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When Is It Time to Leave Your Job?


Today, I’d like to discuss whether it is time to leave your job.

No, this is not a theme emerging, but my interest has been aroused. I find everything around changing jobs, occupations, work and status very interesting at the moment.

No wonder, then, that when I spotted an article on LinkedIn asking when it is time to leave your job, I ‘jumped on it’ with extremely high expectations. Just to be disappointed!

This article didn’t answer the question; it didn’t even try. It was simply posing the question soliciting answers from women – some women’s network on LinkedIn.

As for me, I was exactly where I was when reading about the ten steps between an idea and its realisation – all interested and frustrated for the lack of a solution. And when this happens, I usually go off and try to work things out.

When is the Time to Leave Your Job? (The Difference Between Work and Job)

Before I tell you what I came up with, I would like to mention a very important difference between work and job. Simply put, work is what we do. It is all activities that we carry out day in, day out to do our jobs. A job, on the other hand, is the contractual obligation between you and an employer. Want an example?

Take me, for instance. My work as an academic involves teaching and research with all the supporting activities of ongoing reading, learning, thinking, conducting research, developing courses, learning about how people learn, developing lectures, enabling learning and supporting students through a variety of means.

Oh, and of course writing, flirting with journal editors, publishing and marketing (making sure that people cite me even if they don’t read me). This last bit may sound a bit cynical but statisticians have done some nifty research showing that even very highly cited work is not read.

My job, at the moment, is as a professor at a university. This means that I have particular obligations to the organisation and for fulfilling those I get paid.

Can you see where I am going? When we think about a change of job, in my case, this will mean moving to a different university (even a different country, continent etc.). Talking about a change of job, this may mean me ceasing to be an academic and becoming an ‘academic leader’ – a dean or similar, which involves an entirely different set of activities and demands different skills.

If we talk about a change of career this would mean me becoming a full-time blogger, business consultant or a pole dancer. See the difference?

Now I’ll share the five main signs that it is time to start looking for another job, even if you love your work.

Sign One: It is time to leave your job when it stresses you silly

There are different reasons to start feeling very stressed in your job but usually, this is associated with a dramatic, unsupported change. It may be that:

  • Your job description changed suddenly and was outside your control. It has happened, it happens and will happen again. Are any former secretaries reading? Well, in Britain most secretaries became ‘administrators’ in the space of a breath. How does one cope? Well, most people can’t so they get stressed and ill.
  • Your employer is a ‘dysfunctional organisation’. Do you know how to recognise a dysfunctional organisation? It is one where people break cultural conventions. For example, you ask ‘How are you?’ and instead of the customary ‘Fine, thanks’ you get their whole string of frustrations and misery. If this happens often in an organisation, you can bet your house that something is wrong – either it is trying to hit above its weight, or the senior management is in crisis or profits have plummeted.
  • You don’t get on with your co-workers. Yep, you don’t have to socialise with your colleagues but you still have to be able to tolerate their presence; after all, you spend most of your time with these people.

There may be other factors for stress but you get the message. The main thing is to watch yourself and if your start losing sleep and talking obsessively (or thinking) about work when you are supposed to play with your kids or make love with your partner…it may be time to leave your job.

Sign Two: When the job doesn’t allow you to achieve

You know, one thing that really rubs me the wrong way at my university is when someone starts telling people that they underperform and expects them to feel guilty about it. I would have thought that I work with reasonably intelligent people who understand that performance is an organisational matter – one performs depending on how the organisation enables them to do so.

Our concern as employees and individuals is not performance but achievement!

I am not bothered at all whether someone ‘performs’ but they ought to ‘achieve’. So when the organisation (your job) starts limiting your performance by not providing the necessary condition, it is time to leave your job.

Sign Three: If you and your employer have grown apart

To feel happy in a job one has to share the values of their employer, or at least to make sure that their values and those of their employer are not completely opposite. If for you human life doesn’t have value, you may be quite happy as a contract killer – an extreme example, I know, but it gives you the message.

