Is it time to leave your job?

Is it time to leave your job?

How to recognise the warning signs and know when it's time to go.

By Kate Allman, Journalist, 


Penelope Trunk, an American businesswoman into work/life balance, once wrote, “I am a writer, but I love sex more than I love writing. And I am not getting paid for sex.”

The lesson? We can’t always do what we love for work. However, we should expect to maintain a basic level of motivation, focus and satisfaction– if not enjoyment – in our jobs. This is particularly the case for lawyers, who spend an enormous chunk of their lifetime in the office.

According to a survey in 2010, Australian lawyers clock up to 60 hours of work per week – double the national average cited by the Australian Bureau of Statistics for full-time employees. In a career lasting 45 years, this could add up to almost 15 years at work. Hopefully you have a comfortable chair.

Given the amount of time you will spend at it, your job should challenge and excite you. You should not feel unhappy, bored or like you are stuck in a rut. If you do, it may be time to time to dust off the resume and look for other employment options.

Remember, this is a business decision. Don’t let emotions, allegiances, or the ease of staying within your comfort zone get in the way of your career’s progression or desire for lifestyle change. Is it time to go? 

The four warning signs

1. The Three Ds

Disillusioned, Disgruntled and Discontent. “We talk about the ‘three Ds’ as the typical indicators that tell us a person is unhappy in their job,” says Rachel Clements, Director of Psychological Services at Sydney’s Centre for Corporate Health. “They begin complaining about things that didn’t worry them before and often feel unchallenged or like their life is going nowhere.”

Clements says that feeling irritable, sick, sad or anxious outside the office are typical symptoms of the three Ds. No one really likes getting up for work on a Monday – but if you so dread going to work that you feel physically sick on a Sunday night, it may be time to listen to your gut. That sinking feeling? It’s a sign that something needs to change.

2. You regularly are unwell or not sleeping

According to Paul Philips, founding psychologist from Need A Psych, recurring health complaints and sleep issues are not the first warning signs – they occur after your mind has already tried to let you know that you are unhappy. Instead of listening, your headstrong self has pushed the message out of conscious thought, forcing your body to express it physically.

“If you are waking up in the night between three and five am, the chances are that something isn’t going well in your life,” says Phillips. “If you are getting mild health complaints that need a day off here and there, it is also likely that something isn’t going well in your life. Perhaps that something is your job?”

3. The ladder leads to nowhere

Helen Papas, Managing Director of recruiting firm Legal Personnel, sees young lawyers move roles on average every three years. She says senior solicitors tend to stay in a job longer if they are on a career path towards partner. While company loyalty is a valuable trait, it is important to keep your own career path in mind at all times.

So ask yourself these questions: 
• Is there opportunity for advancement within this company? 
• Am I motivated to go for that promotion? 
• Do I want my boss’ job?

If you are answering “no” to these questions, your career is unlikely to move forward in the direction you would like. In which case, it may be better to leave sooner rather than later.

“Think of a professional athlete who is admired for their success and skill,” says Phillips. “If they retire while at the top of their game they are remembered as a key player in their sport and can go on to leverage lucrative media deals. However, if they continue playing until their abilities and performances dwindle, they are left with little to leverage for the next career move.”

4. You can’t find balance

Work requires certain sacrifices and legal careers are notorious for chewing into personal lives. However, if your employer’s demands weigh too heavily in the work-life balance, they may not be worth the pay cheque.

“These days our jobs are so fluid that it is difficult to measure out a work-life balance,” says Clements. “The key question to ask yourself is: what kind of emotions occupy the majority of my day? If you work until midnight but come home feeling motivated and satisfied (if tired), this is a good sign. If negative emotions like stress, worry and anxiety occupy most of your day, this is a sign that your job is overburdening your personal life.”

The good news? Clements says that making the decision to leave is often the hardest part. Once her clients have decided, they feel more empowered, happier and in control. Although stepping out of your comfort zone and into the job market may be a frightening prospect right now, it could pay dividends to your career, health and happiness in the long run.