This feature first appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
Fighting boredom and feeling like you are lost is a common issue among information technology (IT) workers. The creeping fear that you are missing out on … something (FOMO), or a complete lack of focus, are common byproducts of technology overload and the tech-enabled workforce. For some, this may be a circumstance that they need to overcome but for others it is job-related.
What can you do if you are unhappy with your IT job? What should you do? Sometimes you can take action to make things seem new or fresh — to bloom where you’ve been planted. Sometimes a transplant could be the key to revitalization. Maybe you need to look for a different employer, or even switch to an entirely different sector of the IT galaxy.
And what happens when it really is time to bail out and pull the ripcord? There are certainly steps you can take to ensure a soft landing.
Pinpointing the problem
Figuring out why you're unhappy at work may require some introspection, in no small measure because the cause of your unhappiness might not be clear. Are you unhappy with your job? Maybe it’s your work environment — including coworkers — or even your entire profession. Or maybe you’re not happy because of problems elsewhere (home, family, etc.).
It’s also important to determine whether there’s a work/life balance issue before you rush to judgment and jump off of (or onto) the train. You need to really get down to an understanding of what part of your job makes it a drag. If you leave the problem unexamined until you have what I call “the dreads” (more about this later), then it may be too late to stick around.
Some questions to ask yourself might be:
Do you feel that there is no path to further your career development?
Do you feel that your work doesn’t get recognition?
Does the company's culture get under your skin?
Are you dissatisfied with your responsibilities or position?
Does it seem that you might have chosen the wrong career?
All of these things need to be weighed, but no other person can weigh them for you. You have to go this route alone. Start looking inward. Identifying the causes of your dissatisfaction will help you manage them better.
Assessing your prospects
Once you know the reason for your discontentment, you can take action. The next step might be to tally up the pros and cons of staying where you are and weigh them against the pros and cons of making a move to a different situation. This is a simple exercise, but it doesn’t have to be completed quickly or casually. Take the time to think things through.
Create a mental picture. List the ramifications of the choices you're considering making and then think through how they might affect you (as well as any family members or dependents) over the next five years. I have always liked and recommended a five-year road map.
So now you’ve made a five-year projection and weighed the pros and cons of staying put versus making a change. If you’ve decided to remain with your current employer, then now is the time to think about actions you can take to bring happiness back into your work. For example, start looking at other departments for viable career options.
Are there other ways to make a job that has lost its luster more palatable? It’s always good to remind yourself that you aren't stuck in any employment situation with no way out. That perspective could make it easier to hang in there. Maybe take an interview, get a certification, or do something else to lighten the mood.
On the other hand, if you find that you need to leave the company altogether, then you have some further questions to ask. What else could you see yourself doing for a living? Will those changes be drastic and require more schooling? Or are they changes you could make within the same industry, requiring minimal training?
After narrowing down your options, look at them side by side. Compare companies you believe are a better fit, or schools that offer training you need, and make a choice. Just the notion of having a choice will probably brighten your outlook. Write everything down. Take all this information and turn it into a plan of action.
Assessing your work situation
During the discovery stage described above, you may opt to talk to your boss about your situation. Don’t worry about this being uncomfortable and don’t worry about retribution from your boss. Whoever oversees your position might have some valuable insight, or even be able to make changes that help you feel better. And if that individual is angry that you had the temerity to question your place, well that makes your decision easier, doesn’t it?
If you are hesitant about speaking to your boss, then call a friend and have them pretend to be your boss. Try to anticipate your manager’s reaction and figuring out how to react in return. Think through what your ideal work experience would be. How would job responsibilities, team members, and company culture be different if you were in charge? What changes would you make immediately?
By comparing your “ideal” list to your everyday reality, you can identify mismatches. And once you see those gaps, ask yourself, “How likely is it that these things will change for the better?” If your first move as company president would be to fire the entire management staff and re-create the company’s product line, then change is probably not possible.
But if your top priority would be to pipe music into the employee cafeteria, or even shift some of your workload elsewhere, then you’ve got a much better chance of finding true satisfaction with your current employer. Career shifts are bound to be disruptive, and it’s often easier to adjust your current situation than to start over from square one somewhere else.
Always connect with an impartial third party before making any final decisions. A colleague or peer may be able to provide helpful insight and suggestions.
Preparing to make the leap
Once you’ve thought everything through, take action. You may not end up following through on everything you’ve laid out for yourself, but even just taking some initial steps could scratch the itch you’ve been feeling.
After all, just knowing you are capable of changing your career's direction — and taking a few steps to better equip yourself for that possibility — may be enough to bring joy at work. It may get you up out of your funk. Enroll in a class or get a certification. Polish up your résumé, or maybe talk to a recruiter. You will end up either closer to leaving a bad job or closer to making it NOT a bad job. Whichever one it is, you’ll be better off.
What if all of this doesn’t move the needle? You'll know it’s time to cut ties when going to work in the morning is so repulsive that your brain fights to make you stay home (or stay in bed). This it the “dreads” that I mentioned above, and if your malaise about your current job ever gets to the point, then you need to move on in a hurry.
The negative impact of having a job you hate will spread to other parts of your life, as well as to other people in your life. You could develop depression, or — if the reason you hate your job is a toxic manager, for example — there is even the potential for PTSD. Never stay put in a work environment that threatens your mental and/or emotional wellbeing.
Pursuing happiness is an inalienable right of humans but it isn't an easy endeavor. Don’t feel defeated if you find yourself in the wrong place at work or in your career. If you're willing to reach outside of your comfort zone for a while, then you will find your way into more fulfilling work.
Sometimes your new job may materialize within the same workplace bounds as your old job. Many people can reset their experience simply by transferring to a new department or moving to a different position. When such a shift occurs that does not involve either a raise or a promotion, we call it a lateral transfer.
A lateral transfer often exposes you to new opportunities that you may not have had in your previous role. Meeting new people and working in a new role can also benefit your overall career development and personal growth. If you feel like your career development has stalled out, then a lateral transfer may be the solution you are looking for.
If you do jump to something new, whether a new role with your current employer or a different job altogether, what can you do to ensure a smooth transition? Surprisingly, the same path or set of tasks that got you into technology in the first place can get you out.
First, talk to people who have the job you want and consider getting a mentor in your new chosen field. I would also highly recommend seeking training in any new field you want to go into and, of course, getting certified. There are many low-cost avenues to pursue for both training and certification, and even some worthwhile free options.
Hands-on experience — sometimes available through volunteer work or internships — always helps. Any amount of professional networking you can do with people who already have their feet on the career path you’d like to pursue will also be invaluable. Above all, be persistent and keep at anything you want to do. Work to get in through any new door like you worked to get out through the old one, and everything will fall into place.
Knowing yourself and knowing what you want will provide a strong foundation for success in any career path. Regular self-inventory of the sort described above is helpful whether or not you are unhappy in your current position and contemplating a change of pace. Wherever your work takes you, I wish you a long and prosperous journey.