It sounds bad, but I’ve left a few jobs over the years. It started when I was 25 and left my corporate job after four years there and went back to grad school to become a speech path. I remember being sad about leaving my coworkers, but I had already begun dreaming about a different future. I’ve worked for several different school districts over the years, working as a district employee and other times working as a contract employee. Obviously moving around has been affected by moving and having children, but there have been lots of changes, probably more than the average person.
On the other hand, I married a man who has been working the same job for 13+ years. My husband Mike says he is happy and has no interest in leaving. He has weathered staffing changes and, frankly, I’m impressed by his guts over the years. I should say that he does actuarial work for a nonprofit and does not have a school-based job.
When I asked him, “Why do you like your job so much?” he answered without hesitation. “I feel a part of a team, I feel like the work I do makes a difference, and I like what I do.” Simple stuff, but everything he said is so important to your overall quality of work.
I recently read about Neil Pasricha’s new book The Happiness Equation he discussed the Four S’s of Work and what makes work rewarding and valuable to employees. I mean, why has my husband endured while I have bounced around more than him (aside from personality differences between us)? Mr. Pasricha’s book helped me think more deeply about what makes people stick around in their jobs:
Social — Obviously you need to feel part of a team or have friendly coworkers. I have found that some school cultures include SLPs, but some don’t.
Structure — There needs to be some kind of structure and rules at your work so that you have a defined set of responsibilities. There is a lot of variability in this, depending on where you work.
Stimulation — Using your whole brain creatively at work is really going to keep you going as the years wear on. Again, some positions are more stimulating than others.
Story — Does where you work fit into your personal story? When I worked at Chicago Public Schools (CPS) for six years, I defined myself as a CPS employee. I didn’t want to leave because I didn’t want to be at a “little” district; I liked the “big” district feel. Well, I left and it was a good thing for me. I changed that story and it was most definitely the right thing to do, even thought I felt nervous making the change.
Using Mr. Pasricha’s framework as a reference point, here are 5 ways you know it’s time to leave your job:
- No Social Interaction — If you don’t have a couple friends at work, whether they are other SLPs, teachers, or classroom aides, then you aren’t getting your social bucket filled. You want to feel included with and valuable to staff. Of course there is usually that one teacher that dislikes you, but most of the teachers and the principals should like and value your contribution to the school.
- No Clearly Defined Role — If you have too many students on your caseload (over 60) and no one seems to care or advocate for you, then you might need to look for other work. In my experience, if you have over 60 students, you will struggle to make progress and feel ineffective. There’s nothing like feeling ineffective to make you burn out of this profession. Or if you are being taken away from the speech therapy work that you trained for (and enjoy) and being asked to do reading intervention or you are taking on additional work, then you need to consider if that is the right position for you.
- No Mental Stimulation — When you stop learning in a position, your skills stagnate. If you feel like your skills have plateaued, it might be time to move on. Every year I get new kids and each of them are puzzles so I personally feel like I am stimulated in this profession. If you don’t feel stimulated, it might be time to switch settings to acquire new skills.
- No Personal Story — Is working in that school or district part of your personal story you tell people? Do you identify as an employee of this or that? If not, then you haven’t really brought that into your story. Maybe taking a year off and doing a contract year of therapy in Hawaii is part of your story. Think about what you want to tell people about yourself. Being an SLP, it’s easy to have our career as a big part of our personal story because it becomes part of our identity, but what about where you work? Does it fit?
- Asking the Question? — If you are wondering “Is it time to leave?” then there is something that is not right in your position. It might be a small adjustment that needs to take place (getting a better speech room) or it might be time to find a different job somewhere else.
I challenge you to think deeply about what you are doing now and if it is right for you. Let me know what you think in the comments! Thanks!