The job market has been tough for so long that it's easy to think that if you have a job, you should stay in it for as long as possible -- but that mindset isn't always right. Too many people stay in their jobs well beyond when they should, and that ends up holding them back in their careers and breeding unhappiness.
Here are eight signs that it's time to think about moving on from your job.
1. You've been unhappy for months. Everyone goes through periods of discontent at work now and then, but if you've dreaded going to work for months and get anxious just thinking about your office, that's a sign that you should be looking at alternatives.
2. You haven't had a raise in three years. Not every company does annual raises anymore, and the economy has meant that some companies have frozen pay across the board. But after years of no pay increase, it's worth looking around at what other companies might offer you. (Make sure you've asked for a raise first though; if you haven't made the case for increased pay, leaving over the lack of it would be premature.)
3. Your boss hates you. Even if you like your work, having a boss who dislikes you usually means that you'd be better off moving on. Managers have an enormous amount of control over your career -- from what projects you get to what growth opportunities and recognition you're given. A boss who dislikes you can hold you back and have a long-term impact on your career. You're far better off working for someone who will champion you than thwart you.
4. When you tell your family and friends about your workplace, they're horrified. When you've been in a toxic and dysfunctional workplace for a long time, you can lose sight of how bad it is and it can even start to feel normal. If this has happened to you, it's a sign to get out. If you don't, you risk internalizing that dysfunction and taking bad habits with you to future jobs.
5. You can't remember the last time you felt challenged in your work. Sure, some people are happy to stay at a job that simply pays the bills. But if you're someone who wants to grow professionally and personally, then staying in a job that hasn't challenged you in a long time doesn't align with those plans. (This doesn't mean that you should leave at the first sign of boredom. Rather, this is about prolonged periods where you feel like you're stagnating and where you see no change in sight.)
6. You're receiving a lot more critical feedback in writing. If you're suddenly getting a slew of critical feedback in emails or memos, it's a sign your job could be in jeopardy. Many companies require written documentation of problems and warnings before an employee is let go, so a sudden increase of written feedback (when you didn't used to receive any) can be a sign that your boss is creating a paper trail to build a case for firing you.
7. You're on a formal performance improvement plan (PIP). PIPs are often the last thing that happens before you're fired. In theory, if you meet the terms of the plan, you'll preserve your job and be able to move forward. But in practice, by the time you're on one, it's often because things aren't working out and aren't likely to. That doesn't mean that PIPs never end in success; sometimes they do. But since they so often don't, it's smart to be job-searching meanwhile.
8. Your boss tells you. If your boss says things like, "I need to see significant improvement" or "this could get you fired," she's not kidding. Too often, people hear feedback like this but don't believe they would really be let go -- and then are shocked when they're suddenly out of a job. If your boss is telling you directly that things are serious, believe it -- and start job searching.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.