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Cubicle Buddha
Cubicle Buddha

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4 signs your job is beyond repair

Sometimes you might feel like there’s no recovering. You feel like you’ve broken your relationships with your coworkers or that their perception of you can no longer be changed. After you’ve tried our techniques (like creating quiet in your cubicle, adjusting your work life balance, introducing happy elements, etc.) you might find that you simply have one choice left: Change your job.

Just change it. I know that sounds callous or unhelpful, but when I was in a bad job early in my career, I wish someone had told me that I should leave. I probably stayed there 2-4 years longer I should.

We did offer advice on how to accept and love what is great about your job, but a few passionate readers wrote in to say that they needed the opposite advice. They needed strength to stand up for themselves.

Here are some signals to look out for so you can determine when it might be time to move on:

#1 – You’re no longer learning:

It’s not always easy to identify the precise moment in your career when you stopped growing; but, like many things in this blog, it takes mindfulness and introspection to discover when you’re stagnating. There are many ways to learn on your own, but it’s a reasonable expectation that a career gives you on-the-job learning. Ask around first, because your management might be able to share with you opportunities that you were not aware of. Or consider taking a lateral move within the company to find a way to challenge yourself. Keep in mind that learning opportunities are not always technical or trade-related in nature, sometimes the opportunities are for growing soft skills, like how to interact with your coworkers or with customers. If you can’t find these opportunities then it is probably time to leave.

#2 – You’re being mistreated emotionally:

Assuming you have taken the time to listen to the person you’re fighting with (because listening and understanding is the root of all conflict resolution), and that you’ve analyzed that you’re not contributing to the suffering, then you probably have a clear mind to see if the workplace environment is unhealthy. Once you have identified the truth, either make the necessary change or get the heck out of there. Seriously, if you can’t improve your morale or the morale of others, don’t let yourself suffer any further.

#3 – Your raises are less than inflation:

In my time in the “real” working world, inflation was around 1.5% to 2%. There were a couple of years when I was learning a lot (because I was not always a great programmer); but even still, my yearly raises were non-existent. I was OK with that at the time because I intensely value learning. But there came a point when I had grown in my skill set and had given back to the company, yet my salary was still not recovering to its expectations… I knew I had overstayed. Learning to balance humility and self-respect is a challenging thing for any of us. If you know that you tend to favor one, force yourself to try the other. In my case, I had to pretend to have a surplus of self-respect. I left and I started at a company where I was able to learn, get paid well, and (most importantly) I was able to give back to real users. Speaking of which…

#4 – Not enough societal impact

Your ability to improve the lives of other human beings should be in the metrics by which you measure the value of your job. I’m not saying that every job should save lives (I know my software job doesn’t directly do that), but there should be at least small and appreciable ways to gauge your impact.

  • If you are in customer service, does your company provide you with the resources to improve the mood of the customers?
  • Do you have an opportunity to foster an environment that encourages others to smile? (If not, consider smiling anyway. Science has discovered that your brain will introduce happiness hormones when you mimic a smile.)
  • Are you that person at work who can lighten the mood at a tough meeting with a good joke?
  • Can you can start a forum or a mailing list at work for people to share lessons learned?
  • Perhaps your impact is simply that you do your job well? Without you, would there be a hole in the fabric of your team?

Those are just a few examples, and you may have to be creative to figure out how you are impacting others.

Seeking Balance Instead Of The Perfect Job

Important note: if you do happen to have part of what you need (let’s say high social impact), but you’re not learning and you’re not being compensated as well you’d like… then you should try to analyze if the balance is right. Sometimes a small tweak such as asking your boss for more mentoring opportunities can rebalance the scales and help you to redefine happiness at your job. Don’t be afraid to ask for more money if that’s what is required to keep you happy in your job (but make sure that you’ve strongly made the case for your value first because otherwise you might be putting your position at risk).

Taking Action

Are there good jobs that just need small tweaks to become great jobs? Absolutely. And are there jobs that are simply beyond repair? Absolutely. Take the time to ask yourself the right questions, and don’t judge the answers that you arrive at. Most importantly, promise yourself that you will take some kind of action.

“Mindfulness must be engaged [..] Once we see that something needs to be done, we must take action. Seeing and action go together. Otherwise, what is the point in seeing?” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh, At Home in the World

So once you’re ready to take action please consider a very important practical note:

  • It’s easier to find a new job when you already have one.

