The 4 Modern Rules of Leaving (or Quit the Job Before It Quits You . . .)
This post finds us examining the familiar job conundrum many face: “do I stay or do I go?” “Because of my years of experience as an HR professional, I recently had the 24-year-old son of a dear friend ask for advice on how to respond to a series of incidents at his company. He was increasingly feeling as though his job was in jeopardy. After he described each one, he then said: “so what do I do?” “Leave.” I said. “Should I file a complaint?” he asked. “Leave.” I said.
This was a phone conversation and I could hear the confusion in my young friend’s silence. He was looking for more, or perhaps different advice than just “leave.” And I did want to elaborate, but rather than counsel Sam (not his real name) on all the steps he needed to take to find a new job (that discussion would come later), I decided instead to talk with him about the reasons why leaving this job would be benefit him in the long run even if it didn’t feel so great now. And these reasons have become what I call “The 4 Modern Rules of Leaving . . .”
Rule #1: If a Job Makes You Doubt or Dislike Yourself, It’s Time to Leave . . .
Sam was a bit stuck around the unfairness of it all: he had been a hardworking and loyal employee, working nights, weekends and taking on more than the normal workload. But despite the good work relationships he had with his colleagues, the single biggest influence on the quality of his work life, his immediate manager, was making his life miserable. Her comments, criticisms and “rules” that applied only to him, made him doubt not just his abilities as a professional, but his worth as a human being. We get no credit in this life for pain and suffering, particularly the kind we can walk away from. At his funeral, there will be no footnote on the headstone that reads: “Here Lies Sam, Who Stayed at His Job Despite Being Belittled.” Contrary to the belief of some, we do live in a time and place where you should have an expectation of working in an environment where you are treated with respect and consideration. And most importantly, a job search requires energy and confidence. If your current work environment leaves you demoralized, angry or depressed, it can be tough to present yourself to a potential employer as someone they’d want on their team . . .
Rule #2: It is Better to Quit Than to Be Fired . . .
It is true: under all but the most egregious of circumstances, being fired versus resigning will most likely result in eligibility for unemployment benefits (this blog post is not meant to replace official guidance; learn more about your state’s unemployment program by clicking here). BUT, is your professional reputation worth the nominal weekly payment you’ll receive? (This was particularly relevant for Sam, who had the luxury of still being able to live at home with his parents, and the extent of his financial burden being school loans). It is much easier to explain to a new potential employer why you left a job, versus trying to construct a politically correct story for why you were fired. The 16th century English Clergyman, Joseph Hall once said: “A reputation once broken may possibly be repaired, but the world will always keep their eyes on the spot where the crack was.”
Rule #3: The Grass Really IS Greener (if we tend to it) . . .
I encouraged Sam to think long and hard about not just want he wanted to DO next, but WHERE and with WHOM he wanted to do it. Over the years as an HR professional and now as an HR consultant, I have observed that job-seekers spend a great deal of time focused on the employment versus the employer. They tell themselves: “I can work anywhere as long as they pay me.” The challenges Sam described at his company didn’t appear “just the other day.” They are a symptom of a long-standing organizational culture that existed long before he came and will prevail long after he leaves. Companies that choose to are reinventing themselves daily to emerge with a distinct brand that will attract a certain kind of employee. Find the company that supports your beliefs and shares your values; interview THEM as thoroughly as they interview YOU. Taking the time to do this upfront work can increase your chances of cultivating a “next work experience” that is satisfying and dare I say: actually makes you happy and excited to go to work each day!
Rule #4: It’s Actually Worse for Those You Leave Behind . . .
If you decide to leave, you may feel as though you are the dummy (looking for a job and no steady paycheck) and your coworkers are the smart ones (steady paycheck; no job search). If your work environment is so toxic that you are afraid of being fired or you feel like you need to leave, chances are, many of your coworkers feel the same way too! Many employees stay because they lack options, are afraid, or have family or financial commitments they believe cannot be supported elsewhere. Show compassion for them because they have not yet found (or been presented with!) their catalyst for leaving, but YOU?: the writing is on the wall as they say. You’ve gotten your marching orders: hike your skirts, pants, etc. and run, RUN toward that next opportunity! (and don’t look back!)
Sam’s work situation had deteriorated to the point where he knew in his heart it was time to go — he had to learn to trust his gut and move on to something better. What is YOUR gut telling you?
OR, better yet, take the “Groundhog Day Test:” If you had to wake each day and live the same day over and over, would your current job be where you’d want to do it? . . .