As a decision coach, I help people choose to quit (or not) all the time. People call me when they’re trying to figure out whether to leave a job, a location, even a relationship. Quitting is hard. People have a tendency to gravitate toward the status quo, preferring to stick with what they know.
When it comes to your career, quitting comes with big risks: That new dream job could turn out to be a nightmare, your savings may dwindle, or you could find yourself wishing you’d never left. But I’ve also seen that sometimes not quitting means you’re rejecting the possibility of an exciting new job, a thrilling career change, or the life you’ve always wanted—all out of fear. Figuring out what’s right for you is the tough part.
One thing is certain: Quitting is on a lot of people’s minds as we start to imagine a post-pandemic future. A survey by Prudential showed that 26% of American workers (and 34% of millennials) plan to look for new jobs once the pandemic is over. Other surveys have it at roughly half. And there’s a lot of buzz around “the great resignation” or “the great reshuffle” or “the talent tsunami” (pick your favorite name!) that’s coming as the economy recovers and workers start actively looking for new opportunities. In fact, it looks like it’s already happening, with voluntary quit rates reaching a two-decade high in April and May 2021.
COVID has made us reconsider our priorities. Some of my recent clients have quit jobs because they’ve been required to go back to the office but they don’t want to give up working from home, or because they’ve realized that there are way better options out there and that the job market favors workers more than it used to. Some have been disappointed by how their company treated its workers during this difficult time. Others are burnt out from balancing work and parenting. And still others have found that their ambitions have stagnated since the pandemic started and they’re looking for a fresh opportunity to jumpstart their career—or they’ve used the pandemic to rethink their career and have decided to take a different path entirely.
Thinking of quitting your job but not sure if it’s the right move for you right now? Let me help. Ask yourself these 10 questions to figure out whether you’re better off staying where you are or looking for something new. (And if you do want to start a search—or just see what’s out there—you can find open roles right here on The Muse.)
1. Did COVID Change My Priorities?
For many, many people, the pandemic forced a reassessment of what was important. Maybe spending 60 hours a week in the office suddenly looked like a terrible choice to you when you got used to having your own space. Or perhaps becoming a full-time caregiver trapped in the house with your kids while also trying to do your job made a clear separation between work and home look incredibly appealing.
Doing work that has a net positive effect on the world is also becoming more important to many who’ve seen the pandemic expose societal inequalities and realize they really want their job to be meaningful, even if that means taking a pay cut.
No one is the same person they were before the pandemic; our values have shifted. Assess what’s important to you now, instead of relying on old habits and patterns. I like to ask clients what they enjoy doing outside of work, which might seem like a counterintuitive place to start, but it’s a good way to identify how you really like to spend your time and what adds joy to your life. Then try to clarify your workplace needs and dig into which of those have shifted since the pandemic started.
Done all that? Now examine your current work situation to see if it’s a good fit for the new you. If not, it might be time to start looking.
2. What Are My Long-Term Goals?
This goes hand-in-hand with the question above. Maybe the pandemic has changed your long-term goals or shifted your focus. Or maybe you’ve been thinking for a while about switching careers, starting your own business, going freelance, or making another change, and COVID has made you realize that you don’t want to postpone taking action on your dreams any longer. Or perhaps you want to stay in your field, but you need a new challenge or a title bump.
Think about your big goals first, then look at your current job: Is it getting you where you want to go? If not, it’s time to take the first step toward something new that will help you move in the right direction.
3. What Am I No Longer Willing to Put Up With?
If the pandemic has led you to look at your life differently, then you might have realized that certain working conditions are no longer OK with you. Whether that’s long hours, a sexist boss, or a promotion that keeps getting postponed, you’re just not willing to keep dealing with it.
If there’s something you look at now and think, “No more!” then it’s time to get that resume in order.
4. Was I Thinking About Making a Change Before the Pandemic?
I’ve had a number of clients who were just about to make a big change in their lives in early 2020—a new job, a new city, a kid. Then COVID happened, and they froze. Those plans got pushed back in favor of trying to figure out how to stay safe and keep putting food on the table.
Now that we have, for better or worse, gotten more accustomed to the new normal, it might be time to revisit that plan for a new job—unless you’ve seen a massive change in your organization that’s made you happy to keep working there.
