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Dread Monday morning? Why and how you should ditch the job that's making you unhappy - and the women who made it work (with zero regret)

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It’s true, people who love their job really do exist. And it’s not just that savvy breed who have somehow managed to turn travelling the world into a living. Here's how to escape job-based inertia, once and for all

If you can’t remember the last time you didn’t dread Monday morning, it’s time you asked yourself a series of questions. Do you like this job? If you could do anything else, what would it be?

And finally, what’s stopping you from walking away and pursuing something else? If it’s the guilt of being a ‘quitter’, a reluctance to leave a reliable pay packet or just plain fear of the unknown, you’re not alone.

“Leaving a career behind and starting over is brave – there’s no denying that,” says Ann Pickering, careers expert and HR Director at O2.

“It’s a scary thing to walk away from a stable paying job and jump into something new and uncertain. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong and I know plenty of people who have done just that, only to regret not taking the plunge years earlier.”

With a recent Europe-wide study revealing that people in the UK are among the unhappiest at work, it seems the old fashioned notion of ‘sticking at it’ – either for the money or because it’s the 'sensible' thing to do – is clearly one that’s bringing us little joy.

“Work is a huge component of our lives, not just because of the time involved and the income it generates, but also because of what it means to our identity and development, as well as our sense of worth and contribution,” says Penny de Valk, recruitment specialist and MD of Penna’s Talent Practice.

“Being anxious, angry, bored or just plain miserable in your working environment, for whatever reason, will colour your life. We're likely to take this into our relationships and we also know that prolonged stress leads to health issues.” 

So if you dream of handing in your notice and walking away from the job that’s making you miserable, consider this your official pep talk.


Why should I do it?

woman asleep on desk in office

Life's too short for job inertia

Health and Happiness

“A deep sense of satisfaction comes from finding a career that you love – it’s what turns a job into an extension of your everyday life,” says Sharon Walpole, CEO of careers website notgoingtouni.co.uk. “When we are happy, we are healthier. Happiness if you like is self-perpetuating; it breeds further happiness.”

Joanne Cuckson, Director at Summit Search & Selection, who has worked in recruitment and talent management for over 15 years, completely agrees.

“In my experience, satisfaction and ‘happiness’ at work has a greater impact on women than on men,” she notes. “Work helps to define who we are and it is an important part of our self-esteem. We tend to be more emotionally involved with our work, so feeling unfulfilled or unhappy has a profound effect on our confidence and energy levels.

"This can lead to further problems outside of the work place as we also tend to take our stress home with us. How many times do we argue with our partners because we’ve had a bad day at work? Worrying about work can also cause sleepless nights, which makes the situation far worse because it starts affecting our general health.”

Future prospects

Of course, staying put at least temporarily, sometimes really is the sensible option. It’ll mean you have money coming in while you look for something else or retrain in your spare time. But simply staying in a job that makes you unhappy with no escape plan in place, could actually be doing more harm to your career than good.

“Not only is it detrimental to your general well-being,” says Joanne, “but it could result in you under-performing and receiving a bad reference. This might then prevent you from making your next career move. As a head-hunter my job is to source candidates who are ‘out-performing’ in their current role, since clients naturally want to hire happy and motivated staff.

“In my experience, demotivated and unhappy people find it harder to work their way up the career ladder. The people who are positive, proactive and enjoying their role get noticed. Obviously, everyone has their off-days but ‎if your default setting has become negative and unhappy, people will pick up on this.”

Life’s too short

Put money worries aside and ask yourself honestly; do you really want to spend such a large chunk of your life in a place that makes you miserable? That life is just too short for that is a sentiment shared by all our career experts.

“Life is too short to spend most of it in a place that is making you unhappy,” says Penny de Valk. “Often when we are in an unhappy place for a long time we can get overwhelmed with the energy or perceived risk required of getting out of it.”

Michelle Wright, CEO, founder and mentor of emerging entrepreneurs at Cause4, adds: “Like it or not we spend most of our time at work, five days a week, with only four to five weeks' holiday a year. In short, life is just too short to be in a job that you don’t enjoy.

“What I often see is people in a real rut with their job, who then spend time moaning to friends and family about how much they hate their work, which eats into precious time off at weekends.It’s a crazy circle. Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, talks about people needing to be ‘the entrepreneurs of their own lives’ and whilst this is a little clichéd there is something in it.

“If you are not happy at work, don’t waste time moaning; it will affect your well-being and will annoy your friends, instead be proactive at researching the next thing.”


How to make the move

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Find a job you truly love

Plan ahead

“Plan, plan, plan,” says Tacita Small, HR Director at Ministry of Sound. “Depending on your type of contract you may be able to do two things at one time - retraining or setting up the more exciting stuff for example, alongside your day job. If this is not possible then look at the pros and cons of staying versus going, and try to save up enough money to support yourself first, in case you need to take a pay cut.”

Prepare yourself mentally

“From a professional stand point, it is easier to get a new job when you're in a job so, unless you have an urgent reason to quit, start applying for jobs while you're still working,” says Joanne Cuckson.

