A Research Paper By Lucy Todd, Career Transition, UNITED STATES
Career Transitions & Finding Support
On any given day, over 3 billion people work at a job. And while some of us like or even love what we do, studies show that many of us only tolerate it, and many more dislike it. Some wouldn’t even wish their job on their worst enemy. (Yes, that’s an actual phrase from a study that we’ll explore later.)
What’s more, career dissatisfaction can affect our happiness and our health.
A study out of Ohio State University examined the relationship between job satisfaction and health. This study found that by age 39, those with lower job satisfaction throughout their 20s and 30s had worse mental and physical health, including depression, sleep problems, and excessive worry.
Even if your goal isn’t to love your job… wouldn’t it be better to at least not hate it? And if that meant changing positions, companies, occupations, or even your whole industry, how would you know what the right path is for you?
A career change can feel like a scary or even impossible thing, especially when all you know is that you want out — but you have no idea what you want to do next. Yet, there are so many ways to support this journey of discovery and transition.
In this article, we’ll explore the current state of career transitions in the US, what people really want from a career, and what support they’re seeking in their career journeys — with a focus on how career coaching can help.
The Health Implications Of Not Loving Your Job
The lead author of that Ohio State University study was Jonathan Dirlam, a doctoral student in sociology. His research found that it wasn’t only hating your job that led to negative health consequences — simply not loving it can have health consequences, too.
Dirlam revealed, “We find that even the subtle distinction between [being] ‘very satisfied’ and ‘satisfied’ [with your job] has significant effects on your health.”
“I would say our study’s main findings are you’re likely to have worse health if you don’t love your job rather than if you hate your job.”
He continues, “It may be more beneficial for overall life satisfaction to take a job with slightly less pay if that job will give you higher job satisfaction. Most people spend almost half of their waking life at work and it’s important that you are able to find some joy during this time.”
And yet, a job with slightly less pay would actually lead to lower job satisfaction for some workers. It’s nuances like that that can lead generic advice about careers to fall flat for many job seekers. Defining your own values and what matters most to you is essential to discovering what kind of work could help you “find some joy.”
But in 2021, whether they had their values and must-haves clearly defined or not, millions of US workers were ready to take the leap into their next role.
Career Transitions Define Modern Employment Trends
Over 47 million US employees willingly left their jobs in 2021. This event is now referred to as The Great Resignation — but it actually wasn’t an isolated event. In fact, according to Harvard Business Review’s analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it was right on trend with a growing share of the nation’s workers quitting each year since at least 2009 (the anomaly of the 2020 pandemic year aside).
But most of the workers who quit in 2021 weren’t simply job-hopping. Instead, they were making substantial career changes. According to Pew Research, over half of them (53%) left their job to pursue a different occupation or field of work!
These workers listed many major reasons for leaving; the top 5 were low pay, having no advancement opportunities, feeling disrespected at work, childcare issues, and a lack of flexibility.
At a high level, these complaints illustrate a mix of dissatisfactory compensation and mismatched values. It seems to show that workers were neither getting what they wanted nor what they needed.
Satisfaction & Meaning In The Workplace
Supporting these findings, a 2022 10-country survey by UKG (a payroll and human resources firm) found that 46% of employees surveyed wouldn’t recommend their employer or even their profession to any young people they care about, including their own kids.
And 38% said, “I wouldn’t wish my job on my worst enemy.”
That means nearly 2 in 5 people spend their days at a job that they wouldn’t recommend to anyone.
And that’s a tough pill to swallow in many ways. It’s concerning in the context of the Ohio State University research on job satisfaction and health. And it’s also unfortunate because research shows that meaningful work is important to today’s workforce.
A 2022 Gallup survey asked US employees to list what they find “very important” when weighing a job offer from a new employer. It may be unsurprising that pay and benefits were the most common answers, with 64% of respondents considering this “very important.” But just behind this were improved work-life balance and well-being (61%) and a chance for these employees to use their best skills and talents (58%).
By wanting to bring our best skills and talents to the job, we show a desire to make meaningful contributions. And in UKG’s survey, 74% of respondents said they’d encourage their children to choose a profession that’s meaningful to them.
While that’s an empowering perspective to pass on to future generations … why not pursue a profession that’s meaningful to you?
When it comes to imagining a career change, we can disempower ourselves daily without even realizing it. We might hold limiting beliefs including:
- “I can’t leave! I’d be letting so many people down.”
- “Even though I hate it, I’m defined by my success in this role/company/industry.”
- “I’m not a quitter.”
