March 21, 2012
Bridge of bitter flames might not be the best exit strategy
Most of us have been there at some point, maybe more than once. You're sick of your job. The very idea of waking up in the morning and hauling yourself into that soul-deadening place, where you are overworked and underappreciated and generally stuck in a situation far from the one you wanted to be in, is tantamount to Dumpster diving in a hurricane.
Maybe it's more than the long hours and minuscule pay. There might be a deep and growing ethical conflict between your values and the practices of your employer. Maybe the culture is toxic, the gossip rampant, the path to promotion littered with unclear expectations, rounds of masochistic layoffs and brown-nosers.
Every day the stress grows worse and your patience dwindles. You feel trapped. There's only one thing to do, right? You up and quit, and you make them sorry. The bigger your exit, the bolder your rant, the better you'll feel. If Greg Smith can do it, we all can too.
Smith is the Goldman Sachs executive who made headlines last week when he very publicly resigned from his position with an opinion piece to The New York Times decrying the firm's moral shortcomings. He's not alone: The number of people quitting their jobs is on the rise. Nearly 1.9 million workers did so in January, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
While leaving with a bang seems glamorous and might keep people talking for a few days or weeks, know that, in reality, everyone would soon forget about the scene du jour (yours). However, you'll suffer the consequences for a long time. Leaving your company via a flaming bridge means your image, connections and future employment opportunities could be compromised.
The best decisions are made with clear heads and lots of premeditated calculations. While some professionals might have enough credentials, contacts and (this one's important, folks) money, most of us cannot necessarily weather the repercussions of a personal workplace eruption.
I'm not saying that you shouldn't get away from a toxic workplace, or any job that isn't ultimately right for you. But whether you have ethical conflicts, unnecessary stress or complaints about compensation, you need to plan your departure carefully. Some key things to think about:
• It's best to get a job while you have a job. Simply put, in this market you're more attractive to an employer if you're employed. If you're unhappy, begin by bringing your personal profile up to speed, monitoring job boards, networking (quietly, of course) and squirreling away some money for any potential lean times.
• Manage your stress. Easier said than done, right? Except that often, we are our own Scrooge. Do you have vacation time stored away? Use it. Don't worry about how your employer will get along without you -- you'll be gone soon enough anyway.
Take the benefits available to you in the meantime. Find an outside way to reduce stress, like exercise, and make a concerted effort to leave work at work. Visualize your workplace as a loud airport terminal and yourself as the airplane, rolling smoothly away from the gate at the end of every day.
• Document your complaints. You may never act on these, but it's a way of organizing your thoughts and also a way of venting. Another version of this is to write a letter -- your resignation letter, for example. Don't hold back: Say everything you want to say to whomever you want to say it to. Let 'er rip. Just don't send it. It doesn't matter, though. You'll already feel better.
• Make a list of everything you value about yourself as an employee. Write down all of your strengths. Include successes you're proud of, if you like. Then make a second list of the features your current workplace is missing that you want your next one to have. Think about where, and how, to get those features. This is your goal.
Now, with a cool head, go out and make it happen.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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