If you’re serious about your career, chances are there will be a time in your working life where you struggle with the age-old question: do I stay or do I leave? Making the decision to leave your current job can be tough, and often riddled with fear of the unknown. So how do you know when it is time to make a move?
Personally, this is one of the biggest dilemmas I have ever had to wrestle with in my professional career. Very rarely are we struck with a thunderbolt moment where we say, “enough is enough”. So often it is an accumulation of seemingly innocuous decisions, actions or incidents that over time leave you feeling isolated, disenfranchised, or disconnected from the vision or direction of the company we have dedicated so much of ourselves to over the years. Deep in your heart you know the company is not the right place for you, but the thought of leaving colleagues, friends or even great managers you have spent so much time with can you leave you sad and unmotivated to leave.
Keeping it logical
So what can you do to work through these feelings?
Firstly, it’s important to talk about it. Now I am not suggesting for one second you should sit in the office breakout area telling your colleagues about all the things that have upset you! However, it is important to talk through the things that are wearing you down. Talk to your friends, family or former colleagues. Talk to people who don’t have a vested interest in you staying or leaving your job, and get it off your chest. The very process of talking through all things you love about your current company, as well as the things that frustrating you, will help you form a much better understanding of what exactly has left you questioning whether your company is still the right environment for you. Once you know what the issues are, only then you can try to resolve them.
Secondly, make a plan. Understanding what the issues are is only half the battle. This alone will not be enough to make a change. There is too much uncertainty and fear of the unknown to pull the plug simply because of a few minor issues building up over time. Start with the best case scenario. Ask yourself the question: ‘If everything went according to plan, what type of role or position do I see myself in 3 years’ time? Is this achievable and / or realistic at this company?’
The tough questions
Hopefully from working through the two points above you will have a much stronger understanding of your reasons for leaving, and a clearer picture of your medium to long term career aspirations. Now it’s time for the tough questions and you need to be brutally honest with yourself.
Answer the following two questions:
Can my current company make changes that will resolve the issues I have?
If I do stay, will I be able to achieve my longer-term goals/aspirations?
If the answer to both these questions is no, then it is time to move (you probably already know this!). However, if the answer to one or both of these questions is yes, then you owe it to yourself to speak to the person in your company who can affect meaningful change. Bear in mind that this person may or may not be your manager.
Approaching the conversation
It’s important to prepare in advance of having a conversation with someone about your career and how you feel about your role. Think about your wording carefully, the outcome you want, and what you are prepared to give in order to get what you want (after all – everything is a negotiation!). Here are some guidelines for a constructive and fruitful conversation.
Tell them what you love about the company and why you enjoy working there.
Talk through the issues you are having, and be careful to describe these as ‘challenges’ that you feel you are currently facing.
Try to avoid focussing on specific events. Instead, focus on the factors that have contributed to them.
Talk through your longer-term aspirations and what you still hope to achieve with the company.
Ask them for their input on how you can work through these challenges and achieve your goals together.
Follow up! Send them an email summarising your conversation, reiterating that you would like a favourable outcome for everyone.
Things you need to consider
It is important to remember that most companies will promise the world to retain good people, but actions speak louder than words. Be prepared for pay rises, promotions or promises, but make sure that these aren’t band aids for bullet holes. Stay focussed on the fundamental issues that you have talked through with your family and friends. If your company is unwilling or unable to make changes to address these despite your making it clear to them how important it is to you, then sooner or later you will leave anyway. Don’t let a sense of misguided loyalty stand in the way of your happiness.
Leaving your job – the hard bit
Leaving a company is like a relationship break up – it is never easy, even when you know it time to end things. I sit in an incredibly privileged position where I have the opportunity to help people talk through these issues and find meaningful change in their careers. Ask any of them to look back and identify the hardest part about leaving their previous job and they will inevitably tell you, ‘It was the people, not the company or job, that was hard to leave.’
As someone who moved companies just before Christmas, I can attest to the fact the great friends remain so, no matter where you work – so don’t let that be a deciding factor. Make sure you that you are really clear on what you’re struggling with and where you want to be, and make the choice to move if your current company cannot provide the right solutions. Make your career progression – and your happiness – your number one priority.