CAREER CORNER: Are you stagnating in your current job?

Do you feel good about your job?

Are you being compensated adequately for the work that you perform?

Have you taken a vacation recently?

Do you have a (rough) goal of where you want to be in 5 years?

Are your skills being upgraded from the work that you perform?

Have you taken opportunities to expand your skill set recently?

Is your work-related stress level low?

Are you in good health?

Are you motivated?

If you answered “no” to some of the questions above, you may be stagnating in your current job.

There are times when we love our job, and there are times when we don’t. If it occurs occasionally, it’s normal – you can’t love your job every day. However, if it occurs frequently or affects your personal life, it may be an indicator that something is wrong with your current career position or your long-term career path.

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Several years ago, an educational psychologist enlightened me to the close relationship between work and personal life. In North American society, we are socialized from an early age to accept the notion: “You are what you do.” In other words, a doctor is considered more “important” than a janitor in social circles.

Taking this notion a step further, many North Americans also equate work success with personal success and put great social value on their career and career choices as a result. The negative side of this is easy to see – a bad day at work often means a bad day at home afterwards, and bad work stress (as opposed to good, or motivating work stress) often leads to personal stress.

Bad work stress is often an indication that your career isn’t progressing the way you had planned.

According to the Government of Canada’s Canadian Health Network Website, bad work stress can be caused by a number of things: Lack of career advancement (or possibility of career advancement); inadequate compensation for the work that you perform; personality conflicts with others; not enough time to get work done; lack of vacation or time off; unrealistic work expectations.

Ignoring or enduring bad work stress for a long time will undoubtedly affect your career and possibly your personal life. However, making the right changes to your current career to reduce bad work stress may not be so easy.

Here are some guidelines that I have found helpful in the past when dealing with bad work stress to prevent career stagnation:

1. Evaluate your job. Take a few moments to reflect on your job itself in order to identify whether it is worth your time to continue doing. Does your job fit into your long-term career plan? Does your job (and organization) allow you to grow your career in a healthy fashion? Can you see your current job in a less stressful state three months from now? If you don’t feel comfortable with the answers to these questions, then perhaps the best use of your time right now is to start searching for another job opportunity.

2. Talk with your supervisor. Often, people don’t let their supervisor know that they need to change their current job to better fit their career needs. Make an appointment with your supervisor to discuss opportunities for growth/education, as well as motivation, compensation, time and procedural changes.

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3. Take a vacation to rejuvenate yourself. Be sure to take a vacation where you have ample time to relax. Some vacations such as boat cruises pack your time with tours and activities that will leave you feeling drained. Never take work with you on vacation!

4. Get organized. A typical job position involves more tasks over time. Sometimes these new tasks can outgrow your current strategies for organizing time. In that case, it may be time to explore new ways of managing your time. Using a PDA, Outlook or Google Calendar to organize your events may allow you to better organize your tasks and reduce your job stress.

5. Sit a course. Attending a class is one of the best career motivators. It allows you to broaden your horizons, learn new technologies, and interact with other classmates in your field. Each time I have attended a course in the past, I left energized about my career path.

6. Participate in a new outside activity. In high-stress jobs, I find it best to embrace the phrase: work hard, play hard. Make some time several times a week to engage in an activity that has nothing to do with your job. This could involve joining a fitness club, attending your local Linux Users Group meetings, playing a particular sport (such as Wii Tennis), learning a musical instrument (avoid bagpipes), or playing online video games such as Quake (stay away from online MMOs such as “World of Warcraft” as you may lose track of time and not show up for work the next day).

7. Eat right. The food we eat can affect our health as well as increase or reduce the amount of physical stress that we have. Adhering to a healthy diet will not only make you feel better, it will likely help with your bad job stress. So, next time you go to McDonalds and order that double Big Mac meal with large fries, make sure you order it with a Diet Coke!

8. Buy a motivator. For most IT people, there is nothing more satisfying than buying the latest PDA or laptop to help you with your work. It may sound silly, but it works – try it! Just visit a few gadget sites such as Engadget or Gizmodo to find a cool one (e.g. the Nokia N810).

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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