Is it time for a new job?

People often stay in a job despite having negative job attitudes

Regardless of your age, background, or accomplishments, you have probably fantasized about the possibility of a having new career at some point in your life – those who haven’t are the exception.

Humans are naturally prewired to fear and avoid change, even when we are decidedly unhappy with our current situation. Indeed, research has shown that people often stay in a job despite having negative job attitudes, low engagement and failing to identify with their organization’s culture. There is something comforting about the predictability of life: It makes us feel safe.

This partly explains why it is so hard to leave a job, no matter how uninspiring or monotonous it may be.

In order to help you decide whether it may be time for a career change, here are five critical signs, based on psychological research, that you would probably benefit from a career switch:

– YOU ARE NOT LEARNING. Studies have shown that the happiest progression to late adulthood and old age involves work that stimulates the mind into continuous learning.

– YOU ARE UNDERPERFORMING. If you are stagnated, cruising in autopilot, and could do your job while asleep, then you’re almost certainly underperforming. Sooner or later, this will harm your resume and employability. If you want to be happy and engaged at work, you are better off finding a job that entices you to perform at your highest level.

– YOU FEEL UNDERVALUED. Even when employees are happy with their pay and promotion prospects, they will not enjoy their work unless they feel appreciated, especially by their managers. Furthermore, people who feel undervalued at work are more likely to burn out and engage in counterproductive work behaviors, such as absenteeism, theft and sabotage. And when the employee in question is a leader, the stakes are much higher for everyone else because of their propensity to behave in ways that could destroy the organization.

– YOU ARE JUST DOING IT FOR THE MONEY. Although people tend to put up with unrewarding jobs mostly for financial reasons, staying on a job just for the money is unrewarding at best, and demotivating at worst. As I pointed out in a previous article, employee engagement is three times more dependent on intrinsic than extrinsic rewards.

– YOU HATE YOUR BOSS. As the saying goes, people join companies but they quit their bosses. This implies that there is a great deal of overlap between employees who dislike their jobs, and those who dislike their bosses. In our research, we find that 75% of working adults find that the most stressful part of their job is their immediate supervisor or direct line manager. Until organizations do a better job at selecting and developing leaders, employees will have to lower their expectations about management or keep searching for exceptional bosses.

Of course, these are not the only signs that you should pay attention to. There are many other valid reasons for considering a job switch, such as work-life balance conflicts, economic pressures, firm downsizing and geographical relocation. But these reasons are more contextual than psychological, and somewhat less voluntary. They are, therefore, less likely to lead to decision uncertainty than the five reasons I listed.

At the end of the day, real-world problems tend to lack a clear-cut solution. Instead, the correct answer depends on its consequences and how pleased we are with the outcome, and both are hard to predict.

(Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is an international authority on personality profiling, talent management and people analytics. He is the CEO of Hogan Assessment Systems and a professor of business psychology at University College London and Columbia University.)

© 2015 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate