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It’s funny how sleep never comes easy on the nights you’re sleeping on a big decision. Deciding whether or not to quit your job is guaranteed to have you tossing and turning into the early hours of the morning. It may be comforting to know it’s not all in your head…

Medical professionals rely on a diagnostic test called the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory to accurately predict the likelihood that an otherwise normal individual will suffer a breakdown in health within the next 24 months. The idea is this: a patient will catalog certain stressful life events they’ve endured over the last year, and those life events are scored based on how stressful they are. Life events related to career changes are among the top most stressful on the list, alongside death of a family member, foreclosure on a home, and coping with sexual difficulties. Yikes.

In the fast-paced, hybrid office, “post covid” tech world, it’s sometimes hard to tell between a job that is no longer a good fit and good ol’ garden variety burnout. Whether you’re seeking greener pastures, better work-life balance, or an entirely new career path, the number of considerations are overwhelming.

Below you’ll find 4 signs it’s time to hang it up and move on.

You’re Underpaid

This one is fairly straightforward, but how do you know you’re underpaid? If you’re waiting for your boss to clue you in, I hope you’re comfortable. Here are a few tips for knowing if you’re getting what you’re worth.

Interview often and always

The value of interviewing regularly cannot possibly be over-hyped.

The best time to interview for a new job is when you’ve already got one, especially if you don’t plan on leaving. If you think the value you provide outpaces the bread you’ve been making, then get out there and prove it. Most managers would love to give you a bump when deserved but without incentive or justification, their hands are often tied when it comes to quarterly reviews.

A competing offer is 100% the best way to increase your income overnight but it comes with a caveat… If you play that card you must be willing to leave. Assuming that being underpaid is the root of your unhappiness; when you’re faced with the decision to walk away if no counteroffer is made, it’s an easy one to make.

Finally, interviewing is a skill. One that can be learned and sharpened just like any others in your repertoire. I hate the leetcode grind as much as anyone but it’s the price you pay to stay competitive and get paid competitively. Grow your interview skills and you will grow your income.

Ask the internet

There’s a lot of great resources online for salary information. Personally, I recommend for most larger and well-known tech companies and Glassdoor for everything else. Read the fine print of those LinkedIn posts if you’re lucky enough to live in a state requiring pay range disclosures.

Stay away from toxic communities like Blind and Reddit. The former is mostly flexing by the 1% top earners and is influenced heavily by survivorship bias. The latter is a petulant bucket of crabs recycling tired platitudes about the state of the industry, typically new grads and boot campers pissy because six-figure salaries aren’t raining down after 3 months of experience.

Take everything you read on the internet with a grain of salt. Examples of the extreme capture our attention but the reality for most of us is somewhere in the middle.

Ask your network

While discussing pay is often discouraged by employers, it’s not illegal, but don’t rush off to make a public channel in your company’s slack asking for everyone’s total comp. Rather, tap into your network. If you’re close with your peers they’re usually happy to compare figures and discuss the path that brought them to where they are now.

If you discover you’re underpaid, you’re now armed with the information you need to discuss it with your manager. Be delicate though, most people are only happy to share their numbers in confidence. If you start throwing around the names and salaries of your co-workers as a negotiating tactic, don’t be surprised if they “forget” to invite you to the next happy hour.

 You’re Unchallenged

“If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” -Confucius

Comfort is a funny thing. We strive for it, we achieve it, and then mistake it for success. We covet comfort to our own detriment. Why does resting and vesting feel so hollow? Why are trillion dollar innovation machines like Apple, Google, and Amazon littered with ineffectual middle managers? Why do you get the feeling that the distinguished engineer ignoring your code review request couldn’t reverse a string if their life depended on it? It’s simple: the longer you remain comfortable, the more unfulfilled you become. Lack of challenge kneecaps your professional and personal growth. 

We have a deep-rooted human need for meaningful work. The Harvard Business Review published research that suggests 9 out of 10 people in the workforce today would accept a reduction in pay if it meant they could pursue more meaningful work. Participants in the survey said they would forgo an average of 23% of their lifetime pay for a job that was always meaningful. These figures are stunning when you realize Americans spend 21% of their income on housing. This isn’t a dirty secret being swept under the rug, top minds are taking notice in the age of the great resignation. This is a problem worth solving, even if it means leaving. Berkeley even offers a course on pursuing meaningful work to its’ aspiring masters of the universe, the business administration majors. What is meaningful work if not challenging? How meaningful do you find it when you’re phoning it in, weeks blending into weeks and bleeding into months. If you’re sleepwalking, it’s time to wake up.