“The first thing to do is to focus your mind on getting excited about moving, rather than feeling anxious. Many of my clients cite enthusiasm and a 'can do' attitude as the key characteristics they look for during an interview process. To secure your ideal job, you therefore need to create a great first impression and this requires a positive mind set. The hardest part is making the decision and taking the first step.‎”

Don’t go straight for the money

“We’re increasingly seeing people of all ages prioritise other elements over pay when looking for jobs, whether it’s flexibility, volunteering opportunities or workplace culture,” says Anne Pickering. “I really believe that there needs to be something about a job that keeps us going back every day, over and above the pay packet, whether it’s the people, a belief in the company’s mission, or just good old ambition. If the only reason you go to work is for the money, I’d say you’re selling yourself short.”

Think about what you want

“Make sure you don’t just fall into another job as a relief from the current one and repeat the pattern," says Penny de Valk. "Really think about what it is you want to go toward and then seek it out. Sometimes when we are leaving a bad situation we put all our energy into ‘going from’ and not enough into ‘going towards.’”

Trust your instincts

“My own approach when I left behind a great in-house job to set up my own venture was to drink several glasses of red wine and just do it,” says Michelle Wright. “It seems rather reckless now, but until you have actually made the move you can’t put your heart and soul into a new venture. I also think it’s important to take advice from a number of mentors, advisors or friends, but don’t heed too much the naysayers - your instincts will see you through these decisions.”


Practical Tips and FAQs

FAQs and practical tips

Should I tell my employer why I’m really leaving?

A tricky area to navigate, this can often depend on the relationship you have with your employer.

Tacita Small believes honesty is the best policy here: “Be totally honest with your employer, and even try to let them know how you are feeling before you begin to look elsewhere.  If you are unable to do this. then be honest about what you have found and the reasons you are leaving the organisation. This gives them the feedback they need to begin the recruitment process.”

Ann Bevitt, an employment lawyer and partner at Cooley LLP, advises more caution: “Most employers will (in theory, at least) welcome constructive criticism and many will hold formal exit interviews where you can discuss such things. However, absolute honesty is not always the best policy.  If you’re unhappy about something that the employer can change, such as team structure, or an internal process, then there should be no problem in raising this. If, on the other hand, your grievance is more personal, there’s probably little benefit in raising it at this stage.

“In particular, you should avoid burning bridges by being overly critical of particular individuals or rude about your employer in general, as you never know where or in what circumstances you may come across former colleagues in the future.”

Is working my notice period compulsory?

“You are bound by the terms of your employment contract and the decent thing to do is to uphold your end of the bargain,” says Tacita Small. “Many employers are willing to negotiate an earlier end date but if they are not, it is most probably due to the fact that the recruitment process takes time and they need to find a good replacement for you.”

“If you resign without giving the required period of notice, and without having agreed this in advance with your employer, you will be in breach of contract and your employer could bring a claim against you if it has suffered loss as a result of your early departure,” adds Ann Bevitt.

“For example, if you were working on something with a fixed deadline and your employer had to hire a temporary contractor to finish the work in your absence, they could sue you for the extra costs associated with hiring that temporary contractor. Your employer could also go to court to get an injunction to keep you from working for anyone else for the duration of your notice period.”

What if I need to retrain?

“It is never too late to retrain,” assures Sharon Walpole. “It might appear a daunting prospect, but equally it is a chance to expand your horizons and skills, or perhaps refresh talents you haven't used in a few years. There are many options including distance learning, and lots of adults now take on a professional qualification or even a Masters Degree whilst working.”

What’s the biggest mistake I could make?

“The biggest mistake employees make when resigning is not doing their homework beforehand: at the very least you must look at your employment contract and see what your obligations are regarding giving notice,” says Ann Bevitt.

“Check if your employer can put you on garden leave or pay you in lieu of some or all of your notice. You should also remind yourself whether you have any post-termination restrictions, and work out whether these will prevent you starting a new job.  If so, you may want to have an early discussion with your employer and come to some agreement. In short, always be prepared.”

“Burning bridges or speaking ill of your employer is also a big no, no,” warns Tacita Small. “You never know when you’ll work with people from that company again; it’s a very small world and it’s always good to have connections. What you say about others can sometimes be a reflection on you.”

Anything else I should know?

“Remember, when changing careers you may need to start at the bottom and work your way up, but do not under estimate your transferable skills,” says Tacita. “These will help you to navigate your way quickly through your new chosen path."


We meet the women who quit their unhappy jobs - and never looked back

“I’d often hide out in the toilets just to escape for a few minutes. I am so glad that I took the risk and quit”

 

Rachel Jones

Rachel Jones, 24, took a corporate job straight out of university to put her Spanish degree to good use. But when she realised it wasn't for her, she started taking steps to make her dream job as a journalist as a reality.

Straight out of University I was conscious that I wanted to make use of my Spanish degree, so I found a job with an international company working on large contracts and translating legal documents.

