Are you one of them?

A recent survey (of 2,000 workers) has found that half of all Britons are unhappy at work and believe they made a mistake over their career choice.

This sounds like a lot, but as a psychologist I want to ask questions about the questions and the survey methodology. It’s like asking us if we are happy with our weight, probably 80% would say they would like to be 5-7 pounds lighter, and that’s certainly doable in a month, but how many people take action to lose the weight?
Also I think this headlining doesn’t necessarily lead on from the first sentence. Just because someone says they are unhappy in their work, it doesn’t mean that they regret their career path. It could be the right job but the wrong organisation, or the job now isn’t working for them.
I have a client (let’s call her Eve) who loved the international travel element of her job, but this has now expanded from 5 days a month to the majority of the time, with about 5 days a month back in the UK. She’s now engaged and planning to get married soon so wants a job that will allow her a more conventional working life.
She’s senior so she may be able to suggest changes – and that’s an area we have been working on, developing a business case for why the changes we’ve considered will work. It involves making use of technology but also developing a more junior member of staff, who would love the travel and she can take a more mentoring role.

The survey included that members of the legal profession are the unhappiest.

That sounds about right, I work with more unhappy lawyers than any other profession. I think it’s because it’s seen as a great job, with high status and parents love their son/daughter to move into this area. But young people haven’t always properly thought what the job is actually like and the impact it can have on a work life balance. They can often find the high targets for billable hours hard to reach.
My ex lawyer clients have moved to jobs such as law recruitment, NHS manager, management consultancy, golf pro, small business owner and running a stables. Others have retrained – one to accountancy, another into medicine.

The survey said that 49% are considering changing jobs.

This may be a general underlying feeling that there must be something better rather than actually taking action to make a move. It’s back to the comparison with thinking of losing weight.

So what do you do if you feel this way?

If you do feel unhappy at work, and are considering changing jobs you need to get really clear about why you feel this way.
It can be helpful to list all the reasons you are dissatisfied at work.
Is it the content of the job, relationship with boss, colleagues and customers, something to do with the working environment – such as location or travel to work distance?
Maybe there is no scope for promotion and you feel stale?
It’s important to understand why you feel like you do.

You then need to decide what you are going to do about it?

Sometimes the benefits outweigh the negatives and that keeps you there. My client (Eve) now hates the travel but loves the high income and share options, and she spends up to the salary she’s on. Is she willing to take a drop in salary, one of the things we discuss in our sessions.
You also need to think about how much time you will have to look for a new job. Some of my clients are so busy that they can’t even find the time to do an hour’s prep work for me, so how will they properly research a new job?
Time is available, we can all be stricter with the time we spend on work tasks, on using the internet, watching TV, and we can get up earlier. But we have to be prepared to make sacrifices for the prize of a great new job.

And what will you do?

There are so many potential jobs out there, but you may feel constrained by your CV, you may feel you have to do more of the same, or a job that is the most obvious step from where you are now.
Talk to a recruitment consultant and they are likely to want you to do something similar, you’ll be easier to place.
Talk to family and friends and you will be subject to their biases and, probably, limited view of the options.

Dream jobs

The study also said that many would like to run a café or B&B, become a novelist or run a bar, 70% also said they would consider working for themselves.
These sound more like dreams rather then something decided based on a proper analysis. It’s great if you have the money to set up a café etc. but before making this move you might like to road test it.
I’ve spoken with another client who wanted to set up a tea shop as she likes making cakes, but there’s more to a tea shop than baking and I suggested she got a job in a café to see what she thought about the work, and she would also get more knowledgeable about stock rotation, ordering and so much more.

Working with a career professional can help

I spend a lot of time keeping up with new trends both in more sophisticated use of social media for job search, but also in keeping up to date with changes in the employment market.
I still do occasional recruitment assignments so I can check how well a client will measure up.
Plus there are so many options and we need to unpick your CV, consider all your strengths and talents. Often to use ability testing to understand strengths you may not be aware of.
This expands your knowledge of options, allowing you to properly explore.

Definitely one option is to move elsewhere, but if you look around and everything feels impossible …

You need someone to challenge your ‘crooked thinking’ and to help you to see the ways you can make the move. Yes, sometimes it can be challenging, sometimes you need to take an interim step, and there may be a drop in salary, but not always and it can be possible to make a quite radical change, as long as you are crystal clear as to how you measure up and what you offer that is different to the more traditional type applicants.
I help some clients do this, but not all are willing to focus deeply on the preparation they need to do to be a credible candidate.
I like to unpick articles and I hope this has been helpful for you.
As always if this has promoted any questions feel free to make a comment, or to get in touch if your question is more personal.
Brought to you by Denise Taylor, career coach and chartered psychologist with Amazing People. Denise is regularly featured as an expert in the press and is the author of 7 books including ‘How To Get A Job In A Recession’

