Warning signs that you need to break free from your 9 to 5 hamster wheel

Times are changing, and it's becoming more and more evident that the ways in which we are working need to change too. This article goes through the aspects that show it may be time for a change in your work life and how to proceed on a more fulfilling path.


I remember working for a huge international corporation during my studies in 2010. The first thing I learned was that spending as much time as possible in the office was important to show work ethic and engagement. Interns would spend all their evenings typing random things on their computer. All to impress their boss with the long working hours.


This mindset of attendance time stems from the industrial age. The modern 9-to-5, eight-hour workday was invented by American labor unions in the 1800s. It later went mainstream thanks to Henry Ford in the 1920s.


Goodbye to the 9 to 5 hamster wheel

Technology and the Covid-19 pandemic brought many changes to the way we work. It made the 9 to 5 hamster wheel obsolete. It's time that we break free from the “old” ways of working. According to Gallup, 68% of the workforce in Germany is not engaged, neither are 70 % in the US.


If we are not engaged at work, we are not creative and productive. A McKinsey survey from 2016 found that independent workers are more satisfied with nearly every aspect of their working lives than employees. Still, many of us have been conditioned to believe the 9 to 5 hamster wheel is THE only way to work.


Some clients come to me when their suffering is “high enough”. They want to change, have more freedom, growth and purpose in their (work) life but don’t know how to. The first step is always awareness.



Below I am sharing with you the 6 signs that indicate it's time to break free from your 9 to 5 hamster wheel:


1. You feel stuck. Every day feels more or less comfortable and known. But you are not growing anymore.


In your work environment you lack autonomy and freedom to do what you enjoy. Your work doesn’t feel challenging anymore. You are dominated by routine, or conform to strict workplace rules.


I remember feeling like this early on in my career. That's because I like trying out different things and feel easily caged in routines. My boss was surprised. She told me “But you are good at what you do and you should develop further in the exact same position.” Be proactive and explore your possibilities, don't wait for others to show you the path.

See what you can influence to incorporate autonomy, growth and challenge into your work.


2. You lack energy, you wake up drained most days and you feel depleted at the end of your workday.


When your body starts speaking, it’s an important sign that something is not ok. Feeling tired or burnt out all of the time is not normal. If the only thing you can do on most evenings is to watch TV and drink wine you have a clear indicator that your work life is draining you.


Do you have to wait for a serious illness or injury to take the signs seriously? Think about what part of your work energizes you. How can you design your work day so that you don’t compromise your health and wellbeing?


For me it’s eating healthy food so I am not in a food coma for hours after a canteen lunch. I pair it with going for a walk when I need to clear my head. And more importantly, doing work that energizes me and my clients.


3. You feel work is work and you are not excited to talk about it.


I know a lot of people who separate their work and private life. That’s a choice. This might again be a generational difference.


If you dread talking about your work in your free time, think about how long you can sustain a work life with something that you don’t enjoy. You feel its only function is to pay the bills, save money and buy things.


But if you are miserable, you also have a negative effect on the mood and energy level of the people around you. Perhaps that's not the role model you want to be for your kids, colleagues or employees.


4. You wait for the weekend to come that you finally can do what you want, be yourself and “recharge”


Work does not have to be enjoyable all the time. But if you already have anxiety on Sunday because you have to work on Monday something is wrong! Don’t stay in the hamster wheel to afford the hard-earned breaks, weekends and holidays. One of the best things about being self-employed is that I have adventure, rejuvenation and fun on most days.


5. You dream of making an impact, but you don’t feel like your work is contributing to something bigger


Often, you can feel trapped or frustrated at work if you don’t see the bigger picture or “Why”. Maybe you don’t identify with the values or mission of the corporation you work for. Especially if you are an empath, you love to serve people and want to make a difference. Daniel Pink shows in his book "Drive," how important purpose is for creating meaning, engagement and productivity at work. Working toward something larger and more important than yourself.


6. You postpone your dreams to the future, or have given up on them as you label them as “unrealistic”


If you spend long enough time in a working environment where you are not thriving, you start doubting yourself and your own capabilities. The longer you stay in a situation you don’t want to be in without doing something about it, the harder it will be for you. It won't be easy to trust yourself, think outside the box, and have courage to take necessary action to create your dream work life.


Do you recognize these warning signs in your own work life?

When you recognize yourself in these points, it's time to change. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to quit your job. It can look like taking time to reflect, reconnect to who you are and who you want to be and taking the steps on a path that is fulfilling and purposeful to you.



Breaking free from the 9 to 5 hamster wheel is all about connecting with your inner truth. It's about finding growth opportunities and doing work that makes you feel fulfilled, energized and excited. Work that allows you to make a positive contribution and that you want to talk about with everyone you meet.


Your next step is trusting yourself and your gut. Identify your worry points and start acting to change them into your ideal work life scenario. The worst thing you could do is stay where you are - find the courage to break the toxic cycle!


Do you agree? Let me know your questions and comments below.


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