Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate all that’s beautiful about love and passion. It’s also a time to methodically cull the relationships that don’t inspire those feelings. Maybe it’s a partner who never, ever helps you with household chores. Or maybe it’s a career you put 60 hours into every week, but that inconsiderately doesn't give back any sense of fulfilment.
For all the times we might have told ourselves it’s "just a job," we know deep down how much it takes out of us. A 2014 Gallup poll found that full-time workers in the US worked an average of 47 hours a week, with 18% saying they regularly work over 60 hours a week. Even when we’re not at work — well, the point is, when are we ever really not at work? One recent study revealed that 41% of 25- to 34-year-olds check their work emails in bed, 39% in the bathroom, 23% while on vacation, 16% while driving. Only 11% never check email outside of work.
Then there’s all the language around our binding vows to work: joking that you’re married to your job, having work wives and work husbands, the idea that fully committing to both your career and a romantic relationship is (especially for women) unrealistic, a kind of dysfunctional polygamy.
The average person spends a third of their lives at work. The other third is spent sleeping, and the last third is what’s left to share between your friends, family, partners, traveling, and hobbies. How do you know when it’s time to give your current job the it’s-not-you-it’s-me talk? To find out, we asked Refinery29 readers to share their own experiences and spoke to LinkedIn career expert Blair Heitmann about the latest research on work attitudes.
It’s not as bad as it could be, you think as you slump down at your desk with the large coffee you absolutely need to get through the work day, most of which you spend trying to look busy. It's easy and inoffensive and it pays the bills, but you deserve better than a job that’s just ok. Boredom isn't just boring; it's bad for you.
Several readers said that feeling unchallenged was a big factor in wanting to leave a job. “Miserable every day,” one recalls. “No growth. Hate my boss. Not learning anything anymore.” Or maybe you don’t feel like you’re given the tools to reach your full potential. “Right now, I feel valued but super underpaid and strapped for resources to do my job best,” says another person. “That weighs on me.”
You don’t gel with the company culture
Company culture is not just a nice-to-have feature. Younger workers are really paying attention to the environment at a company. In fact, Glassdoor found that 65% of US millennials prioritised culture over salary. And other studies have shown that the majority of us want to feel close to our colleagues.
We also care a lot about the values we share with our employers. “I've generally stuck through not enjoying myself, and ultimately left because of behaviour at the leadership level,” says one reader. “The job I accidentally quit on the spot — but was definitely going to quit, just with notice — the last straw was the CEO being really explicitly, vocally partisan about the Democratic primaries in a way that made me feel like I needed to take care not to have my own preference become known. And that didn't sit right with me.” Another says that, for them, a company showing that they aren't an ally to social justice issues is a deal breaker.
You’re not a true believer of the mission
In 2016, LinkedIn compiled a global report on what motivates people to work. Of the 26,000 people who were surveyed, 74% said that doing work that gives them a sense of purpose was very important. It’s draining to be a cynic. We want to commit; believing in the mission might justify long hours, maybe even allow you to feel pride in them. But when there’s no purpose grounding that labor, we can’t help but feel those hours only amount to wasteful spending of your time. “The moment I realise that I don’t believe in what the company/organisation is doing/making/selling is usually when I know that I’m done,” says one reader.
You question if your manager or colleagues value you
You interact with them every day for eight hours or more. If you feel unappreciated, singled out for blame, or never get praised, why would you be happy at work? “Boss starts asking you to do more and more work but isn’t open to discussing salary or title changes. They usually think the occasional atta girl-type compliment is enough. Compliments don’t exactly pay the bills or advance careers, buddy,” explains a reader. If only compliments could be exchanged to $$$.
They add: “When you mention you’d like to discuss a raise or promotion, they say something along the lines of, ‘Honestly, aren’t you just grateful for the opportunity to work here? So many people would love to have this job.’”
The bathroom is everyone’s safe space.
Several readers talked about crying in the bathroom or finding coworkers crying there. If the biggest thing uniting you and your colleagues is that you each have a favourite sobbing stall, that flag is red. Other signs of misery mentioned by readers included recurring work dreams and getting sick more often, probably due to work stress.
You hate Sundays
One person posits the revolutionary idea that maybe the Sunday scaries aren’t actually an unavoidable reaction to returning to work on Monday. “A huge red flag is how I feel Sunday evening through Monday morning,” they say. “I’m normally ready to start the work week on Sunday and get going on Monday. When I dislike my job, there’s no more joy during those times. I feel a sense of dread about going in.” Others give a shout out to “the anxiety I get when I step into the building or log on to my laptop,” and “being filled with dread before checking my inbox.”
You’re not your usual self
“Another red flag is if I get upset at work. I very rarely get mad at anything, especially in a public setting,” says a reader. “If I’m upset to the point where I feel like doing something disrespectful or walking out (my parents would never, ever condone those actions, and I still respect my parents very much despite having lived away from home since college), I know it’s time for me to get a new job.” Another person cosigns, saying that “getting frustrated with small issues,” was a sign it’s time to go.
It’s been a few years
We don’t bat an eye when people look for one life partner, but we would if you expected to stay at your current job forever. The median time women 25 to 34 years old spend at a job is 2.7 years. It’s ok to start looking for a change just for the sake of it, to challenge yourself, experience something new, and inevitably grow from that newness. Given that the new year is a time when we’re thinking about fresh starts, it’s no surprise that January is the most popular month to job search.
“Should I quit my job” is in your recent search history
Especially if you’re Googling this while you’re at work. “If you’re wondering whether it may be time to break up with your job, chances are good you already know the know answer to that,” says Heitmann. It’s true; people in healthy relationships usually don’t ruminate on whether they’re happy with it.
There are a million reasons why a job isn’t right for you. But what we didn’t see over and over was talk of pay. That’s not to say that it isn’t important; we wouldn’t do our jobs if we didn’t get paid. A 2018 study of over 4,000 full-time workers in several countries found that, when asked what they believe is the most important factor in workplace happiness, most people say compensation. Yet it also found that those who were actually happy with their jobs rated the meaningfulness of their work as the biggest reason, followed by flexible hours and ability to work remotely. For happy people, compensation came in third.
When it comes to our careers, we really do want a fairy-tale romance. LinkedIn recently found that 81% of working professionals believe it’s important to be very or mostly happy at their job. But about 25% surveyed said they were unhappy or, at best, ambivalent.