“How long do I have to stay in a job I hate?” You wouldn’t believe how regularly I am asked that question.
Most millennials will be glad to hear that the rules seem to have changed about this issue. It used to be that staying in a job one year was all but required for appearance’s sake, while two years was ideal. (And honestly, I’ll say that in most cases it still is. Employers in many industries, particularly more traditional fields, still look askance at a resume full of one- and two-year stints.)
However, at most organizations today, leaving a position earlier no longer gets you blackballed, and that might be what’s contributing to our job-hopping culture. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should jump ship at your first twinge of discontent.
Recently I was having breakfast with a young millennial professional who had just started a job that he wasn’t loving and he asked me when he could start looking for something different. I suggested that before he mentally check out, that he really think through the situation. I thought the questions he and I discussed would be helpful for any professional wondering whether it’s time to quit a job or stick it out.
Is your situation toxic and abusive?
Get. Out. Now. If ever you feel unsafe or discriminated against, or there’s some element of the job that’s truly destroying your health or personal life, then my advice is to leave. For example, I’ve heard about bosses who are pathological liars, those who don’t pay employees the compensation they’ve promised or those who demand regular, uncompensated weekend or evening work. Life is too short to work for someone who makes the workplace intolerable.
Are you still learning?
You might not love your job, but if you’re still learning, as in getting varied assignments and acquiring new skills (particularly through a formal training or rotational program), you might want to stick it out. A boss who continues to challenge you is one who wants you around and is likely to continue to offer engaging projects. Most jobs have some element of “busywork,” but if you truly feel you’re stagnating, then it might be time to hop to a more robust pond.
How’s your relationship with your direct manager?
Never, ever, ever underestimate the benefits offered by a great boss. That relationship can take you far, even if the work you’re performing isn’t the most scintillating. Maybe that person has plans for you they haven’t voiced yet, or maybe you can just soak up their mentorship. I know I am not the only one who has taken and kept jobs simply because of the person I’d be reporting to.
In my book Becoming the Boss, I interviewed numerous professionals to find out how they learned to be a good manager. They almost always said “I learned from my best boss.” I promise you, if you are relatively new to the workforce, you don’t realize how rare and wonderful it is to have a really fantastic boss.
Is there anything you can do to make your job more positive?
Sometimes your boss simply might not know you’re feeling stuck and will be completely gobsmacked if you come to him or her and quit. So, look around and see if you can improve conditions. Have you tried asking for more or less responsibility? Delegating more? Looking into internal mobility if you’re in a larger company? Asking for more training to take on new tasks? Sometimes you expect your boss to recognize what you need when it’s likely you need to ask for it.
Are you still meeting people and building relationships?
This is especially key at larger organizations, where you’re able to grow and build your network by working on cross-functional teams. If you’re at a big corporation, search for opportunities to meet people in different divisions. These connections are invaluable to forge early in your career, and the opportunity to do so should not be taken lightly.
There are many, many facets to a job that are more important than you recognize: Especially when you’re first starting out, it can be hard to realize that not every job will have them. The grass is not always greener, so think (and make sure you have savings or a safety net, if necessary) before you jump the fence.