is a great fit for your values, you may still find yourself stagnating at work. Lots of research has explored the benefits of having a growth mindset at work, in which you believe that you can learn anything you need to in order to succeed at work. A downside of this growth mindset, though, is that if your job becomes routine, you will not feel fulfilled.
When you find that there are few new things you need to learn in order to do your current job, that is an important sign that you should be looking for your next position—even if that position is with the firm where you work now. In addition to working with supervisors to develop that next opportunity, think about continuing education options that might allow you to hone new skills that will help you in the next challenge you take on. In addition to the many local schools that offer certificate programs, there is an increasing number of excellent options for online education to check out.
The optimal challenge
Part of what keeps work exciting is that you’re ideally working in a zone in which you are right at the leading edge of your competence. That is, there are certain things you know how to do so well that you can do them without thinking. There will always be some humdrum activities that are part of the workday. That is inevitable.
But the best work experiences induce a state of flow, in which you are completely immersed in the tasks in front of you. To achieve this immersion, you have to be working right at the limits of your ability. If the task is too easy, it’s easy to become aware of your surroundings. If the task is too hard, you get frustrated and can’t engage deeply with the ask.
A job that doesn’t provide any opportunities for flow can lead to long days in which you pay too much attention to the passage of time. If your days feel long, then that is a signal to evaluate whether another role might be a better fit for your skill level.
Learning from the pandemic
Many people who really need to move on from their jobs know it already. They just haven’t been able to generate the energy to start looking for more opportunities (either inside their current firm or elsewhere). A daily routine creates a lot of inertia. On top of that, people get anxious about the unknown, and so taking on a new role can be daunting.
In the interviews I did for Bring Your Brain to Work, I found that many people finally did make significant adjustments in their career after suffering a personal tragedy, such as a significant illness or the death of a loved one. Those experiences caused them to reevaluate what is important in their lives.
All of us have lived through an extraordinarily difficult year that has led us to think about what is important. Use that experience to ask yourself what aspects of your life now you want to maintain post-COVID-19. If you’re unfulfilled in the role you play at work now, use the energy from this year of disruption to spring into a new job as we exit the pandemic.