Realising you no longer enjoy your job can come suddenly for some people, or creep up slowly for others. Perhaps the job has changed bit by bit over time to a point where you realise it isn't what you signed up for. Then you start to wonder "how did I let this happen?" Once the rot has set in, something has to change, or be changed.

Jo Davies, a career counsellor and owner of Career Sense, says anyone not enjoying their job needs to decide exactly what it is about their current role that they don't like. If you're lucky, the issue can be fixed with some minor changes to the role that will make it workable.

If not, you need to explore your options. And that needs care and careful consideration. However, if your career has gone right off the rails, you will need to dig deeper.

Davies, based on Auckland's North Shore, always asks her clients what they do in their free time to help point them toward a job that would satisfy them.

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"People's hobbies and interests can tell you a lot about what they care about," says Davies. "Often, that is a better reflection of who they are than their career or job.

"Anyone looking for a new job or career change should look at their values; what is it that they really care about and enjoy doing. And [mis-matched] values are often the problem in a career or job people aren't enjoying.

"Ideally, list your values and then prioritise them to establish what's really important to you. Is it work-life balance you want, an intellectual challenge, or do you want to be a manager.

"This is the type of thought process I put people through: talking them through it, asking questions and understanding what it is they care about.

"This clarifies a person's thinking."

Although anyone can sit at home and go through this process, Davies says you will only go as far as your own thinking will allow you to. You don't know what you don't know.

"To really make progress it helps to have someone listen to you and reflect back on what you said and elaborate on your thinking," she says. "For a person to make decisions they need to be clear on what's wrong and why."

Davies says that with a person's values established they can look at their job and decide which, if any, of their values are met by the job. If the job and personal values don't match up, it's a matter of compromise — or seeing whether the job can be tinkered with to better match it to your skills and values. The trick is to have a job with more things you like about it than don't like. You don't have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

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"Perhaps there are more challenging projects you can put yourself forward for, are there ways you can manage your time so that you don't feel so stressed," says Davies. "Perhaps stop answering emails the instant they arrive, to give yourself thinking time. It depends what the issue is and everyone is different."

She says that, more often than not, the people she sees are in the right career, but just need to tweak or manage something. Typically, people are in the right career but in the wrong workplace.

"Perhaps you're a nurse in a busy hospital, but would rather be a Plunket nurse," says Davies. "The point is, just because you are unhappy at work it doesn't need to mean you have to change everything."

However, a handful of people are in the wrong career, perhaps because their parents forced them down a particular career path (which is a whole other can of worms).

Davies says: "If you're aged 40, married and with young children then hopping out of your job to start a new career has huge implications. But there is a process for that."

She recommends looking at your skills and deciding which ones are transferable to another career. Then take into account your passions and outside interests and the things you really care about. It could be there is another job or career you could transition into or, or it might be time to start retraining to build up the skill set you need to move on. Some people start their own company.

"What I try to do is really look at the possible outcomes," says Davies. "So if the career really does look like it's the wrong one then I help people come up with a list of options for further research.

"For me, this is a process. You can't say 'I'm unhappy and getting a new job'. That will not get you to where you need to get to. If you just jump into another job you will likely get it wrong again.

"Once you have clarity on the issue, why you are unhappy at work, then you can look at the options and start planning your next step."

On the web: careersense.co.nz