5. What Changes Did My Company Make During COVID?
Have they restructured your team? Shifted responsibilities around? Given you more work to do? Assigned your favorite part of the job to someone else? Pivoted strategies in a way that affects your day-to-day work? Take a look at the way your job is structured right now and ask yourself: Am I happier than I was before? Are these changes making my job better? Or do I dread going to work or feel dissatisfied or frustrated by these adjustments?
Once you’ve determined how you feel, make some inquiries: Are those changes permanent? If you’re not happy with the current setup but your bosses are, it might be quitting time.
6. How Did My Boss, Leaders, and Company Overall Behave During the Pandemic?
Have your bosses acted with compassion toward their employees? Have they given working parents a break? Have leaders supported their workers with flexible hours and fewer job duties? A crisis can make a company’s values crystal clear: Look at how leadership has behaved over the course of the pandemic as an indication of whether or not this is a place you want to keep working.
7. Working From Home: Do I Hate or Love It?
If your job went remote during COVID, that probably changed everything. Some people love it and can’t imagine going back to an in-person setup. Others hate it and can’t wait to return to the office.
If your job is making a full-time return to the office non-negotiable and you cringe at the idea of putting on hard pants and being surrounded by office distractions, you might want to start looking. On the other hand, if you miss your colleagues and can’t motivate yourself to get anything done from your kitchen table, then maybe getting back to the office—if your company has plans to reopen—will solve your job woes. But if you loved going into the office and your organization has decided to go fully remote forever, as was the case for some clients I’ve coached, quitting might be the right move.
Figure out what setup would work best for you, whether that’s remote, on-site, or a hybrid of the two. Then find out what your employer has planned. If there’s a gap between your goal and theirs that they can’t or won’t bridge, it may be time to look for another option.
8. Has Remote Work Opened Up New Job Possibilities?
Have you always wanted to move to Portland? Do you dream of buying the house next door to your parents? Is traveling the world, laptop in hand, your goal? With many organizations going fully remote, it might finally be possible to both keep your job andmake that big move. Ask your company what their plans are for the future. Are they pulling people back to the office or going fully remote? Would they consider letting you work remotely on a permanent basis? If not, it might be time to find a company that’s open to it, so you can start packing those moving boxes.
Alternatively, companies hiring for jobs that might have once been contingent on living in a certain place (a media job in New York or a tech job in San Francisco) are becoming more open to the idea of people working from, well, anywhere. If your location used to mean that lots of aspirational jobs were off limits—in your dream field or industry or at your dream company—it might be worth starting a fresh job search and seeing what new doors are open. There are a lot more listings for jobs that are remote or flexible in terms of location than there used to be.
9. Do I Have a Plan?
Quitting because you’ve scored a great new job is the dream. Quitting with no backup plan is a last resort—if your work is having a serious adverse effect on your mental health, for instance, or if it’s jeopardizing your physical well-being.
So before giving your notice or sending that official resignation letter to your boss, make a plan. First, ask yourself what you want from a new job: more money, fewer hours, a clear path to promotion, more management experience? Then start searching for open roles that offer those things, reach out to your network, tighten up and tailor that resume, write compelling cover letters, and get ready for your interviews.
If you’re in a high-demand field and recruiters are bombarding your inbox with job offers, you don’t have to have a new position lined up before you leave—though ideally, you’d have an offer already or at the very least a bunch of interviews scheduled.
Either way, having a solid plan for finding an amazing new job is a step to take before you quit.
10. What Could My Job Do to Keep Me (and Is It Worth It)?
If your skills are in demand, it’s a very good time to make a deal with your company. What might they do to keep you from leaving? Would a raise, a permanent WFH setup, or more vacation days make you happy to stay put? You might never be in a better position to ask for (and get) what you want. But if you negotiate and get shut down or the perks you want are just not things your company can offer (maybe you don’t get along with your manager, but they’re the CEO’s nephew and not going anywhere), leaving might be the right option.
Quitting a job is not a decision you should make lightly, but many, many more people stay in jobs that no longer serve them than quit rashly with no backup plan. You don’t have to stomp out the door shouting “I quit!” (and I definitely don’t advise it). But you can assess your options and launch a job search if you recognize that it’s time for a change. Just make sure you’re truly unhappy with your job or company, and that it’s not just COVID isolation or something else that’s making you blue.
In a time of massive change and uncertainty, we have a unique chance to remake our lives to align them with our priorities, which may have shifted over the course of the pandemic. That might mean negotiating for a few changes that will make you thrilled to stay right where you are. Or it might mean opening the door to new possibilities and exciting opportunities somewhere else.
Nell Wulfhart, Author