A colleague called me recently looking for some advice on quitting her job – I’ll call her “Movin’ On Mara.” Mara has been frustrated for many months in an organization where no one is set up for success. They don’t have the resources – not just financial, but support from other departments – to do a good job. Mara has tried valiantly to offset the lack of support by working harder, but found it impossible to deliver at the high standard she sets for herself, and was simply burning out. Her manager understood the situation and was sympathetic, but had given up and counseled her to lower her expectations. Mara had really already made the decision (a good one, in my opinion) to quit; the question was around when and how. It felt very stressful and overwhelming, so we broke it down into parts.
Do I dare do this now? Did I mention that Mara doesn’t have another job. So her first question is, “Am I out of my mind to quit a decent job with a stable organization when I don’t have something else lined up?” As I often do with my coaching clients, we talked through the pros and cons.
Mara was already past the first two points – the time demands of her current position made it impossible for her to dedicate any meaningful time to a job search, and she could no longer manage the stress effectively. Because Mara has been thinking about this for awhile, she has already done a few smart things.
- She has maintained a strong network outside of work. Mara is involved in a local professional organization, and has done volunteer work for several non-profit organizations. She’ll be able to reach out to her contacts in those groups as she seeks information about, and leads to, new companies and opportunities.
- She’s been setting aside a little money, to build a reserve. With her husband’s salary, they have enough to live comfortably for several months until she finds a new position.
- Though she hasn’t had time to develop a detailed action plan, Mara has sketched out a rough approach. She has an idea of what she wants to do, and has started a list of companies and individuals to research.
- She has a backup plan. Mara knows that in a still-weak economy, it could take her more than a few months to find a position. She has already identified an opportunity to fill in the gaps with some freelance work.
Bowing out gracefully – Satisfied that there was no time like the present, we talked about how she should resign. Mara has a good relationship with her manager, and wants to keep it that way. She doesn’t want to leave them in the lurch, but wants to move on with her career and life. She feels some duty to share feedback on why she’s leaving, in the interest of helping those left behind as well as personal integrity. So there are several variable to consider:
- Timing – Mara is ready to be “outa here,” but has no real time pressure. Her work team doesn’t have any pressing short-term deliverables they’ll be hard-pressed to complete without her. We talked about the likelihood that the act of resigning will lift so much weight off her mood that staying a few more days wouldn’t be that difficult. So she decided to give a standard 2 weeks’ notice, but to be flexible on the exact date.
- Reason – Should Mara tell her boss that she’s leaving because she can’t stand the environment? Why make her boss feel bad? It would be easier to say “I’m pursuing other opportunities.” Again, the manager is aware of all the issues, and should realize Mara’s a flight risk. Her own way of coping with the situation has been to be as supportive as she can of her team and advocate for some process changes that everyone hopes will make a positive difference, but she’s given up on fighting for more substantive change. Shouldn’t the organization know that the situation is causing them to lose valuable talent? So Mara decided to provide the feedback that she could no longer be effective in the situation, and has decided it’s time to actively pursue her dream of working in a different industry and furthering her education. She ended on a positive note with her hopes that the process changes would indeed produce a favorable shift.
Mara is movin’ on – she quit her job on Friday. Her boss was totally understanding and supportive. Rather than the Friday 2 weeks hence end-date proposed, the manager asked her to stay through the end of the following week, and pointed out that it would give her the opportunity to attend a training session that would support a certification she’s working on. She’ll leave with wishes for success in finding her next opportunity, and promises to provide a glowing reference.
Time (and this blog) will tell whether this story ultimately has a happy ending. We don’t know what new adventures await my friend. But we do know that she is ready to tackle them with spirit and confidence, and has time to give the process the attention it deserves.
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