Millions of hard-working employees have uttered some version of those words during the pandemic in pursuit of more balance, growth and purpose-aligned work. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 4.2 million Americans packed up their virtual desks in August alone, which represents a higher quit rate than the previous four months.
Meanwhile, more than a third of Americans — 37 percent — are currently contemplating sending in their resignation letters. But oftentimes, it can be difficult to pull the trigger. It makes sense. Change can be scary, especially if you’re leaving money, stability and potential promotions at the door.
I went through this myself. In 2018, I was working in a marketing leadership role for a billion-dollar brand. I had been there for 11 years, and during that time, I racked up awards, company car perks, frequent flyer miles and annual bonuses big enough to make me question if someone in accounting had made a mistake. I was drenched in societal bling and settled into a job that most people would consider cushy. Yet, I felt unsettled. And, it wasn't solely because I was just one of two Black people in a marketing department of more than 100. I had grown weary of wasting my time in meetings that led to nowhere, working with fewer resources than other teams and breaking my back to reach some arbitrary level of success. I was fed up and checked out. And, quite frankly, I was tired.
But, was that feeling enough to make me walk away? Was it temporary? Was it fueled by irrational emotion? Could it be overcome by finding new opportunities to learn and grow within the company?
How do you really know when it's time to get your courage in formation and quit an unfulfilling job? It's the question I asked myself three years ago and what millions of workers with one foot out of the door are likely asking themselves right now.
The answer, I discovered, requires that you ask yourself another question: What are you willing to lose?
No matter how bad a job can feel, the thought of leaving can elicit fears of loss — the loss of money, tenure, stability, relationships, professional credibility and a sense of identity. Consideration of those losses can dominate a person's decision-making process and provoke intense loss aversion, making walking away seem impossible. Cognitive psychologist Amos Tversky observed that people hate losing, and they will go to great lengths to protect themselves from the pain of loss.
But, staying in an unfulfilling job comes with its own risks of loss and potential for pain that employees on the fence likely already recognize. The Mind Share Partner's 2021 Mental Health at Work study revealed that 76 percent of full-time workers reported experiencing at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year, up from 59 percent in 2019. The top symptom reported was burnout, which employees say impacted their productivity and overall satisfaction at work. What's more is that women seem to suffer from burnout more than men. The 2021 Women in the Workplace study found that women have risen to the call for leadership during the pandemic and taken on additional work, but their work largely goes unrecognized, leading them to feel undervalued and taken advantage of.
Employees who are actively weighing the consequences of leaving or staying have to decide if the potential of losing their mental health is more important than the potential of losing their annual bonus. They have to consider whether losing opportunities to live out their potential is more important than losing external validation associated with a particular title or company. And, they certainly have to think about whether losing an overall sense of personal agency is more important than the potential of losing access to their workplace's inner circle.
All of those considerations led me to understand that it's time to quit your job when your job is causing you to quit on yourself.
I was skilled at creating marketing strategies to help my company drive traffic and sales. But, the real magic came about when I helped my team of emerging leaders develop and leverage personal courage to stand up for their ideas amid opposition, to give and receive feedback in support of growth, and to be their authentic selves when doing so was unconventional. That's when I was using the fullness of my skills and gifts. And, quite honestly, I knew that I needed to be doing that in a more impactful way. I made a decision to side with my potential rather than my paycheck, and I left my job in November 2018 to start my own business. And, I'll be real. There are times when I miss the perks, but nothing compares to walking in my purpose.
So, now it's your turn. If you're one of the tens of millions of likely people contemplating if and when to quit your job, ask yourself if your job is causing you to quit on your purpose, your potential, your peace and your power. If the answer is yes, then the answer is now.
Candace Doby is a speaker, author and coach who works with universities and organizations to help young leaders activate personal courage to speak up, stand out, and stay true to themselves. When she’s not speaking, she working on new designs for her greeting card and gift company, Pep Talker.