So, you think you want to leave your job. Now what?
Job dissatisfaction is a worldwide experience, and the occasional desire to quit is universal. When unemployment is high, however, employees of all types can be wary about leaving one job. Employers have all the power in the relationship, and people often feel that staying in a mediocre job or career is a better option than taking a risk with a new position — or worse, with unemployment.
This is an especially valid concern for those who are merely skating by or have failed to really stand out in their existing positions. For these folks, a competitive employment season can be too risky to warrant walking away from the paycheck they steadily receive.
There are always exceptions
Great employees do not need to fear the unknown, though, as they tend to thrive in any situation. Even during periods of competitive job markets, a person for whom excellence is a thread woven into his or her psyche will find employers willing to open doors. The opportunities are out there and ripe for the picking, no matter the market.
Because these successful individuals typically outperform in all situations, though, self-evaluation can sometimes be difficult. They are not necessarily those who are the best team players or who follow the company rules, but those who have the desire and skills to strive for excellence in all endeavors they pursue. This is a rare and valuable quality, and it’s a type of work ethic that needs to be instilled early in someone’s life.
It’s difficult to put your best effort into everything you do. If you don’t feel that your life is physically, emotionally, or mentally draining, you are probably operating at less than your full capacity. While I don’t necessarily advocate wearing yourself thin from dedication to your job, it is a trait that bodes well in the workplace.
Even still, these extreme efforts can cloud the perspective of some. If you’re putting in 110% for your job, day in and day out, it can be difficult to take a step back and see whether you’re really where you need to be. Ask yourself the following questions as you, as a high-functioning individual, are considering whether to leave your work behind in favor of new opportunities.
1. Is the company rewarding me for my work?
Reward takes a variety of forms, and the best situation is where your desires match what the company has available. For example, if your only sense of reward comes from financial compensation, working for a non-profit organization with a tight budget could be problematic. Look at the whole picture. If you are passionate about the work you do, your reward may be intrinsic in the work itself. If you are working at your position more out of necessity than desire, your reward should take other forms, as something that is meaningful to you.
You need to let your company know what types of rewards are acceptable, as long as your performance warrants. If the company can find no way to reward you for excellent work, you should look to move on. Employees who seek excellence will almost always be in demand. Mediocre employees, on the other hand, are more susceptible to market forces.
2. Do I have good relationships with co-workers and managers?
Mutual respect is an important aspect of a fulfilling lifetime experience. You may spend eight plus hours a day with the colleagues and managers in your workplace. If you don’t believe them to be good people or if they don’t believe you to be worthy of respect, the time you spend working with them will be unfulfilling.
Beyond respect, you should expect to feel comfortable and at ease. That doesn’t mean there can’t be a sense of urgency, if necessary, within your workplace environment. Respect is the base and, above that, good relationships contain trust. You should expect your co-workers to be just as reliable as you. You shouldn’t need to micromanage others, and they shouldn’t be micromanaging you.
You can’t expect that everyone in your office will be your friend, but you can expect an environment in which there isn’t a pervasive sense of negativity.
3. Is there enough variety in my day?
While excellent performers can certainly function well in daily, repetitive tasks, this isn’t the best use of someone’s time and efforts. Most employees feel under-utilized with their set of responsibilities and authority, but this can be a significant problem for people who strive to excel. Great employees might be willing to put up with limited activities for a while, but it might be better to leave than stick around if there’s no sign of this improving.
The best position for a high-functioning employee is one where you have the opportunity to use as much as your skill set as possible. This is one reason excellence-focused individuals pursue their own businesses; this type of start-up work requires use of all mental faculties.
4. Can I continue to learn from my managers?
Education is a life-long endeavor, particularly if you work in, are interested about, or are passionate for an industry that continuously evolves. Excellent employees know that they should rarely (if ever) be the smartest person in the room. Constant self-improvement is a need, not just for career advancement but for a sense of worth and value. If you are going to spend a large chunk of your day working with people, you want to ensure there are opportunities available for you to continue building your skills, not just from a technical perspective but from a philosophical perspective as well.
