Workologist | Always have an eye out for other opportunities. This avoids the challenge of starting from scratch when work becomes unbearable.
Q: I was hired by my present employer about three years ago, for a position that was a very good career move for me at the time. After about a year and a half, I was promoted to a higher, management-level position — again, a great opportunity.
Fast-forward to today, and my job has become unrecognizable. It is a family-run business, and the owners have over time pushed me into taking on responsibilities that I am not at all interested in. They take the attitude that everyone should pitch in wherever necessary. I am certainly willing to help out in a bind. But I am frustrated that the job I am doing now is completely unrelated to the skills I want to hone and the direction I want my career to go.
Should I voice my frustrations, or jump ship?
A: A Workologist rule of thumb: Always have an eye out for other opportunities, to avoid the challenge of starting from scratch when an I-must-jump-ship situation emerges.
That said, it does not sound as though you’re in a real crisis moment just yet. You’re at least in a position that it would be worth having a conversation with the bosses. It may be that because this evolution in your duties has happened gradually, they are not fully aware of how you feel about it. They might even assume you’re happily rolling with the changes, just as they (presumably) are.
If you come at it from that angle, the conversation won’t feel like you’re accusing them of indifference to your plight, or of a yearslong bait-and-switch. Make it clear that you have appreciated your role in the past and that you understand things have changed. But be just as clear that one practical upshot is that there’s now a mismatch between your responsibilities and what you feel you’re best at (or what you want to do).
Most important: Try to think through, in advance, some creative ways to resolve this problem. Imagine the owners’ perspective and consider where the needs of their business and your career have the most potentially productive overlaps.
Among other things, this exercise should clarify what the possibilities really are. If there is simply a complete disconnect between this employer’s direction and the one you want for yourself, then it’s best for all concerned to think about moving on. But maybe an open discussion (not an ultimatum) will lead to a happy compromise.
Either way, consider this a good prompt to look around for opportunities elsewhere that are in line with your ultimate goals. Even if your bosses prove sympathetic to your plight, it’s always smart to have a sense of what your options are.
Valued, loyal and tempted to Leave
Q: I’m a teacher, and this year I was named my school’s educator of the year — a real honor. I love my job, my employer and my colleagues. On the other hand, I have a long commute and a growing family, and these factors are clashing with my current position more and more.
Recently, I received a call from another school, practically next door to me, interested in bringing me on board in the new school year. Although I had previously applied for a leadership position there, this would be a parallel move.
I am not sure the job could match what I currently have. But my biggest concern is about leaving the only job I’ve had, and people to whom I feel a lot of loyalty, right after being given such an honor. Part of me feels like I “owe” my employers for all they’ve done for me. I am also worried about betraying the trust of the rest of the community.
Is there a time when it’s too soon to leave after being recognized with an award? How much more do I owe my employer?
A: While there are a number of reasons, based on your description, that you might want to be cautious about making this move, a sense of guilty loyalty over a recent award should not be one of them.
Sure, it’s a flattering honor. On the other hand, it recognizes work you’ve already done. It’s not as if your employer made some sort of long-term sacrifice on your behalf to give it to you. And let’s be frank: The effect of this award on your marketplace value and bargaining power is higher now than it will ever be. (“Teacher of the year” is a lot more attractive than “Teacher of the year … five or six years ago.”)
In fact, given your apparent mixed feelings, perhaps you should use this moment to explore whether you can take a more decisive step: Would that new school consider hiring you for the “leadership role” you sought earlier? If so, that offers a clear-cut rationale for moving on that few would question. Alternatively: Maybe this is a time to push for a similar opportunity with your current employer.
I admire your loyalty both to your bosses and your community. But remember that employers routinely make decisions that prioritize their own long-term interests — and ultimately employees have to think about the future in the same way.
One way to frame this is to imagine future regrets: If you look back years from now, how much might you wish you had made a change when the opportunity was ripe? Obviously you can’t know the answer with true certainty, but simply considering the possibilities ought to give you a fresh perspective. Yes, you may be at a particularly notable moment in your career. But what really matters is how this moment fits into that career over time.
Submit questions to Rob Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org.