Dear Annie: For the first time in my (16-year) working life, I dread coming to the office in the morning. It's gotten so bad that I can't sleep Sunday nights, and I think I might be getting an ulcer. Why? I took what I expected would be a great job - at least the pay is great - about a year ago, and since then I've felt more and more out of place.
My boss keeps giving me tasks that an entry-level hire, without half my experience, could do. He has also stopped including me in meetings where important decisions are made about my department's activities. (All my peers are invited.) To top it off, most of my colleagues have been avoiding me ever since an incident a few weeks ago when I questioned a practice that seemed to cheat one of our clients, and I'm starting to think I should have swallowed my ethics and kept quiet.
I don't want to look like a job hopper, but I'm not sure how much longer I can stand working here. What should I do? -Outcast
Dear Outcast: Yikes. According to Richard Bayer, Ph.D., chief operating officer of The Five O'Clock Club (www.fiveoclockclub.com), a national career-counseling network based in New York City, you would be smart to leave before you get sacked, or you lose your sanity, or both.
Over the years, Bayer has compiled a list of eight signals that usually mean your job is in jeopardy. "If you've noticed three or more of the warning signs, it's time to update your resume and start job hunting," he says.
From your e-mail, I'd say you are suffering from more than three. Check out the list and see if you agree.
1. You don't fit in. Your values don't match the company's. If your colleagues are "dishonest and focused on getting ahead regardless of legal or moral barriers," Bayer says, it's time to quit before an Enron-style scandal sinks the ship.
2. Your boss doesn't like you and you don't like him or her. If your boss never asks your opinion, and never wants to chat or have lunch with you, and if you disagree with her agenda and dislike her style, your days are numbered. Adds Bayer: "If you've ever done something that undermined your boss, you might as well get out now."
3. Your peers don't like you. Feeling isolated, gossiped about, and excluded from the inner workings of the organization is a very bad sign, as is feeling that you're not part of the team and wouldn't socialize with your colleagues even if they asked you.
4. You don't get assignments that demonstrate the full range of your abilities. "Watching all the good assignments go to others, while you're given the ones that play to your weaknesses or are beneath your professional level, should tell you something," says Bayer. Likewise, if it seems the boss doesn't trust your judgment, you're in trouble.
5. You always get called upon to do the "grunt work." Everybody has to take on a dull or routine task now and then, but if you are constantly being singled out to do the work no one else wants, alarm bells should ring.
6. You are excluded from meetings your peers are invited to. Sound familiar? If it's painfully clear that your ideas aren't valued, why stick around?
7. Everyone on your level has an office. You have a cubicle in the hallway. Bayer notes that, whatever your title, your digs can speak volumes about your real status in the organization. If your peers have offices with windows and you're asked to move into a broom closet - no matter what the official explanation - start cleaning out your desk.
8. You dread going to work and feel like you're developing an ulcer. Ah, here's yet another of your symptoms, and a particularly nasty one at that.
"If the idea of going to the office makes you anxious or physically sick, and you're counting the hours from the time you arrive until the second you can leave, it's time to move on," says Bayer. Do it before you do serious damage to your health, or get so demoralized that you can't be upbeat in job interviews, or both. Once things have deteriorated to this point, being perceived as a job hopper should be the least of your worries. Get out while you still can.