90 000 hours. That is how long the average person will spend working in their lifetime. In other words, we spend, on average, an approximate third of our lives working.

During their career, employees will spend an average of approximately 13 years of their lives physically at work. It gets more interesting when one considers that on average, people will spend only 328 days of their lifetimes socialising with friends. Of course, on the opposite end of the spectrum, we will spend about 26 years of our lives sleeping and seven years trying to get to sleep, but that is a whole different article. 

For many, work represents far more than just a vocation, it fulfils the need for calling, meaning, purpose and personal growth, and in some instances, it represents an extension and expression of the self. Work therefore represents a significant investment of our time, energy and in many cases, sanity. The question however begs, when is it time to cash in, and reinvest in a different job? Here are five signs that it’s time to move on. 

#1: Your health is suffering

No job is worth your health, period. Health represents your physical and psychological well-being, and the whole ‘mind, body, soul’ adage is really of application here. If your mind, body and/or soul are being crushed by your work, then it is time to seriously think about your options. 

Working yourself to death simply does not make sense, primarily, because death usually means you cannot work. But seriously though, we live in an age that applauds working ridiculous hours, and achieving results at whatever cost, that cost however is often too great. When work-based stress exceeds your capacities, psychological burnout (feeling cynical about work, not deriving satisfaction from work/relationships and feeling constantly exhausted) as well as physical burnout such as hypertension, diabetes, heart and pulmonary difficulties (your body’s way of saying enough already) become commonplace. 

Furthermore, thanks to a phenomenon called work-home interference (and its correlate, home-work interference) stress at work spills over into the home environment, which often leads to negative effects on family on the nature and quality of family relationships, which in turn spills back over into the workplace – ever had an argument with a significant other before going to work? How did that workday go for you? The take-home? In life we have two things we cannot buy again, our health and our relationships, no paycheque is worth trading for either.

#2: Going to work is like going to war

For the most part, work is more than just the job at hand, and in most instances, we cannot do what we do without interacting with colleagues, subordinates, customers and suppliers at work. There is no escaping the fact that part of the joy we derive from work is rooted in the culture at work, and the relationships that stem from it. When these things go sour, so does our experience of work.  

Take time to think about the following aspects, and how they play out at your workplace, when these aspects go wrong, more often than not a toxic workplace is the result: 

  • How does your organisation treat employees? Like resources to be exhausted and replaced, or as valuable contributors whose needs and viewpoints are duly considered? 
  • What is the dynamic/vibe like on the shopfloor and/or boardroom? Is there mass groupthink and punishment of ‘dissidents’ and whistle-blowers, or is there frank and open discussion of issues and situations at work? 
  • Does the company reward a culture of narcissism and winning at any cost (even if that comes at your colleague and/or customer’s expense), or does it promote a growth mindset with value on multiple employee perspectives? 
  • What outcomes is your company working toward? Do these outcomes resonate with your values and beliefs? If not, how long have you been shrugging off the existential guilt that forms when there is a disconnect between company outcomes and personal values?

#3: You yearn to be more, and do more

Be honest with yourself on this one. Have you ever had the nagging feeling that you were made for bigger and better things than your current role? How often have you shrugged off this belief as nothing more than a pipe-dream or wishful, perhaps even narcissistic thinking? 

Many people often feel embarrassed and ashamed of these types of thoughts, and, that by thinking them, they are being boastful and arrogant. These thoughts and feelings are not something to be ignored though – your unconscious mind is trying to tell you something, take a moment and listen to it. Do not be afraid or ashamed of your gut feelings, embrace them, if you feel you are meant for bigger and better things, then you are, fulfil your potential and be more.

#4: You are no longer growing at work

For most people, growth at work is two-fold; actual career progression through the ranks and; personal/professional growth (skills, experience, etc.). Some people need both to feel fulfilled, others only one or the other. Either which way though, when you feel that you have plateaued in terms of your career, skills and experience progression, then it is perhaps time to think about moving on. 

Ask yourself the following: 

  • What does career growth mean to you? Do you need advancement, or personal growth and fulfilment at work? Do you need both? 
  • Is there any further room for promotion, or increasing the diversity of your tasks at work? If so, will this support your professional development and future employability, or is it simply to the advantage of your employer? 
  • Are you stagnating at work? When was the last time you felt challenged, or ‘in the zone’ whilst at work? Do you continue to derive challenge and personal reward from your work, or are you just going through the motions? 

Sometimes solving this problem is a simple as taking the time to speak with your manager about your feelings, many times managers are not aware that a member of their staff wishes to do and be more at work. However, if the options for growth appear to be exhausted, then it is probably time for some serious introspection. 

Not taking the time to consider this aspect often leads to people stagnating both personally and professionally at work, and often leads to a feeling of being ‘stuck’ in a particular role, as they fear their knowledge, skills and abilities are now so specialised that they will not be of benefit to other prospective employers. The take home here? Do not get stuck in a job owing to your loyalty or comfort in a position, complacency is just as damaging to growth as a lack of opportunities for growth at work.

#5: Ethics are traded for profit

This is often something that does not happen immediately, and is ordinarily a slow, degradative erosion of ethical decision-making at a company. The slow, insidious nature of this process often makes it difficult to detect, primarily because one does not see the effects if you are not looking for them. Again, honesty with yourself is key here, if you find yourself shooshing the little voice in your head, or squashing the feeling in your gut when it comes to what your company does, and how it does it, then it is time to think about whether you wish to remain a part of it. 

Often, we get side-tracked by the fact that we have bonds, car-loans, school fees, you name it, that must be paid, and in the face of these sobering responsibilities, we try to ignore the disconnect between our values and how things are done at work. Remember, you can always make a plan when it comes to responsibilities, there is however, very little that one can do when it comes to living with the consequences of being part of unethical actions that can negatively affect the lives of others.The take-home? You cannot buy integrity. What’s-more, if your company gets caught out, and your name is associated with its actions, it is very difficult to rebuild your reputation and foster trust in others again. Get out before it is too late. 

Closing thoughts

The symbiotic relationship between ourselves and our work is a fragile bond. This bond is easily frustrated and broken down if appropriate balance does not exist between what we do, how we do it, and the consequences of having done so.  

Life is literally too short to be caught up in a job that has the potential to literally kill you, or kill off your capacity to experience joy, wonder and flow. If work is indeed an extension of ourselves, then it should operate to our benefit, and not as a parasitic paralysis of our life, soul and being.  Take a moment to ask yourself the difficult questions. Remember, the pain of change today, leads to personal growth, development and actualisation tomorrow.