Are You Too Comfortable at Your Job?

Businessman with feet up sitting at desk in field talking on cell phone

By Laura McMullen

It feels good to be cozy.
Whether it's your fleece blanket and a rerun of "Friends," or a predictable work routine and a hands-off boss, there's certainly nothing wrong with feeling comfortable. But if you're feeling too relaxed with your work, you risk stalling, or even derailing, your career. Here's how to tell if you need to shake up your work life and how, exactly, to do that.

Do you need a kick in the pants? "You get a little lazy," says Peter C. Diamond, career coach and author of "Amplify Your Career and Life." Your work routine becomes predictable, and you stop feeling challenged. You don't volunteer for projects. You don't ask yourself what you could be doing better. You don't take risks. "Maybe you've also stopped learning about your industry, technology and trends because you've mastered enough to get your job done," Diamond adds.

What's the big deal? Say you like comfort and predictability. Work is work, and you don't mind doing just that before heading home to those "Friends" reruns. That's fine, but don't let "comfortable" become "replaceable", Diamond says. "If there's anything we know, it's that things change," he says. "Things are changing rapidly within business, new technology and how you work. You want to make sure you're not caught one day when someone says, 'We don't need you anymore.'"

Take responsibility. Wouldn't it be great if your boss took your hand (or, to sidestep harassment risks, just smiled) and shepherded you along a fruitful career path? Dream on. "Career development is a two-way street," says Melissa Fireman, co-founder and CEO of Washington Career Services, a consultancy in the District of Columbia. "You can't wait for someone to guide you." Remember that your manager has a to-do list, and you're probably not No. 1 on it. Be proactive in planning your next steps. Speaking of which ...

Make a list. When Fireman sees clients who've arrived at this too-comfortable point in their careers, she has them make a top 10 list of what they want to do in their current position and the next. The list may include skills to learn, certificates to earn, promotions and more. Also identify company and department goals, which will come in handy in the next step.

Talk to your boss. Before your meeting, look at your two lists and the areas where you can gain experience or skills while also helping the organization. Then in your conversation, "be very specific about how a change for you will also benefit the company," Diamond says. "Be patient for when it may happen, and be open to whatever suggestions [your boss] may have."

Know when it's time to stay. If you want a change, but are happy with your company, Diamond says you should try to make it work internally. There may be advanced roles to grow into, projects to manage or ways you hadn't thought of before to hone new skills. This is great fodder for the conversation between you and your boss.

... And know when it's time to leave. Look at your company. Are there people you can learn from and target positions you can work toward? If not, Fireman says these are likely cues to move on. And if your company isn't interested in your personal development or open to discussions about it, or if it's struggling to keep up with industry trends, then Diamond says, "it may be time to think about what's next."