How A Job Change Impacts Your Well-Being

The Great Resignation is here for some time, or so we hear. People are leaving their jobs and finding new, hopefully, better ones. It sounds great and exciting. So many opportunities out there, so why not make the jump? But is it all roses?

Onboarding matters

You go to an interview, and it goes well. You have a great feeling. Then you join the company and, during the first day, meet many great and friendly people who are helpful in their effort to welcome you and onboard into the company. It feels good, and you believe you have found the right company. In both cases, your positive feeling is fueled by dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical released in our body when we get things done and makes us feel good, but its effects are short-lived.

As you work longer in the organization, the initial dopamine effects will disappear unless reignited daily. And they very rarely are. You fell in love with the company on the first interview without knowing it well. Love at first sight rarely works. You need a long-term good feeling to get your high not from dopamine but from oxytocin, which means building strong relationships with others in the company. Oxytocin is a small molecule, a peptide, that can serve as a neurotransmitter and a hormone. It makes us feel friendship and love. It causes the feeling that we belong and that we are not alone. It makes us do the right thing for others. It gets released into our blood when we do something good for others or when others do something for us. The significant benefit of oxytocin is that it is long-lasting and compounding.

That is why onboarding into a company and integration into the team is so critical. If you don’t build any meaningful relationships in the months after joining the company, you won’t feel you belong. No wonder if you leave within a year.

It might be that you joined a company where you don’t belong because of value conflict. More likely, you would like to fit in but don’t feel that others care about you. If you have a hard time fitting into the team because the team is closed and not welcoming to new members, you feel rejected, and leaving is the only option.

Prioritizing short-term instead of long-term

And then comes impatience. In the 21st century, “instant” is the operative word. We have instant food, instant messages, instant deliveries, and instant “friends” on social networks. We expect that everything will happen quickly. But building relationships takes time. You may believe you have hundreds of instant friends on your favorite social network, but that is just an illusion. These are just remote acquaintances at best. Many of them know very little about you, and you don’t know anything about them except the glamorous pictures they are posting. There is no trust, no real friendship.

Prioritizing instant against long-term is prioritizing dopamine against oxytocin. Each “like” under your post on social media gives you a shot of dopamine. It is like a drug, and its effects disappear fast. It is like prioritizing results over the people who produce those results. You can see this, for example, in sales. You may care only about the sales numbers as it feels like winning. You get your bonus and, therefore, a dopamine injection. In the course of your dopamine-fueled pursuit, you burn the relationships that helped you to get there. You don’t have the benefits of an oxytocin-fueled feeling of belonging. You become more and more distanced from other people, and reaching the success that would give you the dopamine shot is more challenging. And you don’t have relationships that would lead to a supply of oxytocin. You feel down and depressed. And it is your fault for prioritizing short-term fast wins over lasting relationships and long-term mutual benefits.

Impatience may lead you to want to change the job before you have the opportunity to master it and to build good relationships with those around you. It won’t allow you to become happy at the job you’ve got, and unfortunately, it may force you towards job-hopping, which is detrimental to your well-being.

Job change and well-being

Meike Sons and Cornelia Niessen of the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nurnberg studied the correlation between well-being and job change. They concluded that job change leads to decreased well-being and job satisfaction, and lower vitality. It also leads to increased work-family conflict.

“Job change leads to decreased well-being, and increased work-family conflict.”

If it sounds counter-intuitive, consider the following. As the researchers summarized, studies have shown that entering a new job creates heightened demands on an individual. You have to learn new tasks, get used to new people, and there are many things you don’t know. There is an increase in uncertainty, more stress, and that has negative consequences for your well-being. Over time, you get used to the job, build relationships, learn how to get things done, and get the proper resources. What started as a way toward a burn-out will level off. That makes sense. What is surprising is how long this adjustment period may last. We are not talking weeks or months here. In fact, the strongest relationship between a job change and well-being is counted in years: job satisfaction one year two months, vitality four years four months, work-family conflict three years five months.

Vitality can suffer for such a long period because initially, it is about spending lots of energy to learn the new job, and later on, it morphs. Once you are well established in the new job and are trusted by those around you, you will get more responsibilities and projects and need to learn new things. Vitality will keep suffering until you find your sweet spot and a routine.

