I’ve been asked to write an article on leadership over at HCLA. (BTW, if you live or work in Hamilton County, IN, you should check out this leadership program – I learned a ton about where I live through it.)
Leadership is kind of like what Justice Stewart of SCOTUS said of pornography in Jacobellis vs. Ohio – hard to describe, but you know it when you see it. It’s also a very, very large topic. Within the large topic of leadership, I chose a subtopic: factors for a leader to consider when quitting.
Quitting doesn’t seem like a very leadership-like trait. In fact, quitting is usually associated with some type of negative halo–leaders don’t quit! They go down with the sinking ship.
However, sometimes, the BEST decision a leader can ever make is knowing when to quit when it is in the best interest of all parties. It’s also very, very hard to do well. (BTW, this guy–you’re doing it right!)
Here, in this post, I wanted to lay out a list of all the reasons why a leader should consider when to quit work. Although, many of the following reason(s) could apply to quitting other things – like bad habits, or relationships.
Regardless, leaders I think struggle with quitting the most, because quitting has a sense of losing or failure associated with it. There’s also a factor of the unknown when quitting, and leaders like to control what goes on around them.
Instead, maybe we need to think about quitting as bravery or something noble, perhaps. It’s a necessary part of life in order for change and growth.
Regardless, I’ve traversed the internet and reading universe to bring you the ultimate check list on quitting. Here goes:
Checklist for: Quitting
Generally, there are two arenas that one should assess when leaving work:
1. the factors about you or that you can control, intrinsic factors, and
2. the factors out of your control, but that still affect you, like your manager, your leaders, or the culture of your organization. I broke them up in these two buckets below.
When it’s about you:
- Your health suffers – A recent study demonstrated that women who work on average 60+ hours a week had three times the risk of getting diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disorders and arthritis than those who worked 40 hour weeks. (The guys in this study got off luckier—they actually benefitted from more work.) You won’t be helpful to anyone if you’re sick, including you – so never let your health suffer for a job, even if you do love it.
- Your family and friends relationships suffer – just like personal health, relationship health is equally important for a balanced life. If you’re blowing off your friends and family on a regular basis to keep on working, that’s also not good.
- You are working too hard – The Japanese have a term for this: karoshi. This could be due to external influences (like your boss or company), or even worse, your own intrinsic motivation driving you into the ground. Either way, you’re overworked and this trajectory cannot be sustained over the long run.
- You are no longer growing in your gig – The #1 reason men left their former employer in a recent Harvard study (see below for the link under pay) was that they saw no growth opportunities at their companies. While you’re in charge of your own personal and professional development—not your boss—if you have zero time and resources to develop yourself professionally at work, you aren’t growing. And that means you’re dying.
- You’ve lost the love/passion/joy for your work – I call this the Sunday night blues: when you dread another workweek coming. It almost feels like going to the dentist or the gynecologist – a little nauseating with a touch of dread.
- Burnout – A horrific, prolonged state of many pressures and factors accumulating to mental check out.
- Apathy – A wicked step cousin to burnout. The last stop for burnout.
- Your talents are underutilized and/or under appreciated – I call this the ‘Lamborghini in the parking lot’ problem. Imagine you have the keys to a $200,000 car, but you only get to drive it around a parking lot. You have awesome skills and it shows, but no one around you is paying attention or giving you stretch assignments—or even worse, not allowing you to make your own stretch assignments.
- Your network is no longer growing – If you are the Kevin Bacon of your job, it’s time to find another film.
- You hold others back – This one is an interesting one I found while researching the leadership challenge of quitting. If you catch yourself holding people’s excitement back, that’s a strong sign that it is really time for you to try something new.
- You’ve accomplished everything you set out to do – Your performance management goals for the year were set in January, and completed them in June.
- You can’t live out your personal vision – Maybe your job is holding you back from something on your bucket list. Why? Why let it?
- Your values are incongruent with or became incongruent the organization – This one is a big deal, and no one discusses it much. But I do think it is a factor on why many good people leave. If your personal values don’t match those of your employer, then you’ll ultimately never be happy with that organization.
