How to make a career decision when you’re unhappy at work

By Felicity Dwyer | Career change

May 01
Unhappy at work

If you feel unhappy at work, it may be a sign that it’s time to move on. But feeling unhappy at work can make it difficult to assess your best next steps. You may feel more driven by moving away from your current situation than by what comes next. You may not yet have a clear vision of where you want to go.

So before you make a move, it’s worth asking yourself what you really want. Is it a new career in a different field of work, or a similar job, but in a different company or sector?

What is the cause of your unhappiness?

Allow yourself some time to consider the root cause of your dissatisfaction. It may be that you don’t feel at home in your organisation; perhaps the company culture or purpose of the business doesn’t feel like a good fit.

Or it may be about the way you’re being managed – a common reason for unhappiness. This tends to happen when you’re either micro managed or not given enough support and direction. Either situation can lead to you to doubt yourself; it can knock your confidence and sense of self.  You may find that you would thrive in a similar role under a different manager.

Signs that you might be in the wrong job are when the elements making you unhappy are more about the culture, environment or management than the work itself.  Do you feel that you’re not getting enough positive feedback?  Are you not allowed to get on with tasks that you are perfectly capable of doing? Do you find you have little in common with your colleagues?

It’s also worth thinking back to what attracted you to your job in the first place.  What were you hoping for, were the job to have worked out?

Are you on the wrong career path?

Signs that you are on the wrong career path might include a lack of enthusiasm for learning more about your field of work.  The skills you enjoy using may not be a good fit for the job, and you may not be playing to your talents and strengths. You might feel a lack of satisfaction. You might not want to tell people what you do for a living.

Or it may be that the career you’ve chosen doesn’t fit with your other priorities. For example if you value family time and weekends with your children, you might need to rule out a career that always involves weekend working.

Recognise what makes a good fit

Ultimately finding the right job or career involves a range of factors. It’s partly about recognising your strengths, and being honest about your weaker areas. And it’s also about tapping into what interests you. Do you want to learn and progress in your current field, or do your interests lie elsewhere? What will give you a sense of purpose at work?

And it’s recognising the type of company culture that would be a good fit. Do you like a structured environment, or a more relaxed flexible ethos?  Do you enjoy a team environment, or is it more important to you to have autonomy in your work, and perhaps the opportunity to do some work from home? Do you like to be office or site based, or to be out in the field?

Some lucky people have known what they want to do from an early age. But for most of us, finding the right career involves a certain amount of trial and error.

And sometimes the only way we can gain an understanding of what we want, is to have an experience of what doesn’t work for us.  Accepting that you’re in the wrong job or career can be positive step, if you then use this knowledge to reflect on what you’re really suited to.

Career Change Toolkit Report

Career Change Toolkit


Contemplating career change or job search can feel daunting. Download this free toolkit full of resources and tips to help you feel more confident about your next steps.

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About the Author

Felicity is a career coach. She help people who want to change career, start a freelance business, or build their confidence. Felicity writes about career and business development, leadership and personal effectiveness.

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