Independent, The Ethical Way to Escape

Desperate for a change? Fine; but you owe it to your employer to job-hunt in your own time - and not to get lazy at work.

By Carrie Dunn

We've all been there - the job from hell when you truly believe that if you have to go back for just one more day, you'll go mad. Or, almost as soul-destroying, the not-quite-right job, where you're in your comfort zone, you earn a good wage, you get on with your colleagues - but it's not what you want.

You need to get out. But when you are working long hours, how can you possibly find the time to search for a new job?

The answer is obvious; you look for a new position during work time. And while you're at it, why not polish your CV at your desk? Or fill in applications? Or take a long lunch-break to head off to an interview?

When you're unhappy, it's simple to justify using your employer's time and resources to secure a move elsewhere. Georgi Vaughn, 24, an editor from London, had been in her previous job for just a few months when she realised it wasn't for her.

'I took a year out after I graduated, and then got a job as a subtitler,' she says. 'It seemed good at first, but it became clear that there were no real prospects, and the novelty of working night shifts quickly wore off. So I started looking for a new job. I was considering work in publishing, but anything with regular hours would have been a start.'

Vaughn wasn't alone in her dissatisfaction. Many colleagues were also looking for new employment. 'Most of the staff left within about a year, some before they had even finished their training,' she says. 'We'd get the newspapers delivered to the office and there was always a battle for the jobs sections.'

Once those ideal roles had been sourced and selected, it was a short step to applying for them during work time. 'I used the internet to send off applications all the time, and printed out a fair amount of job details and CVs on the company printer,' she admits.

Vaughn has no regrets about her appropriation of company resources to find herself a job elsewhere. 'If they had given their staff more respect and listened to their concerns, maybe they wouldn't all have been looking to leave. I never hid the fact that I was job-hunting - and as long as I was doing my job well, which I was, I don't think that they had anything to complain about.'

Ros Toynbee, a career coach, isn't so sure. 'There's a distinction between surfing the net and writing job applications at your desk, and getting out of the office at lunchtime to do the same at the local library. Both are during work time - but one is using your employer's resources, which is unethical, and the other is not.'

She says: 'Don't give your employer any reason to suppose your mind is not on the job. It could jeopardise your reputation. A growing number of companies are checking what their employees are really doing at their desks and you don't want to be caught out.'

The disgruntled employee might not believe it, but managers generally aren't stupid, and can tell when a staff member is looking for a new job. Harry Perkins, a manager in the public sector, says: 'The idea that employees won't look for new jobs elsewhere using work computers is as fanciful as the idea that they won't buy their shopping or book their holidays online.'

For him, a problem would only arise if an employee made it obvious that they were unhappy and seeking a new role. 'If that happened, then I'd worry about what other howlers they might be making on a daily basis - to the organisation's detriment.'

Sometimes, a jobseeker's proactiveness can backfire. 'I had a mailshot of potential candidates from a recruitment agency, and recognised one of my employees' details,' says Linda Jones, the director of a PR company. 'Not surprisingly, she left our company before her probationary period was completed.'

The simplest and safest way to job-hunt, as far as Toynbee is concerned, is to keep it separate from your work. 'Smarten up your time management skills. Take a good look at your day, and delegate whatever you can. Get out of the habit of working late or taking work home. Most importantly, keep your performance up, otherwise it will look suspicious - and wait until you have a job offer before telling your boss.'