This alignment of values sometimes trumps other factors. For instance, our oldest son works for a bank (which I would have never thought possible) and he is happy in his job because he really believes in their values (it is the Coop and buying dodgy debt aside).

Your values and these of your employer can grow apart and then it is time to leave your job.

Sign Four: You just don’t give a damn any longer

Jobs should bring excitement, and please don’t tell me that it is easy for me because I am an academic. I am with Mohammed Ali on this one; if I was a rubbish collector I’ll still find something to be excited about.

In any occupation, excitement and commitment show. For a variety of reasons, however, the excitement can fizz out and then we are left with the drudgery of everyday life; this is when people treat customers badly, colleagues snap at you and workers don’t understand that one of their jobs is to make each others’ life easier.

Do the ‘flutter test’ tomorrow morning: if you wake up and there is a fluttering in your belly at the thought of facing the new day you are fine. If, on the other hand, there is the feeling that someone is squeezing your insides or even emptiness it is time to throw in the towel.

Sign Five: Leave when the job has become completely unbearable

This one is tricky to write about because it is very personal. Jobs can become unbearable for a variety of reasons. It is likely, though, that you feel really sick thinking about your job.

Were this the case, it may be better to just get your stuff and leave; without even worrying about what happens next. There is no job that is worth getting ill because of it and there is no situation worse than this one.

Is it Time to Leave Your Job?

These are the five key reasons to leave your job and not look back.

Start looking for another job at the earliest sign of any of these. If three or more of these signs are present you are waiting too long – don’t wait till you are really desperate because desperate people don’t have the power when it comes to labour markets.

Can you think of, or have you experienced, other signs and what did you do about it?

(This blog post has been updated in January 2023.)

photo credit: marsmet524 via photopin cc

31 thoughts on “When Is It Time to Leave Your Job?”

  1. Nice article! I like the distinction you made and it is an important one to remember. I left my job a little over a year ago because of many of the reasons listed above. At the end of the day, I was absolutely miserable and my bosses were expecting me to do things that I had moral issues with and could not take it any longer. I could not sleep at night with the things I had been told to do and thus saw no other way out but having to leave. I would also agree, that early stages of many of these issues should be a sign that you should start looking for another job.

    • @John S: Thanks, John and glad you recognised some of these signs. Also well done for having the courage to leave – not many people do because we fear the unknown.

  2. Recently, I saw the signs and realized it was me! Since I am on summer break (vacation), I have time to reflect on the last year or two. I changed schools twice in the last two years. As a teacher, your reputation precedes you. I was in one school for ten years and built up a very good reputation. The last two years have been stressful! I am not returning to that school and looking at out of classroom positions. With just four years left to retirement, it is difficult to think about changing jobs. Sometimes circumstances cloud the real issues.

  3. I think you know when it is time to leave. The issue is finding a new job which will be better or a better fit. Life is filled with change and switching jobs in today’s world is usually inevitable at some point.

    • @Barbara: John and I have this talk aften – he thinks that I should leave only if I have something else lined up. I think that he left when keeping the job became too much bother. I know this sounds a bit ‘off the cuff’ but I think that sometimes people should close a door fro another one to open.

  4. Great post. Lately, I have been feeling absolutely horrible about my plan to quit my job and pursue full-time self-employment. I HATE my job, but the people I work with and my bosses are wonderful people.

  5. I went through most of those phases. Boredom, not getting on well with coworkers, boss, crappy job… it had to be done to get to where I wanted to go but thank goodness it is over. I quite admire people who love their job, but I had to take the best paying one for a quick exit.

    • @Pauline: I hear you, my friend. As many other things this is a trade off as well. Having a deadline helps though – if you know that it is not ‘forever’…

  6. Love this post. So many things to consider when deciding whether it’s time to move on. Sometimes it’s really hard to tell just how stressed-out we really are by the daily grind.

