Canadian man looking out the window

Two reasons not to quit your job

Peter Harris|

One of the best pieces of career advice that I ever received was to ‘never quit.’ That may sound a little too much like the commonly used cliché, ‘never give up.’ However, in this case it was meant literally: Don’t quit your job.

Here’s the context. I was rather miserable in the job I had at the time. I was the only copy writer for a small, family-owned marketing company. The commute was hellish requiring taking the subway all the way to the end of the line, then filing onto a packed bus into an industrial park area, and then a walk on a pedestrian bridge across highways.

I had a small staff of researchers and copy editors, and they resented my being put in charge because I was A) new to the company and B) younger than they were. (Truth be told, I also had no management experience at the time and so seemed like a kid to them. It doesn’t help that I also happened to look even younger than I was.) So the working environment was unpleasant too.

On the day I decided that it just wasn’t worth it to me anymore, I went into my director’s office and told him I would no longer be working there. He looked up from his desk and said, “Harris, you never quit. If you’re willing to just walk away with nothing, that puts you in a pretty solid bargaining position, because you have nothing to lose. Explain what’s making you unhappy and ask for solutions. Maybe we can make a deal.

We ended up restructuring my team in a way that made them both happier and more productive. Research, writing and editing could be done offsite with the team working from home two to three days a week, only being in the office for meetings and creative brainstorming sessions. This made my resentful crew suddenly appreciate me. With a happier staff, a flexible schedule, and much less of the brutal commute, I ended up working there for another year. (Until the opportunity to manage the content of a major national website came along.)

My director was right. It was better to bargain than to quit with nothing. It improved my working situation, and it gave me the leverage to improve things for my team as well. Which also went a long way towards improving their opinion of me.

I can think of another important reason not to quit your job even if you’re unhappy at the moment. It is easier to land a new, better opportunity if you’re already employed. So you hurt your own chances of getting your next job by quitting your current one.

Here’s why:

Some employers think that employed candidates are more valuable than unemployed candidates. There is always the chance that unemployed candidates are out of work through some failing in their skills, work-ethic, or personality. (Now this is not a fair assumption, and it’s usually not the case, especially in a tight job market like this one, but it is something that crosses the minds of some hiring managers.)

Also employers prefer candidates who have a passion to work for them specifically. Candidates who are interested in just that role at their company – and this is their motivation. Employers may assume that unemployed candidates just really need a job and are therefore just motivated to take any gig they can land. This might make them seem like less valuable employees.

While you’re currently employed, someone out there is already willing to pay you for what you do. It’s an unspoken recommendation from one employer to another. (Rather like that old saying about men being more attractive to women when they’re already in a relationship. It’s a validation that someone can put up with you. If you’re single, there’s always the chance that it’s because you’re a creep.)

So, when it’s time to move on or move up, negotiate. See if your employer wants to accommodate your career growth and happiness where you are. If that doesn’t work out, then you still don’t quit. You keep your job, and you start your career search. Quietly.

Workopolis has some pretty cool tools for an undercover job search.

See also:
The best time to quit your job?
Six signs that you’re in the wrong job

Peter Harris
Peter Harris on Twitter

Category: Career Dilemmas, Job Search Strategies, Life At Work
  • David Gay

    Sometimes people have no choice but to quit. If the job severely impacts the employee’s work/life balance to the point it affects their health, their ability to being a good parent or caregiver for a sick parent, and there is no way a job search can be done under the radar that will produce results, it’s best to leave. Your personal health and happiness is your responsibility, not your employer’s. A job is not worth dying for or going to the funny farm over. Be sure to give advance notice though, not just the typical two week standard. Give them a month, maybe two and work with your employer in a positive way during the transition process. That will earn you brownie points in your referral.

    One very important point advice columns like this miss often is the issue of constructive dismissal, where your boss changes your job description unilaterally without your consent so it is radically different from what you agreed to. This occurs a lot more common than people realize, especially in this Age of Austerity and the jobless recovery. And on that subject, with the economy being what it is, the search for another job may be longer than expected.

    You can still quit in a winning position: work out an exit strategy that benefits both you and your employer. It’s not that you quit, it’s how you quit that is far more important.

  • Salvatore

    This is where I disagree, if you are stuck in a rut you don’t see yourself evolving in the direction of your career goals, you have the finances to support yourself and an action plan to take you there, you should take that risk leave, only then will you grow as a person, life begins when you break out of your comfort zone.

  • jadawin_2

    I would say don’t quit until you have another job for yourself, that’s very simple. And if it gets really hard on you find another way to compensate and think about the stuff you can offer yourself with the money the job gives you and above all about what you would have to go without if you quit right now…

  • James Davis

    Thanks Peter for sharing this informative article. I agree with you that those employees who are looking for a career change or thinking to quit their job they should quit their only when they have another job in their hand.

  • disqus_Hx2xE79WfT

    @Salvatore the writer said you can start your career search quietly even when you are at your present job, that’s a step towards breaking out of your comfort zone.