Hate your job? Start making some changes
How to Change Your Life: How changing where and why you work can reap dividends
Hating a job is a classic instigator of wanting change. Photograph: iStock
“What do you do?” It’s a question that some people answer with enthusiasm and pride, and others brush off. But for plenty of people, changing things up in their lives means changing jobs, industries, careers, or striking out on their own. For plenty of people, work is a means to an end; for others, their very meaning is viewed through a prism of profession.
So, you want to change your work. Where do you start? Sophie Rowan is a chartered work psychologist at Pinpoint and author of Brilliant Career Coach and Happy At Work. “Some people go into career changes with a very clear target or focus: changing from IT to becoming a teacher, for example, and they just have to work out how to do that. But for others, the sentiment of ‘I know what I’m doing is not me, maybe it was right for a time, but what now?’ is tricky and complex.” Rowan recommends a personal audit of one’s strengths, preferences and motivations.
Getting to the nub about what’s important for you – money, working with certain people, status, and so on – is crucial. For Rowan, a mistake many make when approaching change is procrastination. “Avoid letting this go on for a long time. If you’re miserable doing something now, unless there’s a very specific reason you’re miserable – like a bad work relationship, a poor company culture, or not getting paid enough – if there’s a fundamental mismatch, that’s not going to change.” Rowan cites a reality check around the practicality of change as important, having clear, objective external voices to offer advice and insight, as well as psychological readiness: are you ready to take the deep breath and step off the edge?
Hating a job is a classic instigator of wanting change. Dreading going into a workplace, having fractious relationships with colleagues, or just not seeing the point in what you’re doing, can all combine to make escape feel urgent. But addressing aspects of your own role in these situations can instigate positive change in your working life.
“We’re sold this idea that workplaces are sterile environments where you’re not meant to take your baggage in, but the mood you’re in very much impacts and fuels behaviour that you have in the workplace,” says Declan Noone, partner in management consulting firm Serrano99.
“Step back and identify what is triggering behaviours within you. They can be small things, such as being defensive when somebody is giving you feedback, or low confidence so you withdraw from opportunities and then give out to yourself.”
There are certain things you cannot change in terms of how people behave, but you can change your emotional response
Noone recommends focusing on constructive relationships in the workplace as well as destructive ones, “Ask yourself why certain ones are constructive – maybe it’s because certain people are like-minded or have warm, engaging personalties. Destructive ones tend to be about a power dynamic . . . There are certain things you cannot change in terms of how people behave, but you can change your emotional response.”
In terms of figuring out what to do next, Ronan Kennedy, a career coach and business mentor, sees stress and overbearing workloads as things that make people want to change jobs, but these habits can repeat, job to job. If fundamentally disliking one’s profession is the issue, Kennedy suggests inverting the thing you dislike most. “If they really despise something, chances are the exact opposite is what they might be interested in. Let’s say you work in finance and think it’s just all about money,” then the inverse of that is something that is not about money, for example, something related to not-for-profit.”
Issues with confidence are the number one thing Kennedy sees with his clients. In his experiences, confidence struggles rarely correlate to someone’s skills, experiences or abilities, and can emerge at every level.
Struggling with confidence at work can be caused by an unsupportive boss, feeling at sea due to a lack of training, being unfamiliar with jargon that surrounds an industry, receiving little feedback, or having colleagues who use criticism as a default. “I suggest to my clients to write down two or three things they’ve achieved each day. This is a totally factual, totally controllable exercise. At the end of 20 working days in a month, there are 60 things they’ve done well. That helps.”
Another exercise Kennedy recommends is “fear-setting”. “You’ve heard of goal-setting,” he says, “but write down things you’re really afraid of happening if you’re changing career or striking out on your own, for example, ‘I don’t get any clients’, ‘I run out of money’, ‘There’s no interest in what I’m doing’. Write them down, and write down how you would prevent those things from happening, and what you would do if they did happen. It enables people to pre-empt their fears, get them out there, and come up with solutions, instead of ruminating on them before you sleep at night.”
Seeking change through professional autonomy by striking out on your own or becoming your own boss is an end goal for many, but self-employment or freelancing brings its own challenges. It’s important to ease yourself into this process, and focus on timing.
Aoife McElwain is the author of Slow At Work, a creative events planner, runs Sing Along Social, and writes about food for The Irish Times.
Learn how to be a good boss to yourself. I was the worst boss that I’ve ever had. I didn’t care about my wellbeing
“This is my second attempt at going freelance full-time. I did it a few years ago and it was just too early. Knowing the right time to make that jump is a really good one. For me, I gradually decreased where I was working elsewhere. I had a supportive job where I was able to go from full-time to part-time. That’s a good way to ease yourself into it and make sure it does suit you. A lot of people can’t cope with the financial insecurity of it, and that is hard . . . For the first couple of years, focus on the present, and keep the faith, the work will come in. Learn how to be a good boss to yourself. I was the worst boss that I’ve ever had. I didn’t care about my wellbeing. Think of yourself as your own boss and take a management course if you need to.”
One way everyone can change their working lives for the better is to prioritise rest time, something that can have a transformative impact. “The person who really influenced me in that respect is Derval O’Rourke, the hurdler,” McElwain says. “Athletes divide their work into three parts; warm-up, training, recovery time. Part of their job is to rest. To maintain high performance, rest is essential. They can’t go from one marathon to another. When Derval left athletics, she was really struck by the fact that other industries do not value that recovery time and people feel guilty about it. That resonated with me and I started to think about my recovery time as part of my job.”
Research is key when it comes to changing things up. Speak to people in other companies and industries you’re interested in. Examine how someone else did what you want to do and see what elements of their path you can follow. Kennedy cites people underselling themselves as a major issue when changing careers. Remember that many of your skills will be transferable even if they may not appear as such, especially if your workplace has knocked your confidence. “Many of us prefer to live in a safe bubble,” Noone says. “We are all hardwired to be risk-averse. Stepping into the unknown or opening yourself up to explore your purpose or your hopes takes courage.”
Tips for changing your working life
1. Clarify whether you’re unhappy with your industry, job or your workplace first. Can workplace relationships and practices be improved? Do your own emotional responses play a role in your discontent?
2. If you despise the work, look at its inverse.
3. Set your goals, but also set your fears and find solutions to pre-empt them.
4. Prioritising rest and recovery time can transform one’s working life.
5. Change takes time and timing, ease yourself into it.