Sometimes you have to walk out.
Some of you are stuck in a toxic firm or with a terrible boss. But before you say, “Take this job and shove it” (to quote the old song), let’s run through a pre-flight checklist before flying the coop.
#1 Live Lean. If you don’t have your dream job in your dream company, you should have six to twelve months of cash in the bank to cover your living expenses. (Your retirement funds should be off limits.) If you don’t have that cash available, you have to “live lean” until you do. If that means postponing that beach trip or driving your beat-up old car a few more years, so be it.
There are few things worse than not being able to leave a bad job because you can’t afford to. Sooner or later that toxic atmosphere will poison you.
#2 Why? Analyze why you are miserable. Is any of your condition the result of your own attitude? Tired and stressed? Not getting enough exercise and sleep? Not setting boundaries? Chip on your shoulder? Not a team player? Cynical? Maybe you need to focus more on what you can control, starting with your attitude and behavior. Often the grass that looks greener elsewhere has its cow pies too.
#3 Internal Options. Have you spoken to HR about the situation? Is there another spot for you in the organization, even at another location or with reduced pay but better overall conditions? Can HR help with your manager’s style, or with your ability to work with it? Is there someone you respect in the firm who could mentor you? Are there trusted allies in the organization or outside advisors with whom you could brainstorm ideas?
#4 What Do You Want? What are your goals? Where do you want to be in five years? How important are things like compensation, location, challenge, enjoyment, colleagues, advancement, contribution, and recognition? What are you passionate about? What are your personal values? (See our Personal Values Exercise) The best way to explore other job and career options is to try them out with “low-cost probes.” It’s hard to get a good sense for what different work will be like without actually trying it, even on a volunteer, pro bono, pilot, moonlighting, or other trial basis.
#5 Scouting. If you want to join another organization, do your homework first. Besides field of work and type of role, we encourage you to seek a values-based organization with a high-performance culture of character (in other words, where they practice what we call “triple crown leadership” and its attendant quest to build an excellent, ethical, and enduring organization). That is an environment in which you can blossom, regardless of where you enter. Research possibilities online; talk to current and former employees; and take a tour. Once you have your sights set on a good place, launch a creative and relentless campaign to join them.
#6 Your Own Venture. Have you considered launching your own venture? We recommend Gregg’s last book, Life Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives for a field manual on how to do so. (See the section on Startups and Entrepreneurship in our Leadership Bookshelf) Be sure you have a financially sustainable business model that you have vetted with actual customers or users. Passion alone is not enough for a successful new venture. It should fit with your strengths and have a viable economic engine.
#7 Speak Up. Have you addressed your concerns with your boss tactfully and constructively, airing your issues and suggesting changes to see if you can address the problems together? Perhaps there are sides of the story that you are missing? (This alternative may be preferable to jumping ship, but it has risks.)
#8 Jump the Chain. If speaking to your manager gets you nowhere, you may have to leapfrog the chain of command to speak to a senior officer. This is a high-risk/high-reward move, which may get you terminated, shunned, or transferred. It also may be the right thing to do to help the colleagues you leave behind realize their mistakes and change their behavior.
#9 Leave. If all else fails–if you have done your homework, and if you have the cash cushion you need–then have the courage to resign to pursue other opportunities. Do so civilly, respecting all the property rights of the organization and your relationships and reputation there, and wishing them well. A classy exit will be remembered well and leave doors open for future opportunities and networking with good people.
#10 Believe in Yourself. You have now prepared well for your next professional challenge. Of course there are uncertainties, but you have skills, passions, and talents that are of great value at the right place. Don’t be too concerned about the absence of a reference from a previous employer. You can explain you quit due to personal or professional differences. Focus on what you do well and all you have to offer, and recommit to your values and aspirations. Have faith that you will learn even from bad experiences and that you can make things right in the future. Take time off if you can to renew before diving into the next thing, and focus on the opportunities and new vistas in front of you.
Don’t say “Take this job and shove it” in the heat of the moment. Get to the place you deserve to be by leading yourself through a transition you’ll be proud of and that will set you up for great things ahead.
Bob Vanourek and Gregg Vanourek, father and son, are co-authors of Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations.