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Maybe Johnny Paycheck Was Right

Earlier this year, I wrote a column titled "Johnny Paycheck Was Wrong."

At that time, it was becoming apparent how dismal the labor market had become. I wrote:

If you have a job, be thankful. More than 11 million people are unemployed, and the number is apt to increase substantially before it reverses course. In some states, the ratio of job seekers to open jobs is 7 to 1. While you might be unhappy about getting no raise after 20 to 30 years of uninterrupted (though perhaps small) increases in pay, staying employed is now a top, no, the only, priority.

Saying "Take This Job and Shove It" wasn't an option.

Several months later, I've come to realize that just maybe Johny Paycheck wasn't all wrong. Perhaps my advice was oversimplified. Yes, some workers are definitely sitting tight. Recent figures show there has been a decline in voluntary turnover (resignations). Even so, that doesn't mean you have to accept your current employment if it is not a good situation.

Over the past six months, I've seen a steady stream of unemployed age-50+ job seekers who have found meaningful and rewarding positions—even in this sour economy. At the same time, I've been coaching hundreds of people looking for work. About one-third of them are currently employed.

When asked why they have been looking for new positions, they generally respond, "I have too long to work to accept being stuck in a dead-end, unrewarding job. I'll accept the challenge and risk of looking for a new job." Note that they're not quitting work and then starting a job search; they're searching while still employed.

Should I Be Looking for a New Job?

Now I'm not suggesting that if you're unhappy at work, you walk into your boss's office and repeat Johnny Paycheck's great line. If you're unemployed, you don't have this luxury. If you're still employed, you can perform a successful job search while still on the payroll.

So, how do you know if it's time for you to move on?

You aren't retiring anytime soon. If you're planning to retire in just a few years, you might just want to sit tight and tough it out. But if you are looking at three to 10 or more years in the workforce, that's a long time to be unfulfilled with your work.

You're experiencing loss of interest and enthusiasm. Despite popular opinion about people universally disliking work, the evidence is the opposite: A majority of people enjoy their workplaces, colleagues, and jobs. If you're no longer creative and actively engaged at work, the hours, weeks, and years are going to drag. There's also increasing evidence that people who enjoy their work live longer and are happier.

Your work isn't recognized and rewarded. Can you honestly say that your boss and employer appreciate your effort and contribution? If you've become "part of the furniture" and you're not recognized, it's difficult to stay motivated.

You see no pay increase or possibility of promotion. Employers, even in difficult economic times, can find ways to reward or advance the workers they value most. If your pay increases have slowed or stopped, or if you're not considered for development and advancement, your employer may not value you.

The job is affecting your health. Work demands, both physical and emotional, can take a serious toll on your health and well-being. If you feel anxiety, anger, depression, sleep difficulties, or fatigue, step back and put yourself first. The truth is that a job can make you sick and even shorten your life span. Is a job worth compromising your health?

You have no friends at work. One of the telltale signs that you've stayed too long is that you have no one you consider a real friend at the office. Worse yet, you may have even come to dislike your boss, co-workers, and customers, and you've started distancing yourself and socially shutting down.

If you answered "yes" to more than four or five of these statements, you may want to entertain changing employers or occupations.

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