Stay or Leave Your Job?

We all have moments when we wonder about our jobs, “why am I doing this?” Usually the thought doesn’t last long, but sometimes it progresses to, “I think I should move on, find something better.” Should you?

Let’s assume you didn’t take the job because it was your only option. You took the job because it was something you wanted to do: a job in a position you saw as interesting, challenging, and a good career move. Now you are having those thoughts about leaving, but haven’t actually jumped.

I’ve been there, had those doubts, and in some cases moved on. In more than 40 years of variously working for others and running my own companies, I have had a fair number of those “why?” days. I have also, as a manager, talked with people working with me who have asked my opinion whether they should stay or move on. Here is how I approach the question.

What do you want?

Assuming you are in a job you selected because it was what you wanted, do you have a career plan? If you don’t have a thought-through plan (most of us don’t!), do you at least have an idea of what you want your career to be like in the next few years? Do you want to progress in the business? Do you want your manager’s job, or did you when you started this job? Have you seen enough of the tasks your manager does to know that you really don’t want that job?

That happened to me. I enjoyed the job I had, was immersed in it and challenged by it. And I wanted to move to a more senior position. But the more I saw of what my manager did, and got to experience some of it while my manager was away on business trips, the more I did not want that job in that particular company. I knew I would not enjoy it, or be happy in it. And my desire to stay in my job eroded. I found another job in the same line of business, helped train my replacement, and departed.

Before I made that decision, I talked with my spouse and with some friends whose opinions I trusted. I knew my motivation was slipping because of the realization the job didn’t offer a future I would be happy with. I also knew that I didn’t want to leave “badly” by giving the minimum notice and walking out the door, because that would create a reputation I didn’t want following me around. I told my new employer when they offered me a job, “I need time to ensure there’s a smooth transition where I am now” and they respected that. In fact I think it helped me in my new job.

Lateral movement

Leaving may not be your only option. If you just don’t see yourself moving up in the department/division you are working in, have you considered asking to move to another part of the business? This may not be an option in a very small company, but it is one to consider in a larger business.

I had a very bright young lady working for me who had progressed quite fast from an entry level position to managing a small department in our large business. Her next logical step was to take on managing a group of related departments. One day she asked me, “Can I move to a different part of the business?” This was a surprise, and I asked her to explain. “I want to eventually get into senior management and I think I need experience in sales.” Sales? This was quite a leap for someone whose past few years had been in the production operations of the business. I asked if she realized this would be almost like starting over. She would have to work as a trainee (she had no prior experience at all); her income would be partially commission based; and she would have to cope with a quite small basic wage to start with. “Yes,” she said, “I’ve thought about that and can handle it.”

The initial months were a struggle for her, but she succeeded and became quite good at it. And that made it much easier to move her into a corporate management job. She eventually became president of the company.

Never think that leaving is your only option. A sideways move can sometimes be the better choice.

Don’t be afraid to talk

As I hope I have shown above, you should not be afraid to talk through your concerns. Family and friends can be useful listeners, but bear in mind that they don’t know (or really understand) the nuances of your job. If you can, try discussing your concerns with your boss. Be honest about the things you feel are problems in your job, and ask for honesty back in how your boss sees your performance and your future. Don’t rely on the tea room gossip brigade for their “reporting” of how they think your boss views you, because most of that is going to be wildly unreliable information. A direct conversation will give you a much better picture of where you stand.

Be honest with yourself

Are you really doing the job well? Most jobs have two components: the mechanical, repetitive stuff, and the creative. Clearing your desk of the former every day doesn’t mean you are doing a great job. The latter is the difficult work and under performing at that can be a signal that you have a problem. Perhaps you have not had enough training, or perhaps there are not enough resources, or perhaps you just struggle because you don’t have what it takes.

Self-evaluation here is tough (you will always be tempted to blame someone or something else), but it is very valuable to be brutally honest with yourself. If you hate those tasks, why do you hate them? Perhaps they involve dealing with interpersonal relationships and you are someone who prefers avoiding those? Do they involve a lot of uncertainty and you like certainty?

Making the decision

You have looked at yourself in the mirror and honestly weighed your options. You have asked questions, and have decided that moving on is the best choice. The stress of staying in the current job is not worth it. Now, how do you move on?

Once you have made up your mind, be aware that people around you will sense it, even if you don’t say a word. You need to think quickly and clearly about what is next. Moving to a near-identical job in the same industry might be tempting, but if it leads to the same challenges after a few years it is not a good move. So look not just at the next job, but also look at where you want it to take you; what improvement will come in your career as a result of the move.

Don’t hang around, but also don’t rush out the door. Telling your employer to “take my job and … it” might be emotionally satisfying, but won’t do your reputation much good! Instead, be mature, acknowledge that you share in the failure of the job, and think about how you can end the job in a way that respects the problems your employer will now face. Would it help if you helped orientation for your replacement? How much time will your employer need to find that replacement? Can you stay around a little longer than the minimum notice period to help?

None of this means you should not set a day for departure and inform your employer of that date. Simply consider whether you are able to set a date a week or two beyond the minimum. If your employer says no, the minimum is fine, you have at least shown a willingness to be helpful. If your employer accepts the extended date, your willingness to help is being acknowledged.

Job hopping

One final note. Be aware that if you have only been in the job for a year or two, your departure starts a record of job hopping. This may be overlooked in your first job or two, but after that employers will become increasingly doubtful about hiring you for important positions. I personally think four or more years per job equates to a record which suggests a stable employee; a pattern of jumps after two or three years indicates someone I will have great reluctance to hire.

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