Job satisfaction temporarily increases when joining a new company as there is the expectation that things should be better in the new place. However, this quickly turns around as you start seeing all the things that were not noticeable at first glance, and job satisfaction decline. Eventually, it may increase again as you get used to the new place and its quirks and focus on the positives.

Leave only for the right reasons

Before you make the ultimate decision and give your notice letter, it is worth considering why you are leaving and whether it is the best thing to do from a long-term career perspective. You may be bored at your current job and feeling stuck, but have you considered whether you can turn it around to your advantage? Maybe you have a mentor or sponsor in the company who can help you get the role you want? Is the company still growing, or is there already high attrition that might be opening opportunities? Have you exhausted all the potential the company can provide to you and your career aspirations? And if it is about money, have you considered negotiating a better salary, more flexibility, or better work conditions?

“Relationships and trust take time to build, and without them, the work is stressful and not as fulfilling as it could be.”

Leaving the company may feel like an easy fix to your dissatisfaction or perceived lack of opportunities, but you always need to consider that wherever you will go, you will have to start from scratch. At least when it comes to relationships. Leaving your current team and establishing your presence and credibility in a new organization is a lot of work and won’t happen overnight. Relationships and trust take time to build, and without them, the work will be stressful and not as fulfilling as it could be.

Focus on data rather than on intuition

It can feel that since “everyone” is leaving, it is probably the right time to do so, but you should never do something only because someone else does it. Even your mom probably told you at some point in your life that only because your best friend jumps off a cliff doesn’t mean you have to jump too. People often make intuitive decisions, but intuition only works when you are the expert and work in a stable, predictable environment.

“Be careful. The current environment is far from stable and predictable, and you are most likely not the biggest expert at selecting the right company.”

One can argue that the current environment is far from stable and predictable, and you are most likely not the biggest expert at selecting the right companies and leaving or joining at the right time. Instead of going with your gut, focus on data and consider all the pros and cons. It is rare that one job is completely bad and another is completely great. The pandemic makes many people feel down and depressed, but it may not be the job. When you consider the pros and cons, make sure you are not overemphasizing all the things you feel are bad at your current job. You may want to get a sounding board to show you a different, unbiased perspective. They can play Devil’s advocate to force you to think things through honestly. You may also want to consider some of the most common biases that influence our decision-making processes and try to eliminate them as much as possible.

Ultimately, you may want first to look at the opportunities within the company as you can often go back to your role if the new one doesn’t pan out. Some decisions are easy to undo, and some are more difficult or costly to reverse. Those easy to reverse are what Richard Branson would call two-way door decisions. In contrast, leaving the company and starting a business on your own can be seen as a one-way door decision that may be difficult to reverse or that may come at high costs when trying to undo. And if you still decide to leave, then make sure you do it on good terms and don’t burn any bridges as you may want to come back one day, making the one-way doors two-way.

Putting it all together

Entering a new job is a significant drain on one’s internal resources. It takes focus, energy, and time to become successful. These resources are then missed elsewhere, for example, at home. A job change can hurt your life outside of work and your well-being.

Before changing a job, always consider why you are doing it and why you are joining the particular company you selected. Are you sure that the organizational culture will align with who you are? Are you sure that you will enjoy working with others at the company? Are you sure you want to give it the effort it requires to build new relationships? Are you willing to pay the price in terms of lower well-being for a significant amount of time? If not, you may consider what you can do at your current company to make your job more exciting and meaningful. With the Great Resignation rampage, there might be some exciting opportunities even at the company you work for and where you already have social connections and can adjust to a new job more easily.

What is your take on the topic? How easy is it for you to change jobs? How quickly are you able to integrate with the new team, so you feel comfortable? What are the biggest risks when changing companies? What are the biggest risks of not changing? Do you believe that your well-being can plummet after joining a new company?

Photo: Schaferle /

For more, read my blog about management, leadership, communication, coaching, introversion, software development, and career The Geeky Leader, or follow me on Facebook and Twitter: @GeekyLeader

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