When to hold, when to fold
Often, there are good reasons for trying to hang on to an unhappy job at least for a while. Blair advises people who have been in a job that has felt wrong for six months or so to try and stay on for another six months if at all possible, “but in that period, I wouldn’t just stick it out, I would do some serious work on what seems to be wrong.”
She suggests finding a mentor, a former professor, or a counselor—someone outside the employment setting to use as a sounding board and guide. “I would not recommend someone on site,” Blair says, as word can travel quickly within organizations, and confidentiality is not always respected. Communicate with that mentor to help you work out the issues, Blair says. “It could be that there are very easy fixes to many of the issues.”
If you feel you are in the wrong job but you like the organization and its location, sticking it out for a while might provide enough time for a creative solution, such as proposing an entirely new position. Francine Gaillour, MD, the executive director of the Physicians Coaching Institute Inc., based in Bellevue, Wash., has helped some physicians create new roles for themselves.
“You must be very clear about what it is you want, and then you must identify all of the stakeholders and specify how the new position will benefit each of them,” says Gaillour, who works with clients to help them make and present an argument. She helps clients consider the individual personalities of the decision-makers and the various ways in which people process information. According to Gaillour, physicians benefit by learning to craft a more cogent proposal, even if the individual position ultimately
is not approved.
Aaron Spokane, Ph.D., a psychologist and a professor of education and psychology at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Penn., also sees value in thinking it through before moving on to another position. When people are experiencing occupational stress and are unhappy in their jobs, their options often seem to constrict, and they decide
the best way to fix it is to leave. Spokane says, “I think it’s wrong to take another job before you figure out what is wrong with the one you’re in now because you’re likely to make the same mistake again.”
At least theoretically, doctors should be well-equipped to handle an objective evaluation of their job situation, according to Spokane. “Physicians are very good at diagnosing and assessing issues. They have the proper tools to look at their own situations,” says Spokane, who says there are different ways to look at job dissatisfaction. “One is to conclude that there is something wrong with the job itself. Another is to conclude that there is something wrong with me, and the third thing is to conclude that there is a combination of things going on, some of which might be fixed and get better.”
Some individuals benefit from working with a career counselor, says Spokane, who has written extensively on career issues. There are certainly good assessment and career development tools that can help determine job stressors and how one’s own behaviors that might be affecting work experiences. However, his strongest recommendation for those struggling with career matters is to talk with someone about what you want in a career. It sounds surprisingly simple, but often people do not actually sit down and talk
about their careers with anyone—even spouses. “If you don’t verbalize it externally, it’s hard to think it through yourself,” says Spokane. Verbally acknowledging the problem and talking about what you would like to improve can help. Spokane refers to this process as “rehearsal of your aspirations.”
“Once you articulate that and it’s out in the open, it’s easier to clarify the issues and to arrive at a solution. When people suffer quietly and don’t talk to anybody, they often conclude, ‘This is awful, I’ve got to get out of here.’ I think that it may be a natural thing for physicians to do because they are so self-reliant,” says Spokane.
However, Spokane says, “If you look at all the factors and you conclude that leaving is the right thing, then you trust your judgment and you go.”
Blair agrees. If a job situation becomes dangerous or disastrous, “I would get out now.”