April 17, 2012
Quitting your job: Avoid knee-jerk decisions
Was it The Kinks or The Clash who sang "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"
Ah, it was the Clash. Once again, Wikipedia to the rescue.
Now that the timeless melody of that song is stuck in your head, let's talk about an important decision many working adults are wrestling with these days. "I'm not happy at work, I haven't gotten a raise in years, and I don't really like my boss or the environment I'm working in. Should I just pull up my stakes, quit and look for something better?"
I hear these stories constantly in my role as a career counselor. People contact me all the time to share that they're going through a difficult situation at work and to seek my advice on whether they should just suck it up or indulge their temptation to march into the boss's office and submit their resignation. Possibly in dramatic fashion.
While many advice columns have been penned about the topic of job resignation over the years, I feel obligated to stress that much of the historical literature on this subject has been written without taking one very important consideration into account: an 8.3% unemployment rate.
My advice on this issue, circa April 2012: Some people should quit their jobs. And some shouldn't.
I'm not trying to speak in riddles here. What I mean is that the decision to walk away from a steady paycheck is a much more complex issue than most people realize, especially in the current economy. If pressed, I could line up 50 individuals for you who have quit a job and lived to regret it, just as easily as I could line up 50 other folks who would look back and say jumping ship was the smartest thing they ever did.
As a result, I believe the decision to leave a job is an intensely personal one, and should be made only after a careful analysis of several factors:
Financial situation. How long can you afford to go without a steady income? Keep in mind that if you quit a job, you're typically not eligible for unemployment benefits. How will you arrange insurance coverage for yourself and your family? How deep are your financial reserves if your job search ends up lasting a year or two? This isn't unheard of in today's market, especially for middle-management and executive positions.
Emotional resilience. How much of your self-worth is tied to your employment status and/or job title? Will you be able to maintain your confidence during a significant stretch of unemployment? Are you disciplined and motivated enough to run an aggressive search without anybody holding you directly accountable? Do you have a strong faith, resilient worldview and/or supportive friends and family who will help carry you through the tough times?
Personal marketability. How many job openings exist in your field? Is the type of work you perform in high or low demand? Do you have any immediate prospects you could consider? Do you have a strong network to help you develop leads and referral contacts? Do you have a fallback skill (e.g., cooking, waiting tables, customer service) that you can rely on to generate cash flow should a more suitable long-term opportunity fail to materialize right away?
In my experience, many individuals don't evaluate all of these important factors in the heat of the moment, when their boss just frazzled their last nerve. But as somebody who preaches a philosophy of pragmatic career survival, I believe it's important to think through these issues carefully before making the irrevocable decision to leave a company and possibly burn a bridge.
Have a family? Include them in the discussion, since their hopes, fears and fortunes are going to be enormously affected by your decision as well.
Ultimately, this type of careful analysis will lead many people to realize that their smartest move may actually be to stay the course and find a way to tolerate their current situation -- while firing up a confidential search for greener pastures on the side.
For others, especially those folks experiencing physical or mental-health issues as a result of job-related stress, the phrase "that's no way to live" might be the operative wisdom to follow. Sometimes, it's simply time to go, without looking back.
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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