Deciding whether to stay in your job or leave for something better is never easy. Whilst your instinctive answer might come to you quickly, nagging doubts about the alternative are never slow to follow.
And that’s completely understandable. After all, your job is a significant part of your life and making sure it is right for you is a hugely important consideration.
Naturally, all jobs will have their good points and bad points. Unpicking them and deciding on your best course of action is where the difficulty lies. And then there are the practicalities of actually changing your job.
But when your job fits you – when you feel engaged and fulfilled by the work you do – you are rewarded by a sense of place and purpose. A job which you enjoy can transform a significant part of your life, turning it into something from which you can take a great amount of satisfaction.
This post aims to guide you in evaluating your job, and what you want from it. You may find that you view your current role in a different light or you might be prompted into seeking out your ideal job.
You may even conclude that you need a different career entirely.
A whim or a fixed desire?
Even your perfect job won’t be perfect every day. Sometimes things will go wrong and make you dissatisfied with your current work. For example, your firm might make a decision that you disagree with, you might be turned down for a promotion, partnership or a pay rise, or you might feel that other staff are being treated more favourably.
Whilst any and all of these things may give you a grievance against your firm, the key point is to assess whether these are just temporary ‘wrinkles’ in an otherwise great job, or the signs of something more fundamental.
The telltale signs that something needs to change
To help you in your assessment, you should be aware of the following warning signs which may indicate that your job is no longer right for you:
- A lack of, or low, motivation: This is a very clear indication that something isn’t right. Ideally you should feel fulfilled by your job and highly motivated to work for your firm and clients.
- Disliking or dreading going to work: If you feel this way, you should explore the reasons why. Usually, it’s a sign that your job is not going well.
- Hating to work alongside certain colleagues: Occasional fall-outs are a part of everyday life; but problems arise when they affect your ability to work professionally. How serious this is will depend on how strongly you feel and how closely you are expected to work with the colleague(s) in question. Additionally, extreme examples might qualify as workplace bullying or harassment. You should consider how much your colleagues are affecting your life, personally and professionally. It may be beneficial for you to leave your job for your own well-being.
- Feeling undervalued or unappreciated: It is common to have occasional thoughts that you are not fully appreciated in your job, but if this is a constant feeling it is another clear warning sign. Perhaps you do not believe your firm cares enough about you or the work you do? Perhaps you are being paid a lot less than other solicitors in your field with similar skills? Being properly recognised and rewarded for your work is a crucial part of feeling happy in your job.
- Not being listened to: If your firm does not listen to your opinions, ideas or valid concerns, then they might not be the right firm for you. A good firm should respect its staff and look after their welfare. This includes considering what has been said to them and acting appropriately.
- Poor performance: Usually, if you are not interested or enthusiastic about your work (it just be your area of law), you are unlikely to be doing it to the best of your ability. This can lead to poor performance if you are particularly disillusioned, and trigger a vicious circle of missed targets, performance reviews, poor billing, lost advancement opportunities, and even less job satisfaction.
Aside from looking out for these warning signs, there are some other considerations which may help you in your decision:
Can you improve your current job for yourself?
This may not be possible where the problems lie with matters which are beyond your control, but trying to improve your current position is always worth thinking about.
For example, if a decision has been taken which you don’t agree with, you could ask the partners for feedback or confirmation of their reasoning. If you were turned down for a promotion, this may indicate how you can improve your chances for the next opportunity.
Discussing grievances with your employer gives them the opportunity to make changes and improve matters for you, though not many solicitors tend to lodge grievances (but they should). The worst-case scenario is that the response will not be constructive or make your situation worse, but these outcomes really just give you further indication that your current job is not right for you.
Alternatively, there may be changes which you can make yourself. They might be difficult – especially where you are trying to change your mindset or habits – but you could be rewarded for putting in the effort. For example, you might achieve a better work/life balance, greater job satisfaction, lower stress, or a new passion for the work you do.
Do you agree with the values and culture of the firm?
Many law firms present a culture and set of values to the public. However, these might not always reflect the true ways in which the firm operates.
The values of a law firm often go hand-in-hand with its culture. Some firms are driven by results, profits, hourly rates, and targets, whereas other firms are more focused on helping clients, customer service, offering legal aid and law clinics, and providing free initial consultations.
You will have your own views on these values, but if your firm’s values don’t match your own then you are likely to find the job difficult and/or ill-suited. This, invariably, leads to the job being unpleasant and unfulfilling.
Culture can also vary greatly between different firms. Some firms may expect you to work additional hours and come in on your days off; others may be happy for you to work only your agreed hours. As with values, you need to make sure that the firm you are working for operates a culture which you are happy with. If you disagree with a firm’s culture you are unlikely to enjoy working there.
What is your workload like?
A firm’s value and culture will often feed into the workload you are allocated, and this will have a significant impact on how successful you are in your job.
Targets may motivate and inspire you, but failing to hit them may have the opposite effect. If you are being set unrealistic targets (as I was) with the workload you have, your job satisfaction is bound to suffer.
Excessive workloads can lead you to feel that your firm does not care about your well-being or does not appreciate the supreme efforts you make. After all, law is a stressful enough job without having excessive work. On the other hand, if your workload is too light (usually a rare problem to have in a law firm!), then it is easy to lose motivation, or to feel superfluous or unchallenged. Either extreme can mean that your job isn’t right for you.
It may be possible to improve your situation, however. With sparse workloads, you have the option of trying to generate more work – to be the “rain maker” – and putting forward ideas to your firm on how to do so. You could also make your firm aware that you have spare capacity, showing that you are being proactive, though in my experience most lawyers are too scared to fess-to having too little work.
Alternatively, if there has been decline in work in your particular specialism then it may be time to leave your firm and look for a new challenge. Your firm may consider that it is oversubscribed with fee earners and look to make redundancies. Law firm redundancies are frequently in the legal press.
For heavy workloads, usually the only option is to make the firm aware of your situation and ask for support.
Whichever workload situation you communicate to your employers, their response will give you very clear indications as to whether this is the right firm or job for you.
Making the right decision for you
Your priority, throughout your considerations, should always be you, with a focus on your health. It is your life and your job after all. Regardless of whether you decide to stay in your present job or leave, the most important thing is that it must be the right decision for you.
If you are unsure how to proceed with your legal career, or you would like to explore your options, then please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Truth Recruit team on 01423 788538 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We are solicitors who represent solicitors. Recruitment – regulated – as it should be.