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Square Peg in a Round Hole? What to do if You’re in The Wrong Job


A disengaged UK workforce

Recent and various research studies show that between 65% and 75% of the UK population think they’re in the wrong job. That is between two-thirds and three-quarters of our workforce who are bored and disengaged with what they do for a living. Alongside this, about one-third of UK employees are actively seeking to leave their current employer. So broadly speaking one-third of us are “actively disengaged” and a further one-third are “passively disengaged”.

Clearly this has a seriously adverse impact on productivity in the UK. But what about at an individual level? Isn’t there more to life than doing a job that you dislike?

Career inertia

There are many reasons that we end up in the wrong job. Some of us pursue a career from our youth, often guided by parents and teachers, that we follow without question of whether it’s the “right fit”. Once in the wrong job, there might be a perception that we can’t move for financial reasons; after all there are mortgages and bills to pay. Perhaps we don’t have the energy to invest in looking at alternatives. Or perhaps we simply haven’t thought about it!

These last two categories suffer from what I call “career inertia”. I work with a lot of people who have been forced to leave their jobs due to restructuring, downsizing, offshoring and outsourcing. Once over the initial shock, many of them start to reflect on whether they want to make some big changes to their working lives. One individual had a revelation while reading job adverts for roles similar to the one that he’d been doing for thirty years: “I suddenly realised that what I have been doing for the last thirty years is boring!”. Rather than find this news depressing, he saw this as his golden opportunity to do explore his career options and opportunities and set himself on a more fulfilling path.

Finding your square hole

If you think that you’re in the UK’s disengaged majority, here are a few things that you might like to reflect and act upon:

1.      Identify the source of your pain
A good place to start is to reflect upon what exactly is causing your disengagement. It is easy to assume that you are in the wrong job but sometimes you could be in the right job but in the wrong environment or with the wrong line manager. Let’s say you hate your job as a private practice lawyer. Ask yourself, do you hate being a lawyer or might you prefer to practice law in a corporate environment or in a smaller firm?

2.      Employ the MPS process
Identified by Tal Ben-Shahar in his book “Happier”, finding the right work that corresponds to our passions and our strengths can be challenging. The MPS process can help by simply asking yourself the following questions:

  • What gives me Meaning? What provides me with a sense of purpose?
  • What gives me Pleasure? What do I enjoy doing?
  • What are my Strengths? What am I good at?

It is worth spending some time reflecting on your answers. Which of the activities overlap in your answers to all three areas? What career options and opportunities might align to these?

3.      Research your options
Spend some time looking in to what a change of career direction might entail. Where do these jobs exist? What skills and experience do you need to fulfil the criteria? Do you need extra training?

Cast out to your wider network. Who do you know who can give you more information and/or introduce you to people in your areas of interest?

4.      Do one thing now
Thinking about changing your career can seem like a huge project and it invariably will be. However, like all projects, it can be broken down into smaller and more achievable steps. Commit to take one action today. Perhaps you will arrange to talk to someone about your career and reflections. Perhaps you will engage a career transition coach. Perhaps you will use and reflect upon the MPS process. Perhaps you will do some research into a field that has always interested you.

Maybe do this one thing:
Here is something you can do which will take you less than 10 minutes. Take this online questionnaire which will provide you with a short report identifying your values and motivators. This is a great place to start to question whether your current career aligns with your personal values and what it is that gets you out of bed in the morning: Dynami Values Questionnaire

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