Regardless of your age, background, or accomplishments, you have probably fantasized about the possibility of a new career at some point in your life -- those who haven't are the exception.
LinkedIn reports that of its 313 million members, 25 percent are active job seekers, while 60 percent can be considered passive job seekers -- people who are not proactively searching for a new job, but seriously willing to consider opportunities. In addition, there has been a steady increase of self-employed and temporary workers over the past two decades. This is true even in rich economies with low unemployment rates, like the U.S. and the U.K., partly because of the glamorization of entrepreneurship, the rise of the sharing economy, and the ubiquity of incompetent management, which makes the prospect of not having a boss rather alluring.
Yet at the same time, humans are naturally prewired to fear and avoid change, even when we are decidedly unhappy with our current situation. Indeed, meta-analyses show that people often stay on the job despite having negative job attitudes, low engagement, and failing to identify with the organization's culture. And, since career changes are often driven by emotional rather than rational factors, they often end up disappointing. So at the end of the day, there is something comforting about the predictability of life: it makes us feel safe. As the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard observed, "Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom."
The inability to make a decision is in itself anxiety-provoking, because it increases uncertainty about the future. In addition, most people, even millennials, value long-term job stability, not just in themselves but also in others. Unsurprisingly, the OECD sees job security as a key component of quality of life, while academic studies report that job insecurity is a major cause of psychological stress.
All this explains why it is so hard to leave a job, no matter how uninspiring or monotonous it may be. In order to help you decide whether it may be time for a career change, here are five critical signs, based on psychological research, that you would probably benefit from a career switch:
1. You are not learning.
Studies have shown that the happiest progression to late adulthood and old age involves work that stimulates the mind into continuous learning. This is particularly important if you are high on Openness to Experience/Inquisitiveness, a personality trait associated with curiosity, creativity, love of learning, and having a hungry mind.
2. You are underperforming.
If you are stagnated, cruising in autopilot, and could do your job while asleep, then you're almost certainly underperforming. Sooner or later, this will harm your resume and employability. If you want to be happy and engaged at work you are better off finding a job that entices you to perform at your highest level.
3. You feel undervalued.
Even when employees are happy with their pay and promotion prospects, they will not enjoy their work unless they feel appreciated, especially by their managers. Furthermore, people who feel undervalued at work are more likely to burnout and engage in counterproductive work behaviors, such as absenteeism, theft, and sabotage. And when the employee in question is a leader, the stakes are much higher for everyone else because of their propensity to behave in ways that could destroy the organization.
4. You are just doing it for the money.
Although people tend to put up with unrewarding jobs mostly for financial reasons, staying on a job just for the money is unrewarding at best, and demotivating at worst. As I pointed out in a previous post, employee engagement is three times more dependent on intrinsic than extrinsic rewards, and financial rewards extinguish intrinsic goals (e.g., enjoyment, sheer curiosity, learning or personal challenge).
5. You hate your boss.
As the saying goes, people join companies but they quit their bosses. This implies that there is a great deal of overlap between employees who dislike their jobs, and those who dislike their bosses. In our research, we find that 75 percent of working adults find that the most stressful part of their job is their immediate supervisor or direct line manager. Until organizations do a better job at selecting and developing leaders, employees will have to lower their expectations about management or keep searching for exceptional bosses.
Of course, these are not the only signs that you should pay attention to. There are many other valid reasons for considering a job switch, such as work-life balance conflicts, economic pressures, firm downsizing, and geographical relocation. But these reasons are more contextual than psychological, and somewhat less voluntary. They are therefore less likely to lead to decision uncertainty than the five reasons I listed.
At the end of the day, real-world problems tend to lack a clear-cut solution. Instead, the correct answer depends on its consequences and how pleased we are with the outcome, and both are hard to predict. As Abraham Lincoln said, "The best way to predict the future is to create it," so the only way to know whether a career move is actually right for you is to make it.
This post originally appeared on HBR.org.
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is an international authority on personality profiling, talent management, and people analytics. He is the CEO of Hogan Assessment Systems and a Professor of Business Psychology at University College London (UCL) and Columbia University.