Maybe you’re unconvinced. You’re happy coasting, it gives you plenty of time to scroll Instagram and Reddit. Meaningful work is for the birds, and you’re the highest paid senior engineer on your team and you only work 20 hours a week! You might be taking this time to kick your feet up and focus on your axe throwing hobby. Besides, you’re the only one that knows how the [insert obscure and complicated business flow] works in your organization. Fair enough, but how long will the good times last if you’re not spending cycles on staying the top dog? We’re in an industry that measures optimization in fractions of a second. Best practices change at breakneck speeds. That Jr. developer you’ve been mentoring for the last 6 months is hungry. If you’re not consistently growing your skills, you’re will be left behind.

Before those of you with young children or sparkling social lives start a riot; hear me out. I’m not advocating anyone trade work-life balance for growth. I’m pressing you to find a place that affords you opportunities to grow. Strive to take on tasks that leave you feeling as bewildered as you did during your first internship. Your goal should be to step out of your comfort zone and take on work that expands your horizons. Sharpen the skills that separate you from the chaff of co-workers that shuffle in each day, all pressing the same buttons. If this feels impossible in your current role, go elsewhere.

 You’re Ineffective

Studies show that ineffectiveness and burnout have a peculiar relationship. Burnout is both a symptom and a cause of ineffectiveness. While it’s tough to pin down which comes first, an argument could be made that feeling ineffective is the strongest signal that it’s time to seek new opportunities. 

What exactly does it mean to be ineffective? That’s tricky. Ineffectiveness presents differently depending on your responsibilities. For a product manager, it could mean chronically missing important roadmap milestones despite the team logging long hours. For a developer, it might mean doing battle with perpetually broken CI/CD pipelines. For engineering managers, maybe it looks like an outlook calendar packed wall to wall with meetings whose outcomes could be just as easily achieved with a well-written email. Regardless of your role, a good litmus test is to ask yourself: “Am I busy or productive?”.

When you’re constantly blocked and you feel burnout creeping up, get curious about how effective you really are. Is it solvable? As long as your organization isn’t completely dysfunctional, efforts focused on improving effectiveness will be met with enthusiasm by those around you feeling the same pain. Additionally, fixing inefficient systems falls squarely in the “above and beyond” category and is sure to grab the attention of those responsible for your next raise or promotion. 

Unfortunately, institutional changes aren’t always achievable by an individual contributor. Ineffectiveness is an insidious plague that rots a company from the inside. If not promptly dealt with, productivity anti-patterns can become engrained deeply within a corporate structure; sometimes manifesting in the culture itself. Even when change is possible, it happens at a glacial pace. If you’re too burned out to champion institutional change and you can’t remember the last time work didn’t feel like rolling a boulder up a hill, it’s time to go.

 You’re Unhappy

Never trade your mental or physical well-being for better perks, a higher salary, or the respect of your managers. It’s a fool’s errand. Ask anyone that has battled with anxiety or depression if they would go back to that dark place in exchange for a promotion. No one would take the deal. Mental and emotional disorders are a desperate and sickening pit to be trapped in, and the answer is never more money, possessions, or time at the office. With salaries skyrocketing year over year, stock refreshes worth millions, and catered daily lunches, it’s easy to forget that golden handcuffs are just that, bondage. If you notice the stresses of your job eroding the edges of your happiness, break the chains and run. It’s simply not worth it.

Unhappiness isn’t some walled garden that magically exists only between normal business hours. You can’t sign out of a bad mood as easily as you sign out of your email each night. Oftentimes, the ones to notice our unhappiness in our work are those closest to us. The negative effects of logging long hours in a job you hate on your physical and mental health are guaranteed to be felt by those around you. It’s difficult to be a good partner to your spouse, a parent to your children, or a friend to your loved ones when you feel like you’re shoveling shit all day. Don’t let your career ambitions be the wedge that drives you away from what’s truly important.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The first wealth is health”. Treat your health as an asset. Manage your health the same way you manage your retirement accounts. Pay into your health account by exercising regularly, building healthy habits, and most importantly loving what you do each day. Treat a bad job like a bad loan you’re now upside down on, for a wildly impractical car. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but your life has changed and now you can’t put car seats in the corvette. Make a change and let it go. It’s for the best.