I recently met with someone I mentor, let’s call her Wendy. She asked me — here is what is happening in my job, should I stay or should I go?
This is a classic question we all deal with, multiple times in our career. Almost every time we ask this question is when we run into problems at work. For example, we are not getting the promotion we deserve. Or work seems like a drag and we don’t enjoy it anymore. But there can be good reasons to go even if you are content with your current job!
There are external factors that contribute to the decision — for example, is the job market weak in your area or are there other personal factors necessitating you to stay in the job longer? Even if these external factors are in play, the suggestions to evaluate your current job should equally apply to you.
When to stay
Are you just venting? Everyone just needs a good vent from time to time.
- Build a good support network that will listen and provide alternative perspectives.
- Have one or more go to routines to break the negative thinking. I personally like to go on hikes/walks when possibly to clear up my mind. Knocking some tennis balls around was also a great way to release frustration.
Are you running away from a problem that can be fixed?
- In this conversation with Wendy, we were able to discover the real issue was a disconnect in communication between her and her new manager on expectations. While Wendy’s manager was not being as prescriptive in his guidance, we were able to design a plan that enabled Wendy to take charge of her progress towards getting promoted by taking specific steps to manage up (e.g. writing better status reports, creating & reviewing a written blueprint of success, securing manager commitment in writing, using 1:1s to frequently check in and measure progress against the blueprint). Wendy did not need to change her job, she just needed to change her approach to her manager and fill in gaps herself. Not ideal, but happens all the time and now Wendy feels more confident in her success. In order to avoid a sunk cost mindset, and not stay on when she should really be moving on, Wendy has set clear tripwires — so if certain milestones are not hit, then she would also use that as a trigger to find a new job.
Is your frustration and anger really hiding a development area for you?
- This happened to me when I was considering a change in teams because I found a co-worker was not playing fair and was steamrolling me in unexpected ways. After introspection, I found the real issue was that I was inconsistent in setting boundaries and needed to become more direct in calling out negative actions and behaviors. I ended up strengthening my core behaviors to better identify the need to set boundaries and manage them when these boundaries are breached. So take a hard look at your situation, and have an honest conversation with yourself if you are really running away from something that is actually a development opportunity in disguise.
Is there a culture of “good escalations” and what escalation options are available to you?
- You don’t have to solve this all by yourself. Does your organization look favorably at escalations? Done thoughtfully, escalations can be a great source of additional assistance. At my employer, we view escalations, done right, as a good thing that accelerates decision making and provides clarity. We focus on what business outcomes are hurting and we seek a resolution because the status quo is not working. We do not make personal attacks on the person. For example, it is totally fair for Wendy to go to her skip level manager and say “I’d like to discuss how we support employees in their career progression. Here is what I have been doing, and I’d like to get feedback on what other activities I should be driving so I can maximize my chances of promotion in the next performance review cycle”.
Redefine what success looks like.
- What is your current definition of success and can you explore alternative definitions that help you be more happy in your current job? For example, you might like the problem space you are in, and you like your co-workers. Other factors maybe less than stellar. For example, the work assignments are boring, or career progress is slow. Can you redefine success to not purely be about getting promoted and use the potentially extra time you have on your hands to pursue other interest areas? Maybe you can be happy by just changing teams in your current company? By redefining success, you can stay in the current job or company and still find ways to be happy.
When to go
- The job or work environment is toxic and unbearable. Everyone has their own threshold but if the job is toxic, you should go.
- You are repeatedly passed over for promotions, find that interesting work assignments are being assigned to other colleagues and your performance reviews are middling. Instead of turning the ship around, you might be better off cutting your losses and changing teams at a minimum, or change companies altogether.
- Are you learning skills that will help you grow in the future? Does your current job help you maximize your current skills and put them into practice? Have you asked your manager to make those adjustments but not seeing any change? If you are neither feeling fully utilized nor like you are learning something new, you should be looking for a new opportunity.
- You are content in your role, but do you work in an area that is on the decline? Don’t let change blindside you. We need to reinvent ourselves multiple times, especially in fast changing areas like technology, to stay relevant. For example, do you program in a language that is seeing a decrease in usage and demand? It is important to assess the landscape every year — what are the new emerging trends? Where are the jobs being created? These trends might be global or even at the local level. You might tweak your financial portfolio or get an eye exam done every year. You should similarly assess if you are in the right job and role. If not, then start preparing for a transition now so you are not surprised or forced to, later.
If looking for a new job is what you decide, you might feel anxiety or nervousness thinking about starting the process. Don’t be. Mastering change and learning how to learn are evergreen skills we need to get good at. I will write a future blog on how to deal with the fear of change.
Evaluating if you should stay or go is a critical decision to get right, and these suggestions should help you objectively evaluate your situation. Good luck!
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