Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Businesswoman making decision

July 31, 2021

A Workforce Reckoning 

You hear about it everywhere. In the news, on social media, in podcasts, and maybe even in those first watercooler conversations back at the office: employees are quitting their jobs. And while the number of those choosing to stop working feels staggering, the reasons behind their decisions do not. After living through a global pandemic, it’s no wonder we’re reckoning with every part of our lives – including work. And each of our reckonings looks a bit different. Some are leaving the workforce because they no longer wish to sustain the unsustainable: 80-hour workweeks, toxic working conditions, unmanageable expectations between work and family. They see this life-altering event as a signal for much-needed change in their lives and in the institutions they work for. Others are motivated by a sense of adventure and search for a higher purpose. Maybe they’re feeling stagnant after having been with the same company for many years and wish to explore the world – and themselves – outside the confines of the office. As you hear more and more stories like this every day, it’s only natural that you’d ask yourself big questions such as: What matters to me? How do I want to spend my time? Should I work here, there, or if circumstances allow, nowhere? You’re not alone in asking yourself these questions. And you don’t have to be alone in finding some answers, either. 

My friend and colleague Dorie Clark recently wrote an article for Harvard Business Review titled, “Are you really ready to quit?” In an era of growing resignations and a talent shortage, she advocates for taking a pause and undergoing a thoughtful analysis of our motives. She suggests communicating their wishes to their manager before walking out the door. While these recommendations – practicing self-awareness and open communication – seem simple enough, they can be radical during a frenetic time. They require you to dig deep within yourself and understand what is important to you so you can shape your life around it. Our last newsletter talked about how good leaders can help guide their employees towards more meaningful work by tapping into personal motivators. But before others can utilize our drivers, we have to know what they are for ourselves. 

Taking Time to Reflect 

If you are trying to decide whether or not to leave your job, change careers or make any significant life shift, you can turn to one of the key pillars of emotional intelligence – knowing yourself. To cultivate self-awareness, ask yourself questions and challenge yourself to answer honestly. Some of these questions could be: 

  • What is important to me? In my coaching practice, I often find that clients either have not fully explored this; they may be unwittingly living a life based on others’ expectations of them. It can be helpful to look introspectively at your current situation and determine how well it aligns to your value system. Does your job require a long commute or consistent overtime, taking away opportunities for quality time with family? Are you an introvert in a highly people-facing role? Do you want to help the earth but work for a company whose products are actively harming it? You can also use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as a guide for looking at your work in relation to your needs. Are the basics like mutual respect, trust, and psychological safety being met? If not, that’s an important red flag to put at the forefront of your consideration. 
  • What do I need to flourish? If your job covers your basic needs but lacks when it comes to the top of the hierarchy (purpose, fulfilling potential, meaning), take stock of the opportunities to grow available to you. Do you see the organization as a “fertile ground” where you could develop your skills and passions? Does your supervisor support your growth? Do they know your career and life goals? Having these conversations may open doors to new possibilities that neither of you realized were available. 
  • What’s the next right thing? Building a meaningful life is a journey made up of small steps along the way. Sometimes, the answer you’re looking for is clear. You know in your gut that it is time to make a move or take a break. And sometimes, the question of “should I stay or go” becomes so overwhelming that it stops us from making any decisions at all. If you’re struggling with the latter, start with something small. Have a conversation with your boss to see if you can delegate some tasks to a colleague to cut down your overtime hours. Take a course in a new field you’re interested in. Schedule a conversation with a career coach to talk through some of your questions. There is no wrong path – just the one you take. 

We are emerging from a collective traumatic experience, the effects of which will reverberate for the rest of our lives. While it can be more than daunting, taking the time now to look at our lives and how we want to live them is time well spent. And if our biggest worry right now is whether or not to leave a job, we should count ourselves pretty lucky. Maybe a resignation will lead to invigoration elsewhere. Maybe you’ll find what you’re looking for is right under your nose. Wherever these reflections take you, empower yourself to be the captain of your journey. 

Patricia Carl