Should you quit your unsatisfying job? These six questions will make your decision

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Anna Brech
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Those of us stuck in a dead-end job dream of copying that classic Bridget Jones moment when she stalks out and leaves Daniel Cleaver hanging. 

But the truth is, quitting your job is a big decision that takes careful thought and consideration.

You need to ignore that impulse that tells you to screw it all, and instead coolly assess the facts before taking the plunge.

We tend to be adverse to risk-taking, especially in these tough economic times. Be wary of the slew of people who will urge you to stick to the stability of a regular pay check - even if it makes you miserable.

On the other hand, you don't want to jack everything in without a proper plan of action. 

You need to be sure that the situation you end up with is better than the one you were in before, even if the transition takes a bit of time or back-pedaling. 

Here are six key questions that will help you decide whether now is the time to cut loose from your unsatisfying job. 

Do you hate your boss' job?

Good career-planning involves thinking in the long-term.

That's why interviews and performance assessments always involve the tricky question, "Where do you see yourself five years from now?"

Many jobs involve annoying, boring or menial tasks, especially if you're at the beginning of your career. But it's whether or no you like what you see ahead that really determines if you should stick around.

"Some jobs – especially when you’re new to the workforce – are necessary stepping stones towards your dream job," says Amanda Augustine, search expert at job website TheLadders.

"Take a look at what the person two rungs up the ladder is doing. If you find the job your manager’s boss performs to be appealing, then you’re on the right track. If not, then it’s time to start searching for other work."

Do you have Sunday afternoon dread?

We all feel downcast after a stressful day at work, but it becomes something different when you find yourself constantly angry, bored or depressed about your job.

Keep a work diary to work out exactly where you fit on this scale of frustration. Are these now and again run-of-the-mill gripes, related to a specific set of circumstances? Or do you feel hopeless and defeated about the entire prospect of your role?

Do you dread going to work, or start worrying about it during the weekend, as you build up to Monday? Are your loved ones fed up of hearing you moan about it? Do you find yourself plotting ways to cut short your working day? If the answer to any of these is "yes", you should take it as a warning sign. 

"When, despite your best efforts, the weeks of feeling deflated, frustrated, and downright bored far outweigh the positive ones, this is a serious red flag," says performance strategist Laura Garnett. "You feel that you're more alive in your free time than you are during work hours. You are constantly trying to figure out how to curtail your time dedicated to your job, meaning you look for ways to leave early, if possible. If no one is looking, you start planning vacations. You have little to no connection to the company's success."

You might also like: "How to launch a dream business while working full time"

Is your work environment toxic? 

A toxic work environment is unhealthy and untenable over any period of time. It's characterised by poor decision-making, poor communication, a lack of support and high levels of stress and dissatisfaction. 

Maybe you get no feedback on your performance, or all the feedback you get is negative with no pointers on how to improve. Important information may be held, or you might only find out about decisions after they've already been made.

More often than not in this kind of situation, work policies are ignored or only enforced on an ad hoc basis, meaning inconsistency is rife. Leaders tend to manipulate, blame and take credit for the success of others, in an atmosphere that erodes trust and teamwork.

The classic symptom of all this is a cloud of negativity; you and your team spend every break or pub trip moaning about management. And if this happens, you know it's time to get out.

"Grumbling and complaining by employees is common - they can find something to complain about almost anytime," says Dr. Paul White, psychologist and co-author of Rising Above a Toxic Workplace: Taking Care of Yourself in an Unhealthy Environment. "Then, sarcasm and cynicism show up, which demonstrates a lack of trust of management and leadership.

"When a workplace is toxic, it is, by definition, unhealthy and damaging to those who work there. Individuals who work in toxic work environments, especially over a long period of time, begin to see problems with their own personal health. This can include symptoms such as not being able to sleep, gaining weight and having increased medical problems."

Are you coasting along? 

If you're performing your job with your eyes closed or just coasting along without any kind of upwards progress, it could be time to call it a day.

Either your skills aren't being tapped or you're not learning anything. And either way, it's bad for your career progression.

If you fall into complacency or workplace inertia, you have no way to flex or test your abilities. When it comes to moving on, you'll find yourself hopelessly out of your depth in an ever fast-moving and competitive market place.