- You have no voice at work
- Your work has no meaning relative to vision/mission/goals of the organization
- Either micromanaged, or never managed
- You’re bored at work – While it’s certainly NOT your boss’s or leaders’ jobs to keep you entertained at work (hint: you’re there to work), you certainly should have some room to be creative. But if the boredom washes over you like a drowning sea and you can’t find anything to keep your work fresh and interesting, maybe it’s time to go.
- When you’ve exhausted every remedy or effort to affect positive change and it got you nowhere – time to bail, seriously. But at least you can do it with a clear conscience knowing you did what you could. After all, the only one you CAN control in the end is yourself.
When it’s about where you work or external factors:
- Abuse, sexual harassment, discrimination or illegal activities occur – It’s 2016. This garbage really shouldn’t be happening anymore in Corporate America, but unfortunately it does. If so, bail ASAP. There’s a serious error with your leadership too if they allow this to occur.
- They aren’t paying you what you’re worth – 65% of women said in a recent study published in HBR said the #1 reason they left their former employer was pay. (Yeah, that work/life balance thing for women and having kids is not the #1 reason why women are quitting, either.) If you’ve asked for a pay raise and been denied, you’ve exhausted that remedy. Sign to move on: check.
- Lack of support for your work – As in, the boss has one administrative person for himself, and you share an administrative person with 20 other peers.
- The relationship between you and your direct manager was or became bad – a lot of surveys and articles overblow this one as the #1 reason why people leave jobs. While your relationship with your direct manager may have a lot of weight on your job, it’s not the sole reason why people leave gigs. On the other hand, a boss that micromanages or never manages you can also make your job hell.
- Relationships between peers and co-workers was or became bad – Use Tony Hsieh’s beer test on your peers. Of your peers at work, who would you actually want to drink a beer with after work? If the list is short, that’s a bad sign.
- The organization is unstable or closing – obvious.
- Organization stops hiring or freezes salaries - a clear sign that the organization is not putting its people first.
- Death by meetings – your company has a terrible culture about meetings—as in too many, or not enough, or worst of all…too many meetings, poorly managed.
- No growth opportunities within the organization – Again, the #1 reason why gents leave gigs, according to HBR.
- You know more than your boss.
- Sketchy ethics or checked out leaders in your org – I think this actually carries more weight than your direct manager. If the leaders above your manager have bad ethics or are checked out, that behavior can just move downstream…all the way to you.
- Out of the loop with leadership – When leadership is hiding more than they are telling.
- Paper clip wars – when everyone at work is rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, and the ship is sinking—the priorities are poorly focused. Said another way, death of the company by distraction.
- Loss of confidence and trust in leadership – In yet another exit survey, the #1 reason for employees leaving is “loss of trust and confidence in senior leaders.” While one can lead at any level or in any position, when the senior leadership doesn’t or can’t get it right, the rest can be left in the dark.
- No one inspires you, sponsors you, or mentors you at work – You need both sponsors and mentors. Sponsors might even be more important for you than mentors at larger organizations, because they can fight for you when you’re not in the room. But, if you don’t have any, there is no representation.
- The number of anti-mentors are greater than actual mentors – When you actually work with more people who exhibit behavior you NEVER want to be a part of (I call this anti-mentoring) than true mentors, time to go!
- Zero recognition or celebration in your office for good work.
- No direction given on the future or vision of the organization – Do you know your organization’s mission, vision and values?
- The wrong people are getting hired and/or promoted – Fast Company reports that the majority of managers are wrong for their roles. One of the ugly little examples of this one is nepotism. Another is when the boss promotes his favorites rather than basing promotions on something real, like meritocracy.
There. That’s about as comprehensive as I can get for someone on the fence about quitting. If you stumbled on this post and sought a checklist, I think this one is pretty solid. Run through it. Keep in mind, however, I’m NOT prescribing that you up and bolt from your day job without a plan if you ticked off several of the items above. I’m just giving a laundry list of items to weigh and consider before you formulate a plan to leave.
And remember: life is short. Don’t make it shorter by being miserable in a job with no love anymore. While we all need to pay our bills, that does not mean we have to suffer and toil all the time to an early grave…