Welcome to “Dear Dana”, our weekly column to give you career and workplace advice/coaching. Please write in and tell me about a career challenge or frustration you’re facing at the office! – Dana Theus
Dear Dana, I used to love my job; recently my colleague caught me complaining about it. I guess I’ve started complaining more than I realized. It kind of woke me up and then I heard you talking about staying too long at a job. I’m wondering if I’m just bored? How long should you stay at a job? Should I look for a new job? – Wondering in Wisconsin
I’m glad that your colleague and I could “wake you up” to this question: how long should you stay at a job? Of course, the answer is personal to each of us in the context of a particular job, career and life, but I think the main insight you picked up on is that no matter how well matched you are at first, every employer and every person reach a point where it’s time to reconsider or renegotiate in order to support your continued growth.
There are two main ideas here we should all consider:
- You and your job have a relationship, and like all healthy relationships you need to regularly review and renegotiate your agreement, keeping in mind that you can always agree to part.
- Jobs have a natural progression, illustrated in the graphic below, where we go through the process of learning how to succeed, and then accomplishing successes, and then building on your success to position you for your next big accomplishment. And if you don’t move on to your next thing within the job you have, you probably have stayed too long.
The key is for you to realize that in order to keep growing in your career, you have to notice the point at which you’ve accomplished a lot of what your current job offers you and then leverage your personal growth to accomplish new things. Sometimes your current job can adapt to allow you to grow into new capabilities and sometimes it can’t. This point may take a year or two or it may take decades, depending on you and your job. For many these days, it’s a shorter period of time (about 4 years in the private sector), which is why I encourage people to think about their career as fluid, and to focus on career health in addition to job satisfaction.
Yes, you can stay at your job too long. – Click To Tweet
It’s not your employer’s job to manage your personal growth
The problem for many of us is that we have unconsciously given the responsibility for our personal growth to our employers. We get a job and expect it (and our boss) to keep feeding our interests. It’s possible that this is what’s going on for you. You’re unconsciously bitter at your employer for not keeping your job interesting, when in fact it’s you that has grown to the point where you’re ready to learn new things.
What can you do to keep growing in your career if this job has gotten bored? Even though it’s obvious that you can look for another job, it’s not necessarily what I recommend as step one. Step one, is really for you to sit down and take stock of where you are in your life and career. Based on this, you can work on developing your ideas about your dream job at this point in your life. Do this regularly because it will keep changing! We should all do this every year or two at least.
Armed with this information, you can take a fresh look at your current job and examine whether it has the potential to become your dream job if you make some tweaks here and there. Even if you believe your current job can’t become your dream job, it may be a good idea to talk to your boss. For all you know, she has ideas on how your job could change, or whether there are other opportunities at the company that might be well suited to your development path. But don’t give your boss an ultimatum unless you’re ready to leave your job if she can’t make you a better offer.
So how long should you stay at a job? That’s up to you and your job, but that’s the question you should be asking yourself on a very regular basis, and listen to the answer! We have lots of resources here in our Career Center to help you in this process. Use them!
P.S. – Have a question you’d like anonymous support on? Write me!
P.P.S – Take our 2-Minute Career Quiz to find out how healthy your career is (and whether it’s time to leave)
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