I worked alone a lot of the time though, and despite my boss telling me I was doing well, I had no real motivation. I’d panicked on graduating and rushed into this job that I now wasn’t even interested in, just to avoid the fear of doing nothing. I remember feeling like I needed to 'lock something down' as soon as possible.

In December 2013 I was invited to sign a new contract for the year ahead. But when I learnt that a few changes to my role which I had discussed with my boss weren’t going to be implemented, I knew it was a matter of 'if not now, then when?'

For as long as I can remember I had wanted to break into journalism, and had been giving up my free time on the weekend to write a column for a local newspaper. I wasn’t getting paid, but would still rush home to write up my columns and take on weekend or evening shifts at the paper.

Juggling the two roles really highlighted just how much I hated my day job, I’d often hide out in the toilets just to escape for a few minutes, and sometimes came home and cried.

Had my job not had the annual contract procedure in place, I don’t know if I would I have quit so suddenly and with nothing else lined up – I’m normally a very logical, super-organised person who avoids unnecessary risk. But now I wouldn't change how things happened for the world.

I was afraid of giving up a steady income of course, and was also concerned about there being a big gap in my CV if I didn’t find something soon. I had absolutely nothing lined up, so just saved as much money as I could during my notice period.

As soon as I left I went straight to the newspaper office, interned there while looking for a journalism job, and picked up some temp work as a receptionist to take care of things financially. Within two weeks I had applied for a role as a features writer at a regional magazine, and thanks to my portfolio of newspaper columns and clippings, I got it.

I absolutely love my job now. I am so glad that I took the risk and quit my comfortable, but boring job which left me feeling deflated. It was a huge leap of faith, but the best decision I’ve ever made.

I had worked for free for a year alongside my day job, and it’s that experience which was invaluable to me getting my break.

I’d encourage anyone in a similar situation to invest in themselves and go with their gut instinct - if you know something isn’t for you don’t do it. There are other avenues to explore.


“You need to take a broader look at life and realise that being happy is worth a lot more than a steady income”

 

 

Emma Woods

Emma Hughes trained as a graphic designer, but after returning from travelling, she got trapped in an administration job. Five years later she finally took the plunge and now runs a small business with her husband.

After spending six months in Australia I returned to the UK in 2010 and struggled to find a job as the recession kicked in. I ended up contacting my old boss in an university administration department, initially for some temporary work, and was still there five years later.

I originally trained in graphic designer and had worked in quite creative roles previously, so having an admin role that was largely to do with student finance wasn’t something I’d ever pictured myself doing. That in itself was pretty soul destroying.

I began to feel like I was wasting my life away, sitting at a desk waiting for 5pm. I'd come home completely shattered, not from hard work but from sheer boredom. I was always in a bad mood, had no motivation and was not much fun to be around. 

My husband Andrew set up a small outdoor accessories brand in 2011 selling wooden items that he made by hand, and in 2013 he started teaching woodcarving workshops on a monthly basis. I started helping with that and slowly, the brand began to grow. In my spare time I took on the role of promoting and organising the workshops and started to help make products.

This gave me the motivation I needed. Suddenly, I could see a potential way out and knew that if I worked hard enough, I might eventually be able to give up the day job. 

By the end of 2014, I was juggling my full time job with running a small business, and I was slowly starting to attract clients for my design work again. Andrew is a freelance illustrator, so we'd always been concerned about giving up my 'steady job' and losing the guarantee of a monthly salary. Sometimes though, you need to take a broader look at life and realise that being happy is worth a lot more than a steady income. Taking a risk might be worth it after all.

We decided one Friday evening that I should just go for it, and the following week, I handed in my notice. We knew it was a big financial risk, even now our business is still in the early stages and so things can be a little scary, especially when freelance work is thin on the ground. But it’s made us adjust the way we live, and we simply cut back a little when we need to.

There wasn’t really any plan B. I figured if things went really badly that I could always get temporary work or perhaps look for a part time job, which would work alongside the business and my freelance work. We have very supportive family and friends who believe in what we are doing, and that helps enormously.

I left on a Thursday, had a long weekend to relax and then just got straight into it. Now my main role is with our business Miscellaneous Adventures. I do all the promotion, event organising, admin and social media, as well as making rucksacks and other fabric products (which is the bit I really enjoy).

Another perk of running an outdoor brand is that you need to be outdoors a lot, so adventuring is now part of my job. I've also been able to focus much more on my own design work again and recently finished a cross stitched book cover for Penguin, which is my most exciting commission yet.

Running a small business isn’t easy and there are scary times as well as stressful times, but it's so different to how I felt working in my old job. I'm not unhappy anymore and when I'm tired, it's because I've been working hard on something I enjoy and believe in all day.

I’ve learnt that life is more important than a steady income, and that having the freedom to do the things you really care about and want to do makes for a much more fulfilling time.

I am lucky that I don't have a mortgage or children to worry about, which made the decision easier. But I would strongly encourage others to take the plunge and change things up if you are unhappy. Confidence and a bit of bravery will get you far.

Images: ThinkStock, Rex Features / Words: Amy Lewis

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