    Adding to your advice may I say that you should exercise some judgement when deciding whether or not your organisation is dysfunctional. Many organisations can feel this way when you’re really close to the grindstone and a project is not going according to plan.

    Instead I’d suggest looking for signs of a toxic company: can’t keep up relationships with vendors, constant strategy switching, overly passive aggressive memos to all staff, lack of coherence in meetings, avoidance of decisions etc etc

  7. Excellent post. Sadly I have all those signs. I work for an awful company with a high staff turnover, ridiculously bad management and a lot of unhappy people. I wish it was so easy that I could just leave but as I live alone I need another job first and those are not always easy to find.

    You have made me realise how much is wrong with where I currently am, however, and that I really do need to get out soon.


  8. I think most people know when its time to leave but are in fear to leave for whatever reason. All those are tell tale signs that its just time to go. In my case I knew it was time to go when I would come home happy and the wifey asked if I quit my job. When your spouse thanks that you are happy because you just quit work its time to leave.

  9. I usually end up leaving a job for reason #4. I get burned out really quickly after starting a new job.

    At some point, you implement all your improvement ideas and it is time to move on. This can be good for both parties.

    • @Derek: Quite right – moving around is a way to introduce variety in social systems and is good for all conserned. But…it is also very upsetting for life – talking partner’s job. kids’ schools, moving house etc. Frightening stuff!

  10. Fully agree that searching a job has many reasons and answer need not be found via changing a career. Both are 2 different aspects. Well written post. Also sometimes you need to change a job because you are overloaded with lots of work and responsibilities all of a sudden and its difficult to achieve work-life balance. And there is lot expectations from you with new responsibilities which can be stressful as well if you can’t achieve a balance between work and life.

    • @Rita: Good points :). This work-life balance thing never worked for me. For now my work is my life; I would like to change to my life being my work!

  11. It’s also important to look at whether or not you have another job lined up or can afford to not have an income in awhile. Even starting a business can cost a lot and reap little benefits until a few years after it’s start.

    • @SuburbanFinance: Valid points but they assume a rational and cautious approach to life. Many a time liufe doesn’t fit this bill – it is chaoric, emotional and full of surprises (both good and bad).

  12. You definitely need to weigh things heavily before you decide to leave a stable job. The grass isn’t always greener and you could be exchanging some awful thing for a different set of awful things. I’m not particularly excited about my cubicle dwellingness, but there are alot of nice perks, so it would take a pretty amazing job for me to change…At least at this point in my young career :p

  13. That’s a great rundown! You do need to ask yourself, though, whether it’s the job or it’s you. ๐Ÿ™‚ Not you, Maria, but you in a general sense. There are people who are unhappy in their jobs simply because they are expected to, you know, work. There are almost no jobs out there that would make those people happy–the ones who insist on doing the absolute minimum, who resent the least request as an imposition, who counter their boss’s instructions with, “That isn’t in my job description!” time and again, and then complain that they aren’t being promoted or given raises. In addition, you should have something lined up already and not just quit because you don’t like your job with no fallback.

  14. I am currently in a job that accounts for more than 3 points above. The signs appeared in December last year and I started looking for a job immediately because I knew it would only get worse. I have been to over 6 interviews and nothing happened. One time, I had two opportunities at the same looking like it would happen but both fell through same day. Very disheartening. I haven’t given up but my job has gotten to the point where I have to talk myself out of bed every morning and every muscle in my back tenses up as I walk into the office. I know I should quit but it’s not the best time at all.

  15. This is a very personal post, Maria. I enjoyed reading it.
    I do not fully agree with you as to the performance vs. achievement. Unless you want to build in targets and performance measurement indicators into every role – which is sickening, in my view.
    My own advice would be: Do never settle. If you settle, you may loose the initial motivation, drive and energy. Keep yourself motivated and never loose sight of other opportunities. Enjoy challenges even in your process-driven job (as opposed to target/results-driven one). Fire yourself, before they make you redundant.


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