How to know when it's the right time to quit your job

Ashini was frustrated with her job. Low pay, long hours and a horrible boss that was pushing her to the brink of collapse. She started wondering if she should quit.

You also may be at a point in life where you are thinking, “Maybe I too should quit and move on.” But are you sure quitting is the best option? Sometimes, it may be better to stay on and grow. I stayed at General Electric for more than 12 years, growing significantly each year. So, how do we know when is the right time for us to quit a job or move on?

Two-year rule

When you ask, “Should I quit my job?” My first question back would be, “Have you served at least two years in this current role?” Ideally, it would be three years.

My two year rule is rationalised on it taking at least six months before you understand the new culture, process and be able to make sense of the company. Then it will take you at least another six months to start identifying areas where you can improve and drive change.

It will take another six months before you start to execute, making changes and an impact. And you need another six months to see the results of your execution and to see if the changes you implemented worked and to rework it if necessary.

According to research by Anders Ericson, you will learn your job and be extremely competent after 10,000 hours. Based on a 12 hour work day, you will hit 10,000 hours of work after you spend three years in a role.

So, if you want to maximise your learning, spend three years in a role. At a minimum, two years. If you have at least served that long, it's fair to ask “Should I quit my job?” and consider quitting when there is a trigger for that thought.

But there are some exceptions to the rule. My old boss got a dream job he craved and quit our company and moved to this new company. Within three months, his dream job turned out to be a nightmare. Instead of slogging on for another two years, he immediately quit.

If you find yourself marginalised, or you dread the work, cut the loss and move on. Your job should bring out your passion and should not be dreary and energy-sapping. But I never recommend leaving a job before two years unless you are extremely clear this role or company is not for you.

When you have feelings of restlessness and discontent you may believe that it is a sign to move on and quit. But don't bail at the first glimmer of dissatisfaction. Just as you should not quit your marriage after a spat with your husband and start dating again, likewise, it should be the same with your job.

Quitting: Are you actually just running away? Quitting: Are you actually just running away?

Staying can be good

If you plan to quit your job because of conflicts you are facing at work today, remember that these problems will reappear in the next job if you don't take the time to at least examine what's wrong at your current role. Leaving your current role without resolving this conflict is bound to create the same issues in your next role. So, resolve these conflicts before you leave.

When I worked at NBC, a TV company in New York City, I was extremely frustrated with my boss. I thought she hated me as she gave me meaningless work and made me work on trivial matters. I was so frustrated; I started sending out my resume to other media organisations. I even went for interviews. But I had a great mentor at NBC who advised me to have a frank discussion with my boss.

I began an open, non-confrontational dialogue with her. Things improved vastly as she had made some wrong assumptions about me. I was not only able to stop a problem that persisted for a couple of months, but I ended up doing some impressive work at NBC and winning a number of awards in the process. I ended up staying and it did my career a world of good.

Staying in your role may have some practical benefits too. For example, seniority has its merits: it's harder for an employer to let go of someone trained with deep job knowledge. That's not to say you should stay at all costs.

I do believe that movement is good especially if it enables you to grow and be outside your comfort zone. But quit for the right reasons. Remember, most people who succeed in the face of seemingly impossible conditions are people who simply don't know how to quit.

When I should quit

How do you know exactly when to quit? Here are some possible reasons to consider quitting:

1. Your company has lost its purpose and you are no longer proud to be an employee there. Quit as you will be doing both yourself and the company a favour

2. Your relationship with your manager is damaged beyond repair. You have tried really hard to mend the relationship but to no avail. Leave quickly but if possible, leave in good terms.

3. Your life situation has changed. Perhaps you just had a baby, and the work culture does not suit your new lifestyle. Or perhaps your aspirations have changed.

4. Your values are at odds with the company's values and culture. Or if you are being ethically challenged. Whatever the issue, don't stay in an organisation where your values or integrity is compromised.

5. For whatever reason, you have behaved improperly at work. Or you've burnt bridges with peers. Or missed too many days of work, slacked off on the job, or developed the reputation of a loser. That reputation, once earned, is unlikely to change, so you might as well move on, while you have the opportunity.

6. Your stress level is so high at work that it affects your health and relationships. If you are feeling burnt-out, find out first if the demands of your job have increased with fewer resources. You may just be drained out. In which case, it's an issue of managing resources, not finding a new job.

7. You find yourself marginalised. Your manager, for reasons unbeknownst to you, treats you like an invisible person, not including you in important consultations or decisions. Don't do anything until you talk to your boss to find out what's going on. Your boss may also be silently urging you to leave, so if that's the case, maybe you need to take the hint.

8. You've stopped having fun at work. You dread going to work in the morning. Find out what the real reason you dread work. Is it boredom? Is it lack of challenge? Or have you changed? Don't leave just because you are bored. Try re-inventing your role. Leaving should be your last resort. But if you still cannot rediscover your love for the job, quit!

Quitting your job over unhappiness is a big no-no. If you are unhappy with other aspects of your life, it is easy to blame it on work. Do not expect work to bring you happiness if other aspects of your life are just calamitous.

Again, sort out the real reason for your unhappiness and your job may turn great again. If it is really true that your happiness is caused by one of eight reasons I outlined above, then quit. Otherwise, fix the real issue. There is a saying: “Age wrinkles the body but quitting wrinkles the soul.”

If you do work for a boss that provides toxic leadership and is a tyrant, and you are drained by the cut-throat and back-stabbing environment caused by his lack of leadership, then it is one big reason to quit. Business isn't a democracy and you cannot change your boss. Quitting then is probably the right response.

That said, quitting should be an exception, not the rule, in your career. Gaps on your resume are a red flag to employers. First, try meeting with a career mentor, talking to HR, or transferring to another position at your company. Bear in mind that once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit.

Final thoughts

At the end of the day, the key to a successful career is constantly learning and growing. So, whenever you make decisions to quit, make sure the new role will provide you significantly bigger challenges for growth and learning. If it's the same role and you are just leaving for money, beware the pitfalls.

Remember, whenever you face problems at work, your first response should not be to quit. First ask yourself if this is a situation that might possibly reoccur whether it's a bad boss, intolerable colleagues, lack of communication or your under-utilised talents. You don't want to go to the trouble of changing jobs only to experience the workplace equivalent of the film, Groundhog Day.

Finally, when you do quit, don't burn bridges. As good as it would feel to re-enact The Devil Wears Prada scene in which Anne Hathaway's character chucks her phone with her boss still on the line, it's a small world and you should try to leave on good terms.

Address your reason for leaving professionally and be sure to thank your boss for the opportunities you've received and to help transition your responsibilities.

Article extracted from Talking HR, StarBiz. Roshan Thiran is CEO of Leaderonomics, a social enterprise. Roshan believes there is a time for everything, including quitting. Roshan laments the fact that most people give up just when they're about to achieve success. They give up at the last minute of the game, one shot away from a winning goal.