By now, we’ve all heard of the great resignation. Over the past 18 months or so, many people have had more time to think about what they want from their jobs, and the kind of conditions they are willing to accept.
Of course, the great resignation often glosses over the number of people who died (like “essential workers” who are still somehow not essential enough to merit a living wage) or who were too burnt out to keep going (like healthcare professionals). For knowledge workers, this conversation has often been about perceived entitlement, such as those who don’t want to return to the office.
Regardless, your current job is just a moment in your overall career, and it’s worth thinking critically about whether it’s serving your longer term career goals. So, here are five reasons why you might want to think about quitting.
1. You’re not learning (and you want to be).
It’s normal to move between periods of higher growth and periods of consolidation, and perhaps in the last year it’s been a relief to be operating well within your comfort zone. But if you’re poking your head up, and looking around, and your next growth opportunity is nowhere to be seen, it’s worth considering that your next growth opportunity could be elsewhere.
The trap: Sometimes five years of experience is just… the same year of experience, five times over. This can really set back your career trajectory – making it harder to interview or get hired for roles you think you should be qualified for by now. Employers who interview in depth will suss out if you’ve been stagnating and be more likely to pass on you for a “more qualified” candidate.
Before you quit: Talk to your manager about what growth opportunities they see for you. Especially if you’ve struggled personally for whatever reason (including, for example, with living through a global pandemic) it’s worth laying that to rest between you and making it clear you’re ready to take on more. Many nice, understanding managers have let people drift a bit, not wanting to add pressure when the world was (and continues to be) on fire (some have done the opposite – a whole other story).
2. You’re learning coping mechanisms rather than skills.
Every organization has their quirks that people find their way to work around. Perhaps the reporting is a little overly arduous, or your manager’s manager a little political, or the culture a little too argumentative for your liking. Over time, we learn to cope with these things – we set aside extra time for the reports, make sure we take the time to sell the political person on our ideas, or learn how to argue.
The trap: Sometimes organizations are (or become) sufficiently toxic that we’re investing more time in developing and refining the coping mechanisms than the actual skills. If your list of things to develop is really a list of things that you won’t have to do in a more functional environment, none of which will make you more employable elsewhere… it’s time to walk away. The coping mechanisms trap is particularly vicious because in a healthy environment, coping mechanisms will often be harmful. The more time you invest in refining them, the more time you’re going to have to spend untangling them in a healthy environment – if you ever make it to one.
Before you quit: Talk to someone you trust, who will not just support you but also challenge you. It’s important that they have an external or at least dispassionate perspective – someone who is also deep in the same coping mechanisms will be more likely to justify them. An external coach, a previous manager, a close industry friend can all be good people to turn to. Ideally they can check you on what’s bothering you – are you overreacting? Would the grass really be greener elsewhere?
3. You feel morally conflicted about hiring.
I’m not suggesting we should all be a corporate shill, but if you’re hesitating mentioning that the company you work for is hiring, and offering a lukewarm view or even “I don’t recommend it” to friends who ask you… it’s worth asking yourself if they deserve better, maybe you do too?
The trap: People tend to consider their next job much more deliberately than we consider staying in the one we have. It’s easy to tick along because things are “mostly fine”, but sometimes the questions that people ask when interviewing can remind us that we don’t have a great answer to those questions ourselves if we let ourselves think about it.
Before you quit: Is it the company or is it you? Burnout can make us feel ambivalent about things that we would normally enjoy. Try taking a real break from work and seeing how you feel.
4. Your job is affecting your confidence.
The best advice I got early in my career was “if it’s affecting your confidence, then it’s a problem.” It’s something I still think about, and assess situations against. Something might be annoying, and easy to shrug off, but things that erode your confidence should be paid attention to. As a rule, over time you should feel more capable, not less. This is particularly the case when you can look at your achievements, and the way you’re being treated and see a real mismatch.
The trap: Once you stop feeling valued, and start doubting yourself, it becomes harder and harder to find something else. You’re not valued, you don’t feel successful where you are, so why would somewhere else value you, why would you be more successful elsewhere? The truth is that success is a product of personal and environmental factors. Maybe all you need is a different environment to help you thrive.
Before you quit: Make the time to thoroughly and (as much as possible) dispassionately review the things that have been eroding your confidence. If it’s feedback, I highly recommend Thanks for the Feedback. If it’s other things, such as the way your coworkers communicate, consider if the signs are isolated things you could build some resilience to, or trauma from previous bad experiences. If you have a good relationship with your manager, you can try asking for what you need – for instance if you struggle to get the most of their coaching because you’re so worried you’re not meeting their expectations you can’t engage with it, try telling them that and seeing if they can offer some reassurance first.
5. Your job is affecting you physically.
Stress is physical. At the point where it’s noticeable in your heart rate and physical well-being, you have internalized it.
The trap: the physical effects of stress can sneak up on us, and when you’re not feeling well the stress and overhead of looking for another job or risking your health insurance may be the last thing you want to deal with.
Before you quit: You know your work environment, and you know yourself – so you know whether it’s worth trying setting boundaries and/or building healthy habits. If you draw a line at 7pm, will it be respected? If you carve out time for healthy habits will it be enough to make a difference? If it is, I find Gretchen Rubin’s book Better than Before (Amazon) and the Four Tendencies framework helpful for thinking about building (and maintaining) habits.
6. Bonus: You’re reading this.
Sometimes it’s hard to admit the major change that we need because then we would have to do something about it. But, if you’re reading this, maybe it’s a sign that you should do some reflection on what you want out of your life and career – and how well your current role is serving that?
Forty hours a week – or let’s be real, more – is a lot of time to be unhappy. Being unhappy at work bleeds into other areas of our lives, impacting our physical and emotional well-being and personal relationships. I’m not advocating job hopping – there are always things that you can try to improve your situation – but as a hiring manager, I regularly see people who have stayed in one place too long at the expense of their own growth and overall career. Regularly thinking critically about what you’re getting from your environment – and what you’re not – is key to sustained, and sustainable growth. Even if you have a great manager, you’re still the DRI of your career – abdicating that responsibility does not set yourself up for long term success.
And if you’re a manager, thinking about how to retain people on your team, consider that your best retention play might – ironically – be making it easier for them to find a job somewhere else. Making sure people feel valued, and are learning and growing in ways that provide value to them personally and their overall career trajectory makes it more likely they will choose to stay. It’s much harder to trap people in the current market – but that was never a good way to manage, anyway.