When you feel unsatisfied or unhappy at work it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong. On paper, you might have a great job, but for some reason, things just don’t feel right. So what could be the problem?

I’m breaking down 15 reasons why your job may not be right, so you start to gain insight and create the career you really want.  Listen on the Fearless STEM Careers podcast or continue reading below.

1. Not Believing In Your Work

Often in STEM, you can feel unhappy because you’re working in a role or for a company you don’t believe in. Maybe you can’t see the positive impact you’re making, or you’re working on a project that you feel is doing more harm than good. A possible example could be defence. If you started your career wanting to change the world for the better or be involved in exciting projects, it can be very demoralising when you’re stuck in a role that feels like the opposite. So ask yourself, “Do I believe in the work I’m doing?”

2. Toxic Culture

Whether it’s a horrible boss, a tricky colleague, or anything else, a toxic environment will soon make you dream of quitting. You probably recognise the signs of a toxic culture. If things are very negative, whether it’s people complaining or gossiping, or taking credit for others’ work, it’s most likely a toxic environment; conversely, a non-toxic environment is supportive, inclusive and positive. So it’s important that you know the difference between the two, and also establish healthy mindful habits to help you stay sane!

3. Corporate Bureaucracy

Often larger companies have a range of corporate policies or processes you need to follow. If you’re someone who loves getting stuck into projects then you might find the bureaucracy frustrating. Some people thrive in the structure of a large corporate company, whereas others find it restrictive.

4. Size of Company

As we’ve seen, if you don’t like bureaucracy, then a larger company may not be right for you. Often smaller companies or startups have much less corporate governance, which gives you more freedom. This can mean the company is more disorgansied or things may feel a bit messier. But some people thrive in this situation. You may love being pulled from one project to another because it gives more exposure to different areas. Indeed you might like the structure of a larger company. It’s all about understanding your own personality.

5. Lack of Support

STEM is notorious for bad management, because often people who are very good technically are then promoted into a leadership position without appropriate personal development. This means they struggle to support their team. Alternatively, good managers, are so sought after that they tend to be spread too thin and thus can’t support their team properly.

6. You Don’t Click With Your Colleagues

You probably spend more time with your colleagues than you do with your best mates. So when you don’t click with them, or there’s nobody that you get on with, it can feel lonely and frustrating. It’s true you don’t go to work to make friends, but you do at least need effective professional relationships.

7. Wrong Location

This can mean anything from having a long commute to being on secondment in a different country and not enjoying it. It could be working in an office when you’d rather work on site. You can have the best job in the world, but if the location doesn’t work then your personal life can suffer. You end up happy in your job, but unhappy away from it.

8. Having A Different Passion

Interestingly I often find people follow a career route when they’re younger but then discover later on in life that they’re actually passionate about something completely different. For instance, one client is a scientist who discovered she loves ceramics: she’s now building a ceramics business. Often career changes can feel scary but it’s very normal if you think about it. How is 18 year old you meant to know what 30 year old you wants in life? Figuring out what fulfils you and what brings you purpose is key to a satisfying and happy career.

9. Your Needs Have Changed

You will always change as a person. The job that was ideal a year ago might not be the right fit today. Maybe your interests have shifted, or you’ve come back from maternity leave; perhaps you’ve discovered a new passion. Whatever it is, know that it’s normal for your needs and desires to change throughout your life. You don’t need to stick to one career path forever and it really is possible to create a career you love!

10. No Longer Learning or Gaining New Experiences

When you stop learning or stop experiencing new things, you essentially start to plateau in your career. This is when things start to feel easy and comfortable, but if you’re not careful you can end up in a rut or stagnating, which can lead to you feeling miserable. The best way to approach a career is with a learning mindset. If you’re always learning, you’re always growing. There may be times in your life when having an easier job is beneficial, but you’re likely to get bored if this is the case for your whole career.  

11. Wrong environment or atmosphere

Atmosphere is key to human interaction. When you go out for dinner it’s lovely to find somewhere that has a buzz, but it can be a terrible experience if the place has zero atmosphere. The same thing applies to your work environment. It’s important to know how you want your workplace to feel. Do you want it to be busy and serious, or creative and friendly? Do you want people to be laughing and joking around throughout the day, or only at lunchtime?  Of course, things have changed with more people working at home, but it’s still good to understand what suits you best. For instance, whilst working in offshore wind I loved being on the construction site because the atmosphere was more relaxed and less corporate.  Figure out what your vibe is.   

12. Can’t Be Yourself

This one happens surprisingly often. You can enter a career route and feel like you need to hide parts of yourself. Back in the day, work was very serious and you had to hide your personality or behave in a certain way. The world is changing though; even in the most serious industries, a bit of personality goes a long way. The more you’re able to be yourself at work, and feel like you’re not putting on a mask, the happier you will be.

13. Lack of freedom

This can be with your time, or how you plan out your work. Independence as a professional is becoming more important: to choose how you work, where you work, and when you work.  Because when you feel free, you feel a sense of control over your life, rather than someone else controlling you.

14. Lack of Progression

If there’s no way up the career ladder from where you are, you may feel frustrated and undervalued. Unless your current job is giving you some epic experience, as soon as you start to plateau, you’ll think “ok what next?”. If there’s no progression where you are, you don’t need to stick around. Simple as that. If you don’t know whether you should leave your job or stay then I’ve got a free quiz “Should you Quit Your STEM Job?” that will help!

15. Salary

You go to work to get paid. Even people who seem to have the most fun job in the world, like YouTubers or artists, all need to earn a living. So you can’t lose sight of salary. Don’t be afraid to know your worth. And don’t be afraid to ask for more money

Of course, there is a balance between money and happiness. There’s no point in selling your soul and being miserable, just to get a ton of money (unless your only focus is financial gain). Most people in STEM care about something beyond money, it’s why they spend years learning and studying. Many people would be happier being paid less if they had a shot at working on a dream project. So it’s important to weigh things up. If you don’t like the work you’re doing AND you’re not paid much, then something needs to change.

The Key Takeaway…

So that rounds up the 15 reasons you may not like your job. There’ll certainly be a lot more but hopefully this gives you some insight or some idea into what might be wrong at work. If you can be clear on what you don’t like you can find a career path that suits you better, where you will feel happier.

One Quick Action To Take Now!

Every time you feel unhappy or frustrated at work for the next two weeks, write down what’s causing it, a bit like a tracker or a diary. Is it a boss, is it the commute, is it the work that you’re doing?  Ask yourself “What don’t I like? Why don’t I feel this is right for me?” and build up a picture of what’s wrong. And whenever you feel frustrated, remember you don’t have to settle for second best.

Need more support?

Each week you’ll receive an email from Hayley, full of support, guidance and inspiration for your career. If you’re unhappy in your job, thinking of switching or want to excel further, this email will be a weekly boost to keep you on track. You’ll also be the first to know about any free masterclasses and coaching offers.

If you’re feeling unhappy or uncertain in your job, and unsure whether you should stay or leave, this quiz will help you get some clarity! Get ready to create a career with purpose, where you feel you belong and make the impact you’ve always dreamt of.

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