People say you should never quit until you have a new job. Instead of a hard and fast rule a clear rubric will lead to better decisions.
It’s a remarkably common question, even if only asked in our heads and not spoken out loud. To properly answer this question, we need to understand what the job is.
For most people, the job is an income stream. That income affords them housing, food, and other basic necessities. Beyond them we start to move up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and recognize money also buys the next elements. Not literally of course, but when it comes to social belonging, esteem, and other higher order needs, money helps. It lets us go out to dinner with friends, pay for entertainment, and explore things that make us happy.
Before going further, we should recognize that there is a fundamental question: can you afford to quit your job? My parents taught me to always have six months of living expenses in the bank (with no change in lifestyle). At the very least you should have six months of rent, groceries, and medical. If you don’t have some type of safety net, if you’re living from paycheck to paycheck, quitting your job has a significant risk. But let’s put that aside for the moment and assume it’s not an issue.
Your job provides other things. That may be engagement or challenge. It can provide a sense of purpose for those who align to a company’s mission. For others, their co-workers provide a sense of community and belonging. Not to mention a job is often a steppingstone to other opportunities. If you job hop often, people will wonder why, so leaving a job quickly can raise questions or limit future options.
But it may provide other things you don’t like such as a hostile work environment, nasty co-workers, or a soul crushing environment. Even if it's not painful, the job could fill you with ennui. Being there could feel limiting, both generally but also specifically. It may hold you back from pursuing other opportunities or be stifling and provide no growth. And while job hopping is bad, spending twenty years at a single company can be a flag to potential employers who may think you’re set in one way of doing things and may not fit into their company. Sun Tzu famously wrote of burning his bridges and ships when he invaded a territory to motivate his men by giving them no option of retreat. For some, removing the safety net of the current job is motivating.
The above is about the current job, it’s pros and cons. What about the other side? The grass often seems greener, but it’s important to take a closer look.
You need to make sure the increased risk is offset by something
First consider how long it will take you to find a new one. There’s no one answer to this question. It depends on your skill set, roles you would consider, competitiveness of the labor market, overall industry and economic conditions, and more. If you don’t know the answers, talk to people in the field or speak with some recruiters in the industry to get a sense of how long it might take you and what options you’d find in a timeframe that would be acceptable for you.
Next look at what the new job might be. More money or other types of financial compensation? Better culture? New challenges? Or will it only be a tiny raise, hardly worth the effort of having to prove yourself in a new organization (unlike your current one where you have a good established reputation)? Most people don’t advertise their horrible bosses and poor culture. The grass may not only not be greener, but you may soon discover you’re now out of the frying pan and into the fire (and painfully juxtaposing metaphors to boot).
Like all decisions between two choices, the decision is a balance.
Like all decisions between two choices, the decision is a balance. On the one hand you have your current pain, the known quantity of everything you like and don’t like about your current job. (Which we assume is more dislike than like since you’re thinking of leaving.) On the other is the unknown, the uncertainty as to the when and what. When you have another job offer you can make a specific comparison. Recognizing that some parts of the new job and company may be opaque and uncertain, you can still have some sense of it. A specific job with a specific company is concrete. When leaving for the TDB the risk factor goes up; there’s a range of options far wider than the option at one specific company. It’s abstract and hard to judge. How big that range of uncertainty is depends on those job market qualifiers mentioned earlier.
I’m not saying you should never leave without a new job in hand. It’s just that the risk factor goes up a bit. You need to make sure the increased risk is offset by something, be it reducing the pain of your current job, or motivation of not being employed, or something else. Be very conscious about comparing the pain of the current job to the “pain” of the unknown future. This should take into account the loss of what was good about the job, the stress and uncertainty of not knowing when or what, and the range of outcomes including taking a new job that could possibly even be worse. (Although hopefully you mitigated some of that by using the techniques in “Not Sure How to Ask about Corporate Culture during an Interview? Blame Me.”).
Personally, I’ve left quite a few with no new job lined up when the company changed and went in a direction that was no longer right for me. Knowing the job market for my skills and having savings let me reduce that uncertainty. There’s no one size fits all answer. Taking a leap can be the right thing to do, just be sure to take a good look before you leap so you know the size of the jump and see if it’s the right risk to take by looking and the pros and cons of each option.
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