Published On: July 19th, 2014 / Categories: Career Management, Job Search /


  1. Denise Taylor July 20, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    I also posted this on LinkedIn – here are some of the comments, and my replies
    The true reason why people feel unhappy everywhere – and not only about thier jobs – is because our society is only and unfortunately money-based one. It won’t help changing from one job to another. It is necessary (and urgent) to make an inner change in the human being. Or the unhappiness will last and last…
    Hi Paulo, thanks for commenting. It’s always hard to cover everything in an article, when I talk to people who are unhappy in their career it is not always due to the salary, but their wider life, such as wanting to lose weight or get out of a stale relationship. Their career seems to be the first areas to focus on, but a new job won’t change their life and the unhappiness can return. I do agree that we can’t focus on money, and need to look internally as well as to extrinsic rewards. Being more at ease with who we are can lead to acceptance with our lives and to realise that we are responsible for our own happiness.
    Perhaps misery is our natural state, with the occasional flicker of joy more an interruption than any sort of sign-post to something better. Perhaps 49% of us are always destined to be unhappy at work, regardless of career advice or counseling or life-coaching or any of the exigencies of the job. Maybe we need the unhappiness; in a socio-biological sense we might be built for unhappiness. Happiness is a chimera that drives us on, but may drive us astray. Myth warns us against happiness: the lotus eaters were happy.
    Hi David, interesting … it gets me thinking about do we see the glass as ½ full or ½ empty?
    Taking a historical perspective it is only very recently that we have looked for happiness through our work, we just accepted our fate and were too busy surviving in the past.
    We could say we need the dark side to appreciate the light, and it is through dealing with difficult situations that we develop and grow. If we expect to be unhappy then we won’t be disappointed, but maybe there is something that someone wants to be – beyond the outward signs of a successful career. Perhaps this is why more people are meditating now?
    So new generations shouldn’t be stupid by entering companies with poor reputation…
    I think due diligence is important. I am sometimes astounded that people accept a job without really knowing more about the organisation they are joining. Perhaps though it’s not that they are stupid but just naive. It really is worth people checking out an organisations reputation, meeting with boss and colleagues etc.
    Hi Denise Your article is one that I found to be of interest. I have recently looked at my own career path and I do have some regrets. As a military man I am extremely proud of the things I have done and the things that I have been able to accomplish in my life time. However, my regret is that I did not have someone mentor me or at least kick me in the azz to get some education to top it off. I can do and have done many things, but as I approach retirement from the military I see that the specific lack of becoming “papered” will hold me back – no one wants someone without that paper today and that makes finding a new job very difficult. Or perhaps I should say – “many, if not most, do not want someone without paper”. So I have become that mentor in the past few years. I make it a point to sit down with the newbs and the beginners and talk to them about those career paths. I tell them what I perceive to be my mistakes were and how they can avoid them. Perhaps more people should do this – after all, Karma has a way of finding you. Do good and perhaps your life will improve. Even if it does not improve, you have made a difference and that might prevent at least one person from making the same mistakes you did. Then that person can go out and make new mistakes. As we all do! LOL Be safe and best to all
    Hi Bruce, thanks so much for sharing your personal story. I think all of us can look back on our lives with some regret, someone else may wish they had spent more time with their family rather than to study for a part time MBA. And times change … in the past many of us let our organisation manage our career.
    I love that you are now mentoring younger members of staff, and I believe that as we age we move into a different life phase and that’s an important role to play.
    As you move into retirement from the military, perhaps you may like to take a change of mind set. Focus more on the achievements you gained from a practical perspective, and seek out organisations that appreciate what you have to offer. I don’t know when you will move on but taking charge, contacting organisations is going to be much more helpful than waiting to see jobs advertised.
    You can also consider a more creative approach to your resume or even use a different format to get people interested in you … selling the sizzle not the steak! I know plenty of American resume writers who would love to work with you on revising your CV if you want some recommendations, or of course feel free to send me a personal message.
    All the best to you too.
    Hi Denise, thank you for a very interesting and thought provoking post. My view is that if you’re unhappy then it’s time to take action. Many prefer to play it safe but in my opinion and personal experience, being brave and following your heart, can lead to doors you never new existed opening up for you! Best wishes, Simon
    Thanks for the comments Simon, I know for some following their heart will work but for others it can lead to misery … they don’t make it as a (fill in the gap) and end up unhappy. One person I spoke with gave up a well-paid job to follow his heart – it didn’t work out and he lost his house as he couldn’t pay the mortgage and then lost his family as wife and children moved out. He then approached me for help …
    Other people I work with are brave, and it has been a lack of confidence that has held them back, for them taking the leap, with a bit of support is absolutely the right thing to do.
    We also need to consider values, and for quite a few security is a key value so whilst their heart says be a XXX they are concerned it will take them away from a secure base. It can help to dip a toe in and to try things out so with them it may be that what their heart tells them is something they can follow outside of their main job. Perhaps making a move later, or perhaps that is enough.

  2. Denise Taylor July 20, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    I think if you are doing a job you love then no matter the external influences be it environment, coworkers, company you work for etc would not take the satisfaction you get from just doing it.The simple fact is when you are doing something you love it follows you are happy.
    Hi Amina, I hope you are doing a job you love as a private tutor, Yes many people will be happy if they are doing a job they love. But some people are highly sensitive people (HSPs) and can take negative comments very personally and can be affected by this, and so find it harder to stay motivated even though they love their job. I hope this is just for a very small number of people – all the best to you.

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