Work Matters

Straight Talk and Solid Evidence About Organizational Life

What Are The Signs That You Would Be Happier Doing Something Else?

Are you in a bad job, or just the wrong job for you?

I was interviewed for a New York Times column by Phyllis Korkki on The True Calling That Wasn't, which appeared last Sunday.  In course of the conversation, I started thinking about what I learned from Richard Hackman (one of my mentors) about what kinds of jobs motivate people and about theory and research on identity in organizations.   In doing so, I realized that while much of what I write about focuses on bad versus good bosses, jobs, and organizations, that I ought to also be emphasizing that there are many perfectly good jobs out there held be people who are, nonetheless, quite unhappy because the kind of work they do, the mission of their organization, and a host of other factors simply do not mesh well who they are and what they would want to be. 

Of course, one of the key dimensions here is whether a person is an extrovert or an introvert.  I had a little glimpse of this with my own family a few weeks back when we were on vacation in Mexico, and my daughter and wife started talking about what job they would most like at the resort.  My daughter loved the idea of being the bartender because there would so many people to talk to; my wife picked being one of the landscapers because the idea of working in silence and sustaining beautiful plants and grounds appealed to her sense of order and aesthetics.  In her case, I should add one of the main reasons that she loves her job is that helping girls grow into confident young woman with great skills and character counts so strongly in her value system, that doing all the extroverted things she does as CEO of the Girl Scouts of Northern California trumps her inner introvert.

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But some of us have jobs that don't fit who we are and we would be much happier doing another kind of work.  As the article says, in talking to Phyllis, I thought of three signs that someone is in the wrong job. These are:

1. "People whose careers aren’t the right fit often feel like impostors, even if they are very skilled at their jobs."

2. "Another symptom is constant annoyance with the demands being made of them, even though these are reasonable for the business they’re in."

3. "An additional warning sign is a feeling that their current work doesn’t rank very high in their value system."

This little list just begins to scratch the surface.  As we are -- I hope -- beginning to move to a time when many people who have decent jobs that don't fit their identity can find a better calling.

I wonder: What are other signs that a competent person is in the wrong job?  And, when they are looking for a new job, what are signs it will be better for them?

Bob Sutton is an organizational psychologist, Stanford professor, and author of five books including bestseller The No Asshole Rule and Good Boss, Bad Boss (September, 2010).

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