"If your learning curve has flattened out or you’re really not feeling challenged, this may signal a need to move on," says business consultant Camilla Cho. "You may not be learning something new every day on the job, but you should be improving upon your core skills and picking up new ones.

"You often have to take this into your own hands, of course—asking to be involved in a new project, signing up for courses you’re interested in, or attending a relevant conference or seminar in your discipline, for example. But if these possibilities don’t exist at your current job, it’s a sign that the company is not serious about investing in your career development."

Have you spoken to your manager?

Sometimes, even the trickiest of issues can be sorted out by chatting things through with your manager.

The chances are, they won't be aware of how unhappy you are  - and they don't have the power to change things if you don't let them know.

"This doesn’t work in every case; in some situations, the work or culture just isn’t the right fit, the boss is a nightmare or you want to move into a completely different field," says Allison Green of the Ask A Manager blog. 

"But in some cases, talking to your boss can actually help. For example, if your commute is wearing on you, could you get permission to work from home one or two days per week? Or  could you flex your hours to avoid rush hour? Or if a particular client is destroying your quality of life, is it possible to spend less time on that account and move to work that won’t make you want to pull your hair out? The answer might be 'no,' but sometimes it might be 'yes' – and you usually won’t know until you ask.

"Too often, people assume the answer will be 'no', and so they never ask – when, if they did, sometimes they would end up discovering that their manager cared enough about retaining them to be willing to make changes. Again, this doesn't happen every time. But it’s often worth asking the question."

Are you ready for some risks? 

Taking risks isn't the same as recklessness.

In fact, a swift trade in jobs can make you a more dynamic, flexible and higher-performing person than if you stay comfortably in the same job for too long.

This doesn't mean changing position every two months, but rather always having an eye to the opportunities that will challenge you and further your career.

In part, this is to do with following your gut on what really piques your natural sense of nosiness. 

"Follow your curiosity," says Forbes contributor Deena Varshavskaya, in an article titled 4 Practical Ways to Find Your Life’s Passion and a Career You Love

"Even though you may not have a clear vision for your career, you are probably curious about things which may or may not be obvious to you. It’s important to follow your curiosity and uncover your less obvious interest."

Bear in mind that today's working climate is much more amenable to a swift turnover of jobs, with employees moving quickly through different vocations. You need to your homework, have a plan and consult those you trust before you make a leap of faith. But the idea of taking a chance shouldn't stop you.

Try and see risk as a positive facet before you work out whether you're ready to embrace it or not. 

You might also like: "Meet the company boss who gives staff unlimited holiday and flexible hours" 

Have you got a plan? 

Any escapee worth their salt needs a solid strategy behind them. It's no good thinking what you will do ten minutes after you've quit; this is a plan you need to roll out in the two months or so before you give in your notice. Your plan should take into account the following issues: 

How long will it take to get another job? "People sometimes quit their jobs with nothing lined up, thinking that they’ll have a new one in a few months," says management adviser Allison Green. "But in this job market, job searches can take a year or even longer. Many people only realize that once they’ve already quit and it's too late. In most circumstances, you shouldn’t quit without another job lined up."

Can you afford to quit? "You can’t tell your creditors to call back next April," says careers expert J. Maureen Henderson. "If you’re going to take ditch your day job without a new gig lined up, make sure you have at least a few months’ worth of expenses saved." Bear in mind that leaving your job voluntarily may mean you aren't eligible for unemployment support, so don't rely on the government to back you up. See more here. You should also consider the loss of benefits such as sickness or maternity cover that would come with quitting your job. 

How will it look on your CV? A role can take up to a year to settle into properly. Have you given the job enough time to grow into it? Employers like flexibility but they don't like a CV peppered with multiple short-term positions, suggesting inconsistency and a tendency to job-hopping. Nor do they like unexplained gaps; if you can afford to take some time out, make sure you factor in something productive like voluntary work to talk about. 

Focus on your experience: As far as future experiences go, think about how you can play to your strengths - rather than getting carried away by the idea of a fantasy role. "Think less about the job titles and dream companies and more about your skill set and experience," says top US recruiter Kimberly Bishop

And lastly, don't burn bridges. You need all the friends you can get going forward, so make sure you stage a graceful exit and don't leave in the middle of a major project. 

Don't whatever you do run out the door shrieking with delight - save that for celebratory drinks...

Words: Anna Brech, Photos: ThinkStock

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.