When Is It Time to Leave a Job?

unhappy office workerMonday isn’t the best day of the week even for people who love their jobs. Also, those things that annoy you at work are probably everywhere, right? Almost every office comes with someone who eats other people’s food out of the company refrigerator. Most places have at least one manager who doesn’t feel like he’s managing if he isn’t timing your bathroom breaks. However, it’s not unusual to come to a point where the rewards are almost nonexistent and the list of annoyances keeps growing. So, the question morphs from, “How am I going to get through today?” into “How can I ever go back?” At that point, it’s worth seriously asking if the job is doing more harm than good.

Nobody can give someone else a magic formula that will predict the tipping point when you know you’re better off somewhere else, but before you go, it’s worth taking a few steps first.

Take a Breather

Ideally, take a long weekend and do something that distracts you from work. Also, practice leaving work at work every day by disconnecting from work email at home and screening out calls from coworkers.

Boost Your Motivation

Consider Daniel Pink’s “motivation trifecta”: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Unfortunately, the people who need to read Pink’s books (hint: managers, supervisors, and executives) are often the least likely to read them, or if they do, they don’t often take them seriously. That said, it’s worth asking yourself if you can find a way to be more autonomous in your work, or identify the tasks that you have the most control over. Part of the reason it’s so important to disconnect from work at the end of the day, especially if you work in an organization that allows little autonomy, is that you at least have control over how much work bleeds into your personal time.

Regarding mastery, if you are feeling fed up with your job, the last thing you probably want to do is pursue professional development to become even better at something that is annoying you. I’ve been there, and I completely get it. Since we are still dealing with a tough job market and the goal here is to keep work bearable so you can figure out exactly what you would like to do, it’s worth stepping back and thinking about anything you do now that you would like to learn more about.

For example, maybe your job involves event planning, project management, bookkeeping, developing elaborate Excel spreadsheets, etc. Even if you feel that you are already good at something, but would like to develop more advanced skills, identify what you would like to work on and approach your boss with the request. Not only will you have the possibility of scoring some time away from the daily grind while you go take a class, but your boss probably will see you as a go-getter and admire you for being proactive about your professional development.

Purpose is often what we find lacking at work. It is so easy to become so involved in the annoying details and drudge that we lose sight of why the organization exists in the first place or the reason we were hired. Create a calm space for yourself and see if you can come up with at least one positive contribution that you make to at least one other person by going to work. This really is not enough to build a satisfying career on, but it can help you get through the week. Also, make a note of all the good things you do and what people thank you for. Surprisingly, just expressing your own gratitude, either to someone else or in a journal, can help increase your overall sense of well-being. So even if you feel like you work with and for ungrateful jerks, there’s still a way to make this work.

Identify Satisfiers and Dissatisfiers

Before you write your letter of resignation, it’s a good idea to consider what you like about your current job and what you don’t like. Is the job rewarding in a way that is satisfying for you? What would be more rewarding? By rewarding, I don’t mean incentive programs and employee recognition initiatives. While those can be a nice bonus if the environment is already healthy and the job is already satisfying, they aren’t going to make a bad fit work.

Focus on What You Want

Develop your own professional goals, and start taking the steps you need to take. This might be as simple as setting aside time each week to brainstorm where you’d like to be in five years. Another possibility is meeting with a career coach or counselor. One constant in life is change, so if this is an unhappy chapter your career, take comfort in the fact it will end. Ideally, with some reflection and planning, you can try to have it end on your terms.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Amy Armstrong, MS, NCC, MCC, LPC, Career Counseling Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Chase

    July 21st, 2014 at 10:31 AM

    I know that going to work can be a chore for us even on the ebst of days but if you are constantly thinking of how much different and better your life would be if you had another job then it might be time to reset your priorities and begin looking elsewhere for employment.

    Great jobs can be hard to come by so before I did that I would try to ask myself is there anything that you can personally do to change the situation or make things better.

    If you come to the conclusion that there is nothing that you can change that will make things better then fine, go ahead and start looking but there could be some things that you have not thought of that could help make it a better place to work. Sometimes the most profound changes begin with you.

  • Cara d.

    July 22nd, 2014 at 3:14 PM

    We are all disgruntled from time to time but that does not have to cloud your whole view of your job. You could be having a bad day or maybe a bad week, or there could be someone else that you work with who has decided tp share their derision with you, but don’t let that impact what you believe about this employment opportunity that you currently have.Great jobs can be difficult to find and there will never be one that will be absolutely perfect for you- that does not exist. What does exist is the ability to turn this into a positive even when it all feels negative. Think of the things that you like about it and all of the people you would miss if you left.
    If you don’t care about any of that then you probably already have one foot out the door anyway.

  • trey

    July 23rd, 2014 at 11:32 AM

    A job can make you feel physically sick to your stomach. There shouldn’t be anything that you have to let make you feel that way. If you are, the kiss it goodbye, and get rid of that kind of virus in your life.

  • Amy Armstrong

    July 23rd, 2014 at 6:34 PM

    I’ve said it before, but it’s still true: it’s a tough job market out there, and employers know it. @Cara and @Chase, I agree that the first place to look is you. Is there anything you can change to make things better. Do you have reasonable expectations given your current career level? Is your boss being unreasonable or are you just having a bad day? The more we care about doing a good job, the more we tend to take interactions at work personally, and that’s an important thing to be mindful of. That mindset is often a recipe for sadness. Even when you’re working for yourself, business never should be personal.

    As @Trey pointed out, if the idea of going to your job is making you sick, it probably is not the place for you. Sometimes, the best thing to do is leave and focus on finding something that’s a better fit.

    Unfortunately, there isn’t an acid test for finding the point where a job is too toxic to keep. When in doubt, talk it over with someone you trust. In the end though, go with your gut. Even people who know you well often fail to see how much a nasty work environment is tearing you up.

  • Darlene

    July 24th, 2014 at 4:28 PM

    Sometimes you just have to learn to make the most of a bad situation. It may not be ideal but hey, it’s better than the alternative, right?

  • Julianne

    July 27th, 2014 at 5:30 AM

    If you can I think that it can be great to get away from it for a while, even if just for a day or two, to reassess things and determine what the right decision for you will be. For some this may be possible, for others that might mean taking a little vacation or sick time to sort it through, but for anyone you sometime sjust have to walk away and separate yourself from it all for a little bit to come to the right conclusion. If you make a major decisison like this in the ehat of the momet you may come to regret what that decision actually was.

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