In other words, please don’t quit your job until you’ve found a new one. The best part of this approach is that while you’re going on interviews you may discover that you actually have a pretty sweet gig. Or you may learn that there are new opportunities that sound incredibly thrilling. But by taking stock of your needs and desires, you will now be able to proceed with calmness and confidence.

So what criteria do you use to know when it’s time to leave?

Top comments (9)

ssimontis profile image
Scott Simontis

Trust is one of the biggest issues for me. A lot of companies give off a vibe that they don't trust their employees. I see this a lot with remote work, where it is not offered/offered once a week maximum because they don't trust you to be doing work without seeing you in a cube (where you might be browsing Hacker News all day anyways!)

Micromanagement turns me off a lot. I had a manager who constantly questioned everything I did and demanded precise estimates and wouldn't end the conversation until I committed to an estimate. It was really stressful, sometimes with tasks you need to experiment a bit before you can say how long it will probably take to complete. His questioning made me more and more anxious and uncomfortable and I'd finally just break down and say what he wanted me to say so he would shut up and I could work.

If there is lots of drama in the workplace, that's a huge red flag for me as well. When coworkers use passive-aggressive behavior instead of trying to come to a common level of understanding or talk it through like adults, I'm out. We're a team, if you're keeping score or reminding me of every time I have been wrong before, there's no way we can act as a team and trust each other.

I was briefly an EMT and you basically trusted your partner with your life. There were certain people I couldn't work with because we had conflicting values. A lot of paramedics were very burnt out and just wanted to get off scene so they could take another nap, but I wanted to help out and practice compassion and at least give the person resources to city agencies who can help them with their problems since we couldn't. I'm not going to possibly get seriously injured if I don't trust my coworkers, but that attitude has been conditioned in me pretty well.

cubiclebuddha profile image
Cubicle Buddha

Thank you for your wonderfully thoughtful response. Yes, I think trust and respect is absolutely key to a happy workplace.

Micromanagement turns me off a lot. I had a manager who constantly questioned everything I did and demanded precise estimates and wouldn't end the conversation until I committed to an estimate.

Yea, I'm not really sure why managers continue to think estimates work when most of the happy developers have realized that you can't know what you don't know. There's a lot of joy that can come from not knowing.

Another great point of yours:

trying to come to a common level of understanding or talk it through like adults

It's wonderful that you try to speak to the person and try to deescalate the situation. Too many people just let the difficult environment stay tense. I love this quote from Thich Nhat Hanh:

“To love our enemy is impossible. The moment we understand our enemy, we feel compassion towards him or her, and he or she is no longer our enemy.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

tyrrrz profile image
Oleksii Holub

I've started noticing most of the things you mentioned and realized I'd grown past what the company wanted from me. My last straw was when I started replying to job interviews on LinkedIn and got a few offers with substantially higher pay. That was the point where I just knew I couldn't continue working there anymore. So instead of wasting any more time, I quit.

cubiclebuddha profile image
Cubicle Buddha

I’m glad that you took steps to get happier. May I ask how the new job compares? Like does it offer you other perks besides the pay increase?

tyrrrz profile image
Oleksii Holub

Tech stack is also very important for me as I don't want to work with certain technologies. Luckily, I had many options to choose from, so it wasn't difficult to find something that fits my profile. :)
In my last job we've had to deal with quite a lot of poorly written legacy code with no prospect of refactoring/rewriting it, so it was a good change.

Thread Thread
cubiclebuddha profile image
Cubicle Buddha

That’s fantastic to hear. Some people feel very uncomfortable refactoring code. Like many of my articles, I wrote about the emotional value of refactoring.

gregorgonzalez profile image
Gregor Gonzalez

I see myself reflected in the number 4. I feel that I do not help, that your work is monotonous, repetitive and lacks meaning. You feel that your work has no value and that nobody appreciates it or that it really does not matter if you are there or not.

I'm content to feel that what I do is useful for someone else

cubiclebuddha profile image
Cubicle Buddha • Edited

That’s sad to hear. I have had a few jobs like that. I’m sure you will find a new job soon that gives you that satisfaction. Or perhaps you can find a new way to look at your current job?

Like what if your goal every day was to increase the happiness of your team by either making them laugh or by helping them grow their technical skill?

Here are other tips that can help you while you remain at your current position:

gregorgonzalez profile image
Gregor Gonzalez

I'm just bored with the routine and that this project is only used by people who ask for requirements that they do not use later. As soon as I finish I will change projects and we will see.

the team is great, I can teach them and explain them and they really appreciate it, they know that I am capable of solving big problems.