Unhappy at work? Here’s how to know whether you need a new job or a whole new career

Finding the balance between motivating and hygiene factors

Dear Jubey,

I am unhappy at work. I don’t really know what is wrong and I don’t know how to fix it. All I know is that I dread Mondays and count the hours until the end of the day. I have stopped talking about my work to my friends and family. Someone asked me what my five-year plan was and I almost vomited. I feel like maybe I need a complete career change but I don’t know what I would otherwise do. I feel completely lost. How can I move forward?


Dear Lost,

When we get it right, work can be the foundation to a life full of meaning, fulfillment and inspiration. When you find it you will know. Your heart will know. And if you don’t know, you are not there yet, so keep looking.

In their book How will you measure your life? Clayton Christensen, James Allworth and Karen Dillon, speak of finding career fulfillment through a balance of motivating factors and hygiene factors. Motivating factors are the aspects of your job that you genuinely enjoy and want to achieve at. The hygiene factors are all of the pieces that fall around that work, things like salary, company culture, management structure and work/life balance. The authors claim that work fulfilment comes when you find a role that gives you the right balance of motivating and hygiene factors.

Motivating Factors

Think about the work that you do for a moment. If you were to eliminate from your mind your salary, your commute to work, the people that you wok with, your relationship with your boss, the work environment and the company culture, and looked simply at the work that you do in a vacuum, away from all of those things, are you happy? Are you motivated by what you do? Are there elements that you enjoy and others that you don’t? Can you find what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi termed flow, or the feeling of being in complete sync and joy with the work that you produce?

If these questions leave you cold, then maybe you are in the wrong career.

If you aren’t motivated by the work that you do then you need to start to think about what would motivate you. Some of this work can be done with a paper and pen, writing lists of times in your life when you have felt flow. You are looking for a pathway into what Joseph Campbell

My advice for you if this is where you are at is to open yourself up to every possibility. Did you see a poster for a dance class that looked interesting? Try it. Did your heart leap at attending a networking event that you then let your head tell you would probably be boring? Go. Did a friend you don’t know too well invite you for a drink? Do it. This is a time to lean into your curiosity and let your heart guide you towards work that will motivate and inspire you. You need what Christensen et al call an “emergent strategy”, a way forward that allows you to flex based on what takes your interest.

Once you have found that work, and you will know when you have, it is time to shoot for the moon. Now it is time to implement a deliberate strategy, setting goals for the future and taking the steps necessary to get you there.

Hygiene Factors

Even when you have found work that motivates you, if you are not working in the right environment for you, you will feel unhappy. You need to find what Christensen et al term the hygiene factors of your work that bring you joy.

As above, eliminate everting from your mind other than the work that you do. Now, add in each hygiene factor at time. Think about your place of work, the physical environment, your daily commute, do you feel differently about your work now? Think about your salary, does that change the feeling for you? One by one, think about your boss, your team, the people you work with, your senior leadership. Can you identify hygiene factors that make you feel good and factors that drain your energy?

Think about your perfect workday. Write it down. Where are you located? Who do you work with? How are you valued and rewarded? What are the values of the organisation that you work for?

Answering these questions will help you to understand the type of employer and environment you want to work in. Some of these may be easy, like “I work with friendly people” but some may be more difficult to identify like “my values align to the culture of the company”. Write down any factors that are impactful for you. Frame them into positive factors that you are seeking in your work rather than negative, so for example instead of “long commute to work”, write “easy commute to work”.

Have a look at your list and mark any that are missing in your current work. Is there anything you could do to change these factors? For example, if you have a long commute to work, could you work from home a couple of days a week? If you don’t like your boss, could you transfer internally? If the answer to these questions is no, then you probably need to look for a new employer.

Use your list of hygiene factors to help you to determine the right employers for you. Go to networking events and chat to people about their employers, reach out to employees of businesses where you might like to work and ascertain whether they would score high on your list. In interviews validate your assumptions around the hygiene factors.

Work fulfilment and feeling like you are living with purpose is a real thing and something that you can have in your life too. That life can feel like an impossible dream when you are sitting in the confusion of unfulfillment, but if you take the time to listen to the voice inside you, you too can love what you do.

Much love,


One thought on “Unhappy at work? Here’s how to know whether you need a new job or a whole new career

  1. Pingback: Re-frame your career by changing your story | Jubey Knows

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