When To Quit: Motivations And Fears

Have you ever been alarmed at seeing your coworkers leaving your company in droves? Or hearing about it at other companies? Should you be quitting too? Here I’ll go over factors that impact whether to quit and how to determine if your fears of quitting are justified.

space rocket launching
What quitting looks like to me represented with a photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Read The Signs

If you’re not one of those people constantly on the look out for another step up, you probably don’t think of quitting your job regularly. Here are some signs that might tell you it’s time to consider it:

  • You dread going to work or come home feeling really drained regularly.
  • You don’t feel emotionally invested in your work.
  • You haven’t changed positions or jobs for the past 5 years.
  • When people ask you what you like about your job, one of the first or only things you say is:
    • I really like the people.
    • My manager never puts any pressure on me.
    • I mean, the benefits are good.
    • I can’t complain.
  • You wish you could learn new skills on the job.
  • You keep telling yourself you’ll get that promotion next year.
  • You remember how your team was so much better before.
  • People start telling you about other great positions (not recruiters or managers).
  • You’re bored at work all the time.

Just because your favorite thing about your job is the benefits, people, or stability doesn’t mean your job is bad. It means there may be a lack of engagement. This leads to low skill growth and decreased desirability for future positions. If you are near retirement, this is okay. If you’re early or mid-career, this might mean you’re going to have a hard time finding another job. If you’re not engaged in your work, your work quality is probably not your best. This can lead to all kinds of bad feelings both from within, like guilt or despondency, and without, like people thinking you’re a lazy procrastinator.

But If I Quit…

There are so many reasons that come up when you think of quitting. It could be small, like not wanting to miss your favorite coffee shop, or big, like being worried about visa sponsorship. First, it’s okay to have these worries. Second, write them down and try to prioritize them in order of biggest worry. This is going to be a useful way to prioritize traits in your next job.

Example:

  1. Fear of being deported due to lack of visa support. This turns into: Confirm with recruiter and/or HR that visa support will be provided.
  2. Fear of getting a longer commute, meaning more stress, money, and time. This turns into: Ask about commuting support, work from home options, and potentially only look at companies within a certain distance of your home.
  3. Irritation at having to rollover your HSA. This turns into: Look up the HSA rollover policies and see if it’s worth rolling over your balance or just reinvesting within the same HSA.

Fears can be used to identify completely reasonable concerns with quitting. You can turn them into achievable requirements for your next position.

No You’re Biased

Let’s talk about cognitive biases. Here’s an example of an internal stream of thought along with some biases identified within it:

Okay, so this job isn’t going as well as you thought but you’ve already spent the time and effort to get it, why not give it a little more time? [Loss Aversion]. On top of that, you’ve contributed so much code, documentation, process, and team development effort here [IKEA effect]. Is it really that bad? It would be much nicer if things stayed the same, right? [Status Quo Bias]. After all, this is a great job because you chose to take it[Choice Supportive Bias]. In fact, you have this job and there are tons of people that would want it [Endowment effect]. Certainly, all your coworkers seem to like it here so you should too [Bandwagon effect]. They all understand that this company works a certain way and that’s how we stay successful [System Justification]. In the end, it’s going to be so hard to choose from all the available jobs that you might as well stick with this one [Default Effect].

First, what’s a cognitive bias? In short, it’s an irrational way of thinking that leads to decisions or actions not based in reality. Here’s another way to think of it: your brain is doing the best it can to ensure your success and sometimes that means making decisions based off of fear instead of reality. How do you combat this when this happens unconsciously?

In general, you can counter biases by broadening your view and working to look at things objectively (note: this isn’t easy). Let’s see some examples:

  • Endowment effect and Choice Supportive Bias: You think your job is great because it’s your job. Counterpoint: First, any job could be your job, which means any job could be great. Second, your job isn’t unique. There are other jobs almost the same as your current one. So, is it so scary to leave your job for another that offers you the same status?
  • Loss Aversion: Also known as the Sunk Cost Fallacy, you tell yourself you’ve already spent so much time and effort here that you don’t want to leave that all behind. Counterpoint: What about the time and effort you’ve spent on your career? You’re not leaving that behind. Or the time and effort you’ve spent building a network with your coworkers? That also stays. The effort put to your job isn’t lost, it’s just a piece of a larger whole that is your career.
  • IKEA Effect: This sh*t is yours. You built it with your bare hands over multiple late nights and with extreme sleep deprivation. You can’t just leave it. Counterpoint: The thing is, you’re going to ideally retire at some point and there goes your work. Know that you can’t hold on to it forever. Secondly, think of all the work you’ve ever done in your entire life. Your work contributions are not limited to this specific job and those contributions don’t go away after you start working in another segment of the limitless pool of work that needs to be done in this world. No one can take your achievements or accomplishments from you even if you quit your job.
  • Bandwagon Effect, System Justification, and Status Quo Bias: These ones are interesting because they are all related to the fear of being different, standing out, and going against the norm. This can cause fear of social rejection. Counterpoint: Broaden your view to include not just your coworkers and bosses, but all workers in your sector. Do they think your job is great? Take a look at Glassdoor. Is your managerial structure great or abusive? Is it really worth keeping the status quo when only some people think your job is the best and your managers are driving you into the ground?
  • Default Effect: This one is also interesting because it could signal another problem. On one hand, you could be lazy. Or, you could be immobilized with stress when thinking of changing jobs. If you’re just lazy or thinking that it will be fine if you do nothing, you can try to broaden your view and collect data on your job vs. others to get a more objective perspective. However, if you are in a job you don’t like and can’t change because of anxiety, you might need to get help from someone who can coach you through the change.