- “I’ve been in this industry for XX years — I can’t start over.”
- “It’s just working. Nobody likes their job.”
These beliefs can show up for anyone, whether your job is the most important thing in your life or just something you do to pay the bills. But it’s possible to find new perspectives and new solutions to long-believed challenges.
What If You Didn’t Give Up?
UKG’s executive director, Dr. Chris Mullen, Ph.D., SPHR, SHRM-SCP, said,
Whether someone feels they are in just a job, a growing career, or a true calling, everyone can find fulfillment, a sense of value, and success at work.
Along the lines of Jonathan Dirlam’s sentiments (“it’s important that you are able to find some joy [at work]),” Dr. Mullen’s statement takes it a step further. You may not need to chase a job you love in order to find joy, fulfillment, value, and your definition of success at work.
If career and work are very important to you, then your goal may be to find that perfect job that you can’t wait to get to — and when that aligns with your values, that’s an excellent goal.
On the other hand, not everyone works in their “calling” — or even believes they have a calling. Not everyone springs out of bed and can’t wait to go to work. The saying “when you love what you do, you never work a day in your life” doesn’t resonate with everyone. That’s the beauty of assessing and understanding your own values.
So if you just aren’t interested in truly loving your job, you can still adopt more empowering perspectives and pursue a more meaningful career.
Instead, what if your ideal job, role, or industry mirrored how you feel about your career and work in general? If career and work are a means to spending more time with your family, investing in your hobbies, or traveling the world, then perhaps finding a job that you’re at peace with (rather than over-the-moon in love with) is your goal.
Basically, just because your job isn’t your top priority and work isn’t your #1 value doesn’t mean you have to be among the 2 in 5 people who wouldn’t wish your job on your worst enemy.
The Role of Professional Career Services, Such As Career Coaching
We are all individuals worthy of pursuing our own unique paths. In alignment with our unique natures, coaching embodies the perspective that clients know themselves best. The International Coaching Federation (ICF) says,
We see our clients as the experts of their lives—naturally creative, resourceful, and whole.
So while a career coach can’t tell you what your perfect job is (nor should they!), they can help you uncover what you feel might be missing from your current job or industry and what you really want in order to improve your career satisfaction.
The National Career Development Association (NCDA) conducted a 2021 survey called “Perceptions of Career Development from Working America.” They asked workers nationwide about their past, current, and future career paths, including what support they had received, wish they’d received, or hope to use in the future.
When asked how they chose their current or previous job, the most popular response was, “I made a conscious choice and followed a definite plan.”
This specific response indicated that they came to their decision on their own — bravo! But what if you have trouble making decisions? What if forming plans is tough for you, or you often find yourself bailing on your action steps?
Some of the challenges described above can stem from disempowering perspectives: specifically, an “I’m trying but it’s not working” mindset, or delaying taking action.
“Conscious choices” and “definite plans” represent empowering perspectives: commitment and action. So a trained coach can help you identify and challenge your disempowering perspectives in order to move toward action.
57% of workers in the NCDA survey said they sought outside help in their career journeys (family, friends, and professional services were all included in “outside help”). And 42% said that help influenced their journey.
Very few of them used professional career services like counseling or coaching as their outside help — only 13% did. That said, for those who worked with private-practice career specialists, nearly 3 in 4 (74%) found it to be “very helpful.”
In fact, apart from direct relatives, careers specialists or counselors in private practice were ranked “extremely/very helpful” more than any other resource in the survey!
And over half of those who haven’t sought professional career services in the past (58%) said they regret not doing so.
For those thinking about a career transition in the future, a full 7 in 10 respondents agreed with the statement “it would be helpful for me to talk to a career services professional as I explore future jobs or careers.” In fact, 23% strongly agreed.
So if the thought of a career change seems overwhelming or you’re having trouble making a plan or following through, career coaching could be the right support you need to successfully define and plan your unique path.
Career Transitions Research
The research on employment, job satisfaction, and career expectations is vast. And at the risk of hyperbole, there are nearly as many different attitudes about work as there are jobs on this planet.
This article has attempted to use only the most recent research that is most relevant to a US audience. However, we are all unique individuals with our own experiences, values, and priorities. Thus, the information described in this article might not resonate with everyone — even those who do find their own region or demographics represented in the surveys.
That said, this article has shown that it’s clear that our jobs are more than a paycheck to many of us — whether we want them to be or not. They have real material impacts on our mental health and our sense of meaning. Anything with that level of influence on our lives deserves consideration, as well as ample support and resources to take the actions we desire for ourselves.