Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Don't Quit...yet. What to do before you give your boss the finger

Apparently people are going to be quitting their jobs in droves once this recession is over (links below).

Not so fast, people. Over the past month, I've had four conversations with four different people who hate their jobs and want to quit. I'm not a career counselor--far from it!--but perhaps they sought my counsel because they think I'm a role model. I did what fed-up worker dreams of: I actually quit.

The thing is, even though it's all worked out for me, I probably didn't do enough to save my job. And I wouldn't advise anyone else to do what I did.

(Background on my breaking point: I had started a new role in the company where I had worked for nine years. From the beginning, though, I felt alone and distrustful of leadership in the new group. Then I started to feel angry and bitter. Adding to that, I was under a lot of personal stress, so I felt toxic.)

By the time I left, quitting felt like more than my best option; it felt like the only one. In retrospect, it might not have been.

Here's the advice I wish someone had given me when I could think of nothing but walking out the door:

  1. Talk to other people on your team and to people who used to report to your current managers so you can better understand how they are succeeding (or failing) in their roles. Of course, you need to be cautious in what you say, but I find that if you ask a few questions on how someone has been successful and what their experience has been, you can learn a lot. You might also be able to forge some deeper relationships with team members. And when you’re in the trenches, you need some good buddies.
  2. Talk to people outside your group (but within your company) to see what else is out there. I'd pick five people who seem to have cool jobs to have an "informational interview." You can find out what they're doing, how they like it, and how they got there. And you might see opportunities...or you might find that maybe the grass isn't greener elsewhere.
  3. Throw yourself into your client. I hate to sound like some CEO somewhere, but the truth is, I didn't care enough about my client when I quit. Maybe if you can get more involved with your clients, they'll see you more as a team member than as an outsider or a service provider. Once you feel valued, you’re invested.
  4. Talk to your supervisor. The trick here is to not complain. Maybe you want to implement a "status meeting" where you outline goals and achievements for the week. Force your supervisor to give you 15 minutes every other week (at least) alone. He/she can't ignore you, and again you'll be building a relationship (see #3). At the very least, you’ll be compiling a list of your accomplishments, which might come in handy if do decide to leave.
  5. Get involved in outside groups/networking. I’m a business communicator, so I joined the board of my local IABC chapter. Find a professional networking group and go to some events. Volunteer for a committee to build skills that you lack, or present yourself as an expert in an area where you know you're strong. You'll find out how other companies do things, and you'll start to see how much you really know about your field. You’ll definitely gain some perspective on your own situation.
  6. Have a reason to leave each day. It doesn’t matter if it’s to cook dinner for your family, to walk your dog or to take a spin class. If you schedule something for 6:00, you’ll have a reason to get your work done on time and you'll have something to look forward to at the end of the day. As an added bonus, you’ll have something other than work to talk about with your friends.
  7. Take a vacation. When I left my job, I was paid for six weeks of vacation. What if I had taken that time, even part of it, to relax, get my mind off work, and recharge? I might not have ever left.
  8. If you’re still tired after your vacation, look at a leave of absence. I wish I had done this. Oh, how I wish I had done this!!! With a leave of absence, you can get a sense of what it’s like to really not have your job anymore. You might even figure out how you want to spend your time. Who knows? You might even miss what you were doing…or it might be the way for you to find your true passion.
  9. Keep your eyes—and options—open. Polish off your resume. Look at job boards. Start networking. Even if nothing comes of it, it’s good to know what else is out there, and that you have options. You’ll feel powerful.
  10. Own your choice. When you’ve run through this list and made your decision—whether you stay or go—own it. Don’t be a victim. Realize that it’s your choice to come to work each day. Making this active choice—without apologies—can make the difference in how you view your job.

If I were given the opportunity today, I’m not sure if I’d go back to my old company. But the next time I’m feeling lousy about my job, I’m not going to act on impulse either.

Links on how unhappy workers are:
Job satisfaction falls to record low in US, survey shows
Recession has left workers disgruntled, planning to leave jobs
Recession intensifies Gen X discontent at work

More reading on how to cope if you’re unhappy at work:
How to Survive in an Unhappy Workplace
Your Career: New Year Know-How