In all these cases there are a few generic ways to gain objectivity:

  • What would you say to a friend in your situation?
  • What would you say to a stranger in your situation?
  • Ask your friend to look at the data you’ve presented and see what they conclude (try not to lead them to a decision)
  • Ask a stranger the same you asked your friend
  • Whether good or bad, there are tons of posts on Yahoo!Answers and Reddit by people trying to figure out this very thing

Why ask strangers and friends? The difference can be useful because you might be able to see the biases in action with the differences. Additionally, friends know your strengths and weaknesses better than a stranger so they will respond in a way tailored to you. A stranger doesn’t know you and will give the most general answer.

Where do I find this stranger? You’ll unfortunately want to reach into your network and find an engineer you used to work with, an old boss, someone you met at a networking event, or even a career coach if you’d like a more formal evaluation.

The bottom line is that your brain is going to try to protect you when you are stressed. Sometimes the decisions made in a time of stress are not the best long term so work on collecting more information to support them.

ISO: Another Pond

Here are a few reasons why you should always be considering changing jobs.

  • Does your current position build skills on the job that will make you more appealing to the market? If you’re using 20 year old technology or you haven’t learned anything new in the past few years, you might be hurting your career by staying.
  • Do you have benefits supporting continuing education? Some companies pay for master’s degrees or additional certifications.
  • Are you supported in trying new roles? Maybe you don’t want to be an engineer and instead want to try out project management. There are companies that support this transition and others don’t.
  • Promotions. Every place has a different way of promoting. If the job you’re at doesn’t have a good promotion track, you can look for a place that does.
  • Money! When you change jobs, there’s a new opportunity to negotiate a higher salary than you currently have. In the tech market, you can expect a 20% salary increase or more with each job change. That really stacks up after a few job switches.
  • You can grow your experience and diversity of thought by being in a different work environment.
  • Even if you’re not looking for a job for yourself, by finding out about potential new jobs you can be a great resources for friends and coworkers who do want to switch. When you do favors for others, they tend to return them. This could lead to an even better opportunity further down the line.
  • Do you want to travel the world? Some companies offer relocation benefits for internal transfers to international offices. You could live in a different country every few years and round out back at home if you want.

Show Me Numbers

I’ve mentioned being objective and rational a lot. Numbers and hard data make it clearer whether you benefit from quitting. Here are some numerical data you can collect and compare.

  • Money: what do you make now vs. what you could be making
  • Happiness: This might take a little work. Count the number of days when you’re happy or not. You can also check out some mindfulness practices here. Think of what your ideal is and compare.
  • Skills: List the skills you want to learn vs. the skills available to learn at your job.
  • Location: Measure the commute times between your current workplace and what your ideal commute times would be. You can also measure parking costs or time on public transit.
  • Family: Compare parental benefits if you’re planning to start a family.
  • Benefits: Look at health benefits, 401k, stock awards, commute reimbursement, fitness benefits, or anything else you have or are missing.
  • Networking: Consider the people you are working with. Do you want to have more or less experienced people? Do you want more diversity in your workplace?
  • Future: Do you want to move to another country? Does your current position support that or have other options like remote that would let you travel?

Taking these pieces of data and putting them into “current position has” and “want but current position doesn’t have” will help show the gap between your current and ideal position. Prioritize them and determine what you would jump ship for.

This Is Fine

It is okay to like your job and want to stay. In fact, it’s great if you’ve found a job where you think you’d like to stay for a long time and feel has the right setup for long term career growth. That is an enviable position. Potentially even more enviable than someone who’s “conquered” the FANG interviews and probably has a stupidly high salary. Everyone chooses their own path and because you’re the only one who reaps the benefits, it doesn’t matter what the rest of the world is doing. Happy quitting (or staying and enjoying your current job).

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