Is it time for you to end things ... with your job?
No one takes a job assuming it will end in disappointment — much like no one starts a new relationship with the expectation that it won’t work out. When you arrive at the realization that your job has become a source of anxiety, things may look grim, indeed. If your relationship status with your job is “complicated,” that’s just another way of saying that it’s not working. How do you know when to end it?
Many professionals have a strong resistance to leaving a job that’s not working out. Quitting is hard because it carries an implication that you gave up, did not try hard enough, or were not good enough to make it work. The reality, as Seth Godin so aptly puts it, is that motivational quotes along the lines of “quitters never win and winners never quit” are wrong. Winners quit all the time— they just quit the right stuff at the right time. So when is it time to quit your job?
That can be surprisingly difficult to figure out. How do you not fall into the trap of valuing time and effort invested more than your future? On the other hand, how do you make sure you quit for the right reasons? How do you find a new job while employed? Here are five steps to help you think through your “complicated” relationship with your job and make the best decision about when to quit.
Step 1: Face what’s actually there.
Before you plan your next career move, your first step should be to honestly look at the current situation and figure out what’s happening. Sometimes, the issue has little to do with the job and everything to do with your personal life. Dissatisfaction or missing pieces in one part of your life can certainly spill elsewhere, so check your basics before you give up on a career. Health, nutrition, exercise, human connection — figure out where exactly the problem is before you make any dramatic changes at work.
Step 2: Ask yourself if your discomfort is temporary or permanent.
Professional growth does not come pain-free. If the discomfort you are experiencing is a temporary side effect from learning new things or stretching into new challenges, quitting will rob you of an opportunity to grow and advance professionally. On the other hand, if the discomfort is permanent or damaging, staying in that situation will cost you time and not contribute much to your career development. In that case, the answer to the question of when to quit your job may be “now.”
Step 3: Reflect on your personal “point of no return.”
Everyone has a personal set of requirements or decision factors that are firm non-starters. What are yours? An abusive boss, a job that has offered no opportunities for growth and career development in three years, or a commute to the new office that consumes two hours in one direction — you decide what would spell an absolute “no” for you. Those examples may be signs that you should quit your job.
Step 4: Ask yourself what needs to change for you to feel great about staying.
This is the reverse of step three: Instead of thinking about what would make the decision to quit a no-brainer, you are considering what it would take to stay. Most situations can be salvaged, even if just in theory. Perhaps it might take reporting to a different person, finding a trusted mentor, or a good career development opportunity on an interesting side project.
Step 5: Ask yourself whether you’ve exhausted your options for making it better.
This may be the most challenging of the five steps. Instead of asking yourself if it’s the right time to quit your job and daydreaming about new opportunities, make a genuine effort to improve the situation. This step forces you to face the fact that you played a role in creating the complicated and painful situation you are in. Be brutally honest and ask yourself, “Have I done everything I can to make this better?” Own your part in the mess so that you can begin to dig your way out.
5 things to avoid doing when work turns sour.
What if you have answered the five questions above and concluded that your work situation has moved beyond “it’s complicated” into the “it’s awful and I need to be single” category? The best strategy is to start actively looking for other options and applying for jobs while still employed. This step is best done as quietly as possible, no matter how tempted you might be to make a scene. Here are five common mistakes that professionals in this situation make to the detriment of their long-term careers.
Mistake #1: Gossiping and complaining to coworkers.
Sure, it may help you blow off some steam and bond over the shared misery. However, complaining and gossiping adds no constructive value beyond making you feel momentarily better. The relief will pass quickly, but the consequences may last longer than this job. Feeling frustrated and upset is completely normal in your situation. Try to channel those feelings into constructive next steps — brush the dust off of that LinkedIn profile, get a professional to review your resume, or re-connect with professionals who can help you find a new opportunity.
Mistake #2: Using the possibility of quitting as leverage.
Here is the big secret: Successful professionals either stay in a job and make the most of it or leave without making a fuss. They don’t talk about quitting in hypothetical terms or use it as a threat when negotiating.
When you feel underappreciated or under-compensated, it’s tempting to believe that the threat of leaving will make your boss realize how amazing you are and finally give you what you want. In your imagination, the company will pay you more, grant you the things you have been asking for, reassign you to a different job, and give you more flexibility just to make you stay. Unfortunately, real life does not work that way. Instead of delivering on your requests, your boss is much more likely to begin searching for your replacement! Your outburst along the lines of, “I guess I’ll just start looking for other opportunities!” will lock you out of interesting new projects and make you look unprofessional and childish. Don’t do it.
Mistake #3: Checking out.
Checking out physically or mentally spells the death of good opportunities for professionals. I know that it’s difficult to remain engaged when your heart isn’t in it and you’re actively looking for a new job. I’m not suggesting you act like the company’s biggest cheerleader, but you might think twice before you stop doing your work. Stay focused. References matter, and today’s business world is more connected than ever before. Do your best to leave with your performance reviews and professional integrity intact.
Mistake #4: Making emotional decisions.
Slamming a door in your boss’s face will give you a few seconds of satisfaction. So will stomping out of a meeting or screaming at a difficult coworker. In the long run, all of those actions are more likely to sabotage your next career move than set you up for success. In some cases, it may take the decision of when to leave a job out of your hands completely, as you could get let go. Keep your eye on the ball, take a deep breath, and do what’s best for your career in the long run — which, in most cases, involves taking charge of your emotional state.
Mistake # 5: Quitting with no contingency plan.
Walking out of a job has its perks –—a completely open day tomorrow, for instance. However, it also takes away one of your options without automatically creating others. Looking for a job while unemployed is definitely not an impossible task — plenty of professionals do it to great effect. However, searching for a new opportunity from the safety of a stable paycheck gives you the luxury of time. It lowers the pressure to find a position in two weeks or risk missing your rent or mortgage payment. That, in turn, improves the odds of finding a position that is a great fit — not just something to tide you over.
When things get “complicated” at work, keep a cool head! Just as in romantic relationships, sudden, poorly-considered moves in a complex situation won’t serve you well. Even if your situation at work leaves much to be desired, more options are always better. By keeping a cool head, continuing to show up, and taking an honest look at your circumstances, you gain the perspective and the time to make a plan to help you decide right next career move. After all, you deserve nothing less!
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