Large companies with resources generally understand that employees have a need to continue learning but struggle to learn anything from managers. Taking the place of these learning opportunities, you may find mentoring programs, tuition benefits, company-sponsored seminars, and other programs designed to allow employees to expand their minds. These are good, but not the best replacements for having a mentor who is interested and able to provide the insight you need to improve.
5. If I resolve my dissatisfaction, will I be happy?
Imagine yourself continuing to work at your current company but with all of the above concerns resolved. If this scenario still leaves you wanting more from your employment, it’s a great indication that it’s time to seek other opportunities. Even if you can’t put your finger on the cause of your dissatisfaction, you deserve to be happy. The danger is chasing an unrealistic dream.
The solution is to realize that happiness is a choice. You can simply choose to be happy with what you have. This isn’t “settling,” it’s analyzing your situation and concluding that your needs are being met. If your company is doing a good job of listening to your concerns and willing to place you in the best working scenarios, there is little more you can ask. If you can’t be happy with this, consider whether you would be happy anywhere. If so, consider moving on; if not, choose to be happy.
6. Do I have another opportunity lined up?
A standard piece of advice is never to quit one job until you have another opportunity ready to go. People who strive for excellence might have some trouble with this concept. Someone for whom excellence is an important personal virtue will likely work hard until the day they quit, leaving little time for aggressive job hunting or soul searching. Excellence transcends job market conditions, though, so demand for you will still be high.
As a valuable contributor to your organization, you might not need to be concerned about your company knowing you’re seeking other opportunities. If you’re considering leaving, you should have already had discussions with your managers during which you’ve made them aware of your disappointment. So, this should not come as a surprise to them. The organization is not going to fire you if you are still a great asset, and they might even be willing to help you find your next opportunity.
You will need to dedicate some time to self-marketing. Many people who strive for excellence don’t need external acknowledgment of their virtues for self-satisfaction. To find a job, however, you’ll need to be less humble and more willing to sell yourself as a desirable product. If, however, you are interested in making your own opportunities, you don’t need to wait for a job offer. There’s no time better than now to start your own endeavor.
7. Is my emergency fund ready?
People often stay in jobs they don’t like because they don’t want to risk losing the income. Households have debt to pay, whether from student loans, the expansion of a household, or overspending. Debt traps people into a situation where a strong percentage of every paycheck is destined elsewhere. This isn’t much different than indentured servitude. Even people who strive for excellence can be unprepared financially.
An emergency fund is the answer. Take some time to build an emergency fund from the ground up. Start by taking a small percentage of every paycheck and automatically transferring the amount into a high-yield savings account. You’ll want this account to be able to cover your living expenses for several months to prepare for a potential loss of income. Since you strive for excellence, consider expanding your emergency fund into a multi-layered emergency plan, which offers more flexibility and possibly less time to put into effect.
An emergency fund lets you take more career risks without hurting your family’s finances. You could take a more interesting and rewarding job for less pay, or you can start a new business without worrying about the immediate loss of income.
8. Will my decision affect my family’s stability?
Single people have more flexibility. They can take chances, move from location to location, and put up with less stability than people who have the added responsibilities of caring for a family. With a spouse and children, every decision you make affects more than just one person — and it’s important to keep this in mind.
The emergency fund mentioned above can help smooth financial rough patches when you make your decision to quit your unfulfilling job, but you need to worry about more than just the financial concerns. If your dream requires you to move away from Kansas and set yourself up in California, you can’t make such a decision without considering the needs and desires of the rest of your family.
Learn More: Resigning on Good Terms
The reality of the economy is that most people cannot afford to consider quitting a job without a solid plan in place for replacing the income immediately. Job satisfaction is a luxury at a time when most people feel that they’re lucky just to have a job. If you are someone who strives for excellence in all that you do, you have more options open because you’ve done quite a bit to improve your measure of human capital. Regardless, it’s always a good idea to seek out solutions for improving your current situation before making a significant career move by quitting.
Updated March 11, 2017 and originally published March 9, 2017.