Updated: Jan 24
Wouldn't it be cool if we all had a job we liked? I guess it depends on who you ask but I imagine that for most people, we'd like to do something we're good at, that pays us fairly for an honest day's work, and that allows us to contribute something to the world with the limited time we have on this planet. I also imagine most of us want the work we do to add a net positive to our lives; We want to feel good about the thing we do for 40+ hours per week.
Through the pandemic though, work for many has become a source of stress, anxiety, exhaustion, and general dread. Think zoom fatigue, cabin fever, a bunch of pointless meetings borne from a micro-manager's need to make sure you're at your desk, and that weird depression that creeps in when you haven't showered in a week. For others, the already overwhelming workload, conflicting objectives, unclear expectations, inadequate resources, and lack of managerial support of your classic toxic workplace were making life hard to begin with and the circumstances of the pandemic were just icing on the cake. No matter the reason, the burnout that many workers are feeling from the last year of whatever-the-hell-this-has-been is real.
When you're burned out you're useless. You have a hard time convincing yourself that what you do matters and the calories it takes to complete an otherwise simple task feels extraordinary. And if your leaders are burned out too, the lack of support and continued expectations can turn the whole thing sour quickly. Because of this, many have either quit or are planning to quit their jobs in the next several months.
For clients who come to coaching and therapy the sentiment has been pretty consistent recently: I'm burned out. Should quit my job? And if so, how do I go about doing it? If this sounds like you, consider the following process as a guideline for how to make your next move.
START WITH GRATITUDE No matter how burned out you feel, your job has given you something. Otherwise you wouldn't do it. For some it's just about money but the truth is that many of us get a lot from work be it the meaning it provides, the friendships that form there, the mentorship of a great manager or colleague, the things you learn there, etc. So to start make a list of all of the things you are grateful for at work that you would truly miss if you didn't have it.
AIR YOUR GRIEVANCES (on paper) At least one person reading this saw the gratitude thing and said "I don't want to do gratitude! I'm mad!" It's natural and whatever emotion you're feeling needs a home. Let's just not get carried away with anger. Instead, we want to find factual things about work that make you want to leave. To do this, make a list of specific things that are driving you nuts about your job and the emotional consequence you experience. Maybe you're expected to go to 40 meetings a day and you feel completely exhausted and bored. Or maybe you work 5 hours a week and when people don't notice, you feel impotent and meaningless in your work. Whatever it is, make a list of the things that are making it hard to feel satisfied about your work.
FIND YOUR VALUES Each of the things you are grateful for will represent one or more values. Each of the things on your list of grievances will represent a value that is currently being stepped on. List a value or two that correspond with each thing in your list (here's a list of common values if you're having trouble). What you will be left with is a list of values that need to be honored for you to be satisfied in your work. It won't be everything but if you've taken some time in steps 1 and 2 you'll be damn close to a comprehensive list of things you need in your work to feel fulfilled.
MAKE A MOVE Don't just go get a new job. It's the single biggest mistake everyone makes. You tell yourself it's about "having a job" or "getting a paycheck" but it isn't. Instead, look at those values. They are the key to everything. When you walk out that door, what are you losing and what do you stand to gain? You're losing a paycheck, sure. But maybe you're gaining the time to be creative, and exercise, and travel. Your task is to look at what's on the page and decide if having these will serve you better than what you've currently got. There's no scoring system I can give you that will give you a definitive go or no go. You'll have to check in with your gut and trust what it has to say. When it comes to your values, your gut doesn't lie and, because of that absolute gut truth, you'll likely be left with one of the following:
I NEED TO STAY. BUT I'M STILL STRUGGLING. If this is you, start finding ways to honor those values that are being stifled. Need community and the job isn't cutting it? Find it elsewhere. No job or relationship or church or hobby can give you everything you need and it's ok if you need to go moonlighting. It's also ok to ask your boss for help. Some people are asking for leaves of absence because they don’t hate their job but they’re too exhausted to do it well right now. Is that you? Ask for it! What’s the worst that can happen? If you can work together to fix it, you'll benefit from being yourself again and your boss will benefit from having someone who's more productive and probably more pleasant to be around.
IT'S TIME TO QUIT. Well you know what to do. But do it in a way that honors who you're trying to be. No matter what, the most important part of leaving is to start working immediately on something that will serve you better than the job did. Don't just go get another job because you need a job. Go do something that scratches the itch that’s in need of scratching. That might not even be a job right now. It might be a 3 month nap or a trip or quality time with your family that you've been missing. I cannot understate this: you're not leaving your job because you need a new job. You're leaving because you need something that your job can't offer right now. Those are two different things. If you just jump to something because it's something, the pattern will repeat until you learn the lesson.
Bottom Line: It's ok to quit and it's probably a great time. A lot of others will be leaving soon and leaving space for you to step into something that feels better. And don't worry about why someone else left - one person's trash really can be another's treasure. Many people will tell you not to leave your job without having another one lined up. That's silly. Get the idea of "I need a job" out of the way so you can consider the needs and values that job fulfills. Starting with "I need money to pay my bills, a sense of purpose, and a community" will guide you to a much better place. And of course, it's ok to stay and start advocating for the changes you need to be happy. Either way, it will never hurt you to check in with your values. If you don't or if you just quit without understand why you're quitting, you'll inevitably recycle yourself into more pain. If you get it right, there is a promise of reinvigorating yourself and your work so that the hours you spend contributing to society actually fill your tank instead of depleting it.