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Should I stay or should I go? How to decide whether you should leave your current job

Should I stay or should I go? At some stage, every employee will be faced with that question.

The decision you make will set the path for your next career quest. Will you be on your way to a budding CEO? Or will you be sitting at the same desk everyday for who knows how long?

But you know that waiting for something just around the corner is merely reacting to life. You want to grab onto and make that next step a really rewarding one.

But how do you do it without appearing to be an indecisive ‘job-hopper’ with more jobs on your resume than you can count?

I have worked across six diverse industry sectors. This gives me some clues about what employers think about candidates who have worked in many places, and the advantages of having a wider range of experiences to offer a future employer.

Intrinsic and extrinsic goals

Intrinsic motivation means we are motivated by rewards that are largely intangible. This means we place more value on outcomes that are sourced from within, rather than from external factors, for example:

  • Using our strengths at work
  • Enjoying a sense of personal challenge and growth, alignment with our values
  • Reinforcing our self-esteem
  • Having satisfaction with the work itself
  • Being able to fully employ our potential at work

Extrinsic motivation refers to being motivated by external or tangible rewards. Typically these include:

  • Salary or status of the position or the employer
  • Other benefits and conditions including a bonus reward
  • Promotion and its trappings
  • Perceived security, a good boss, and great people to work with
  • The physical work environment (such as a nice office or car parking space)

What happens when we want to move on?

When there is a perception that either or both intrinsic or extrinsic rewards are depleting in our current role, then career angst sets in. This self-examination allows us to ask whether a job-change would allow for more of what we are looking for in both areas.

Some people have a higher leaning toward intrinsic rewards and rely less on the external factors that may be more likely to reward those who have a higher tendency toward being motivated by extrinsic reward factors.

So if you’re at a crossroad of deciding whether to stay in your current job, or leave to another role, then an examination of where you believe the gaps are in these areas is crucial in helping you to decide.

Let’s look at some of the reasons people may make a job change at various life stages.

Reasons for job-hopping

Early-career stage

Career and life span development researcher, Donald Super, created a developmental model that describes how personal experiences interact with occupational preferences in creating one’s self-concept. The early stages are about exploration before moving into an establishment phase

At the early career stage, these are typically the reasons given for a job-change:

  • Impatience waiting around for a promotion; or wanting to gain additional skills which the current organisation does not provide
  • Not receiving enough regular feedback on their performance
  • Unable to see the longer-term prospects for shorter-term rewards that are not perceived as forthcoming
  • A mismatch between the expectations of the job during the hiring process and the actual reality on performing the role
  • Being prepared to take greater risks to move around to clarify their identity and try out new things

Mid-life to late career stage

According to a study in the Harvard Business Review Guide to Changing Your Career, job satisfaction deteriorates in midlife which also correlates to a decline in general life satisfaction.

Author of The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After Midlife, Jonathan Rauch, says this forms a U-shaped curve of life satisfaction where younger people are more satisfied with life generally, then there is a dip around midlife, which then rises again towards older age.

Life satisfaction falls in our 20’s and 30’s, then hits a trough in our late 40’s, before increasing upward again from our early to mid 50’s.

This downturn, according to Jonathan Rauch, is a natural stage of life – and an essential one. By shifting priorities away from competition and toward compassion, you can equip yourself with new tools of wisdom and gratitude to head positively into your later years.

A mid-career changer should therefore be aware of the stage in their life where dissatisfaction with their career may be due to overall life dissatisfaction, and therefore try not to confuse the two, thereby making a rash decision to move on.

The reasons given for job-change in mid-career are:

  • A change in personal values and therefore a misalignment between the current employer’s values
  • The job or culture has changed so much that it no longer provides the appropriate rewards that is used to
  • A developmental crisis occurs which makes the employee question whether what they are doing is no longer meaningful or fulfilling
  • Wanting to give-back their experiences by moving to a less responsible or less stressful position and/or deciding to take on the role of mentor
  • Choosing to do work that provides greater meaning and purpose; as status, money and ambitious competition become less important

Are you job-hopping for the right reasons?

We have been looking at voluntary reasons for moving into a new job or career path. Many have the decision to move forced on them due to a merger, restructure or redundancy. This requires a re-focus of direction or total reinvention of their career or life.

Job crafting

If you decide to stay in your current role, Amy Wrzesniewski, associate professor at Yale School of Management, suggests you could examine job crafting as an alternative to jumping out of your job altogether.

Outlining how you can re-negotiate your tasks, relationships and perceptions of your job, can really help you and your employer to reinvigorate you by making meaningful and lasting changes, without having to leave. You can actually shape your job to suit both parties for the better.

So should you stay or should you go? Make sure you examine all the reasons objectively, and don’t fall into the trap of a knee-jerk reaction to something happening or someone else in your workplace. These are often short-term events.

Instead, have a compass or even a more strategic plan on how to get from where you are to where you want to be. Start with your own personal vision, and get clarity on your own purpose.

My career is still evolving and I’m drawing on the skills and experiences of having worked across different industries in varying economic times.

That in itself, can help you to see a broader perspective and help you to grow by experiencing different cultures, diverse leadership styles, and more importantly, knowing yourself better.

This is a guest post by Warren Frehse, registered career development practitioner, transition coach, leadership specialist and author. You can follow Warren here.

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