Many of us feel we don't get enough positive feedback. In today's fast-paced environment, managers are often so overwhelmed that they fail to notice when someone could use a little praise. But there is a difference between not getting enough compliments and not having any indication that your boss or senior managers imagine you playing an important role in the company's future (something like "You know, you would be good for job X, one step up"). If no one further up the food chain says anything to you about the future, it could be a sign that the plan is to keep you in your slot—if you're lucky, and they don't need to make cuts.
Finding out that you're not on the fast track—or any track at all—can be painful, so don't press for more information than you can handle. When you're ready to deal with the worst-case scenario, ask for some time with your boss and say, "Here are two or three jobs I would like to grow into. What should I do to be ready for the next step?" If the boss says, "I think you're terrific, but the company needs to do better before we can offer you, or anyone, any opportunities," that's good news.
5. You hate your boss so much that it's hard to think about anything else.
The number one reason people give me for wanting to change jobs is that they hate their boss. But let's face it, if you have a boss, any boss, you have days when you aren't thrilled with her. The occasional incident doesn't turn a good job into a wrong job. But when every day is Boss-Hating Day, that's another story.
Nancy, for example, was working in a café with people she liked. This group had such great style that they turned what could have been just another lunch spot into the place in town. Yet their boss continually changed his mind, insulted his staff, and micromanaged and second-guessed everything they did. One day, Nancy realized that her work menu never altered: It was always more servings of boss hatred. The only way to change the situation was to change jobs.
6. You feel that who you are at work doesn't have much to do with who you are in the rest of your life.
Little mismatches can always crop up between our individual preferences and what our job requires: Maybe it's the daily irritation of pulling on pantyhose or being forced to defend a dumb company policy. But you might discover a profound discrepancy between yourself and your company. Maybe your casual style doesn't fly in your buttoned-down workplace. Or, more seriously, you may find your ethics don't match.
Just a few weeks ago I heard about a young woman who was bothered by the bookkeeping practices of the family-owned business she worked for. It's not that these procedures were illegal, but she prided herself on adhering to the highest standards of ethics and these loose policies made her acutely uneasy. If you're consistently uncomfortable at your workplace—as the result of a major personality conflict or a clash of ethics—you should get ready to move on.
From the November 2001 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.