With lifetime employment a thing of the past, jobs are a lot like relationships. Some are meant to be short-term flirtations and passing fancies, while others spark long-term passion and commitment. It can be tricky to know when it's time to break up and move on and when it's the right time to settle in for the long haul.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself now and then to check in on where the relationship stands.
Am I growing?
John Eldred, a professor in organizational dynamics at the University of Pennsylvania, has worked in his family business, economic development and consulting, as well as for a large corporation. His biggest requirement is that a job keep challenging him. "I need ideas that are fresh, that I can really rub up against. So when I stop learning, I leave," he says simply.
Take a look at where you are on the learning curve for your job. If it's flattening, consider whether there's additional training the company will invest in for you or upcoming projects that will add to your repertoire of skills and knowledge. If neither is on the horizon, then you've probably gotten all you can out of this job. Sticking around will just mean coasting for a while and then stagnating.
Am I valued?
Lee Ann Howard, an executive recruiter in Cleveland, says that it's time to go when the higher-ups don't consider you important to their future.
You'll know this is so when your ideas don't carry much weight in meetings and your ability to influence your team's or your company's direction has waned. Maybe your performance reviews will be marginal, or they will be OK but won't garner the promotions, raises, and opportunities they should. (More on raises is here).
Or maybe you'll keep bucking for the good assignments, and your managers will keep handing you the grunt work that no one wants to do but that has to get done.
These signs can be subtle and easy to ignore at first, but cumulatively they suggest that the higher-ups see you a certain way—and what they see doesn't fit what they most need. All the politicking in the world isn't going to get them to see things otherwise. (More on schmoozing the boss is here.)
Am I having fun?
A major sign that your job has gotten old is that you aren't happy anymore.
If you start hitting the snooze button one too many times on Monday morning, scoot out the office door at 5:01 p.m., and call in sick at the merest sniffle, chances are burnout has sneaked up on you. Shake yourself up and look for a new situation. The longer you stay where you are, the harder it will be to perform well and move your career forward.
"Do you feel drained, or do you feel good at the end of the day?" Howard asks. In an uncertain economic climate, she notes, "Everyone gets to point where they say, 'I'm tired of the cost-cutting and reorganizing and waiting for the ax to fall on me.' "
Does the job fit my life?
Sometimes a job is going perfectly well, but your life has changed enough that the two don't fit together anymore, and trying to squeeze one around the other creates too much stress, Howard says.
"If your kid is a junior in high school, you probably don't want to relocate with your company for a while. But if your parents are older or ill, you might want to relocate closer to them or need flexibility you didn't care about before," she says. The long hours and frequent travel that you loved in your 20s might not work as you need more time for family and community commitments in your 30s and 40s.
It can be hard to leave a job that's going well and that you like, but the alternative is to wait until this disconnect hurts your performance and tarnishes your reputation.
Don't wait for a single black-and-white, hard-to-miss signal that it's time to find a new job, because—as with relationships—it often never comes. Instead, your relationship with your job will ebb and flow and gradually either flourish or grow stale.
"There isn't a magic formula," Howard says. "You just have to periodically weigh everything and go with your gut."