I’m feeling very “bleh” about my job but I can’t put my finger on the problem. I think I want to quit and move on. But I don’t want to make a rash decision. So I’ve been thinking, how do you know when it’s time to quit your job and go?

Nick’s Reply

time to quit your jobThis is a really good question, and it’s one of those that readers can answer better than I can — from their own experience. Everyone hits a kind of wall at work at some time or other. A lot of people tend to ignore the signals, sometimes for too long, and then they’re surprised when they get laid off or fired. It’s important to know where you stand — and what those “bleh” feelings really mean.

I’ll start us off with signs to look for that tell us it’s time to go — and I can’t wait to hear what signs you rely on!

How do you know it’s time to quit your job?

We all know that feeling in our gut: Something is wrong at work. It starts as soon as you wake up on work days. Here are some of the signals.

1. You’re the top dog.

Everyone comes to you for help and advice doing their job because you know more than anyone else. You’re the department’s chief mentor, but there’s no one who can teach you more. Being on a pedestal might be cool, but it can be lonely, boring, and demoralizing. Always work with people who are more expert than you are, even if you must find them elsewhere.

2. Your boss adds nothing to your future.

That is, your boss is no help to your career. Your future is to keep doing the job you have now because all your boss sees is a one-trick pony. Make sure you have a boss who leads you forward.

3. You’re ahead of your employer.

The company doesn’t embrace your ideas. It’s not interested in your suggestions. Business and product cycles come and go, and you feel your contributions are being ignored. Your company is content with the status quo and thinks you should be, too. But you’ve got ideas. You study and keep up with the state of the art — but your managers are content treading water. You’re always thinking ahead of your employer. Strive to work in a place where you can help create something new under the sun.

4. You keep running into walls.

You suddenly realize that your department or team is always isolated. For example, if you’re an engineer, you never get to work with Finance, or Marketing, or Manufacturing, or Sales. Organizational walls prevent you from being part of the bigger picture in your company. Your bosses like to keep you away from other departments. You’re stuck in your corner of the organization without any regular cross-pollination of experience or ideas. Don’t settle for living in a maze with limited range of movement.

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5. You’re stagnating.

The soundtrack at work is that Billy Joel song telling you to “stay just the way you are.” Training and professional development are lacking. You’re on your own when it comes to improving your skills and prospects. Your boss doesn’t seem to care about your professional improvement because you’re just a cog in the wheel. Your boss will not support you posting for a different or better job in the company. No promotions, no new work, no growth. Make sure there’s a steady flow of fresh air wherever you report to work every day.

6. You don’t want to get up in the morning to go to work.

This is the last straw, and it’s the sign to quit your job that I believe most people ignore the longest. You don’t want to get out of bed. You don’t want to go to your job. Change your work, change your employer, change your life.

How do you know it’s time to quit your job and move on? There are probably a million signs. Which ones have you seen? What signs have you ignored (or rationalized) the longest? Which signs were compelling enough to make you quit your job and move? Ever read a sign wrong — and make a mistake?

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  1. This may be a more extreme form of “You don’t want to get up in the morning to go to work.” but for me it was my health deteriorating. As time went on, my doctor increased the dosages on my prescriptions to keep up.

    Then I took a month-long vacation in Europe. It was not a happy, peaceful month. During that time, my dog back home died – probably from a snake or spider bite. Then I casually found out that my boss had left the company for Facebook/Meta. And to top it all, my father-in-law became ill, was hospitalized and died the day before I returned home.

    With all this chaos, I was pretty bad about taking my prescriptions. Yet, the next time I had blood tests the numbers were surprisingly better. I pointed this out to my doctor, but his response was “they’d have been even better if you’d taken your pills.”

  2. The big wake-up for me was when multiple VPs left in the same year. Lead-ups included a variety of policy changes and handbook changes that involved pulling back benefits (PTO would no longer be paid out, ESOP became non-matched 401k, etc).

  3. This was a great list. I’d like to add that, on a company level, a warning sign would be when all the “good employees” start leaving. The best employees can see the trends in the company/industry, etc., and it’s easy for them to find a better offer. So you may currently be fine in your job, but if the good employees are leaving, the situation likely won’t stay that way much longer. They are the canaries in the coal mine. Might be time for you to consider jumping ship, too!

  4. My first job after college was at a place that hired a lot of B-level performers. After a year I got a huge raise, and I was a go-to person for everyone. It was heady, but the people a year or two ahead of me in experience, who’d mentored me, were leaving in droves, and I realized that at 22, I didn’t want to be captain of any team – I still needed mentorship. I left.

    Just about every job I’ve had – including that one for a long time – has had several moments for me where I’d excitedly be pondering a work problem in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, and wishing I could jump out of bed right then and get to tackling it. That sense of engagement is a vital sign you’re at a good place, and when that feeling goes away, time to leave.

    Excellent column, that nailed a lot of great points.

    • @Dave: Yup – the exodus tells you a lot. In my experience, this happens in stages. A people hire more A people. Somewhere along the line, a B person gets hired. If it’s a manager, there’s a tendency for B people to hire more B people because more A’s are a threat. When the B’s reach critical mass, and/or a B hires a C person – then the A people start leaving. The end is near. A, B and C can be defined in any of a number of ways depending on the business and the work. As David L points out above, B and C people are the canaries in the coal mine. So, look around carefully before signing up! For some tips about how to do this:

  5. When your company was sold again — and your new department is a mess…

  6. These signs are a good reason to look at other possible jobs, however, what type of job you are doing has not been mentioned. From the responses it seems like most are middle management or white collar.
    Typical that the real folks that make the wheels of commerce turn are left out.

    Nearly every job functions exactly as the column describes at the production level. Car mechanics are told you are replaceable, years of experience don’t matter only paper certs, veterans are told that the skills they learned don’t translate to civilian life, etc etc.
    The company expects status quo, it expects compliance, expects conformity and expects you to know your place.

    This is why you see companies claim they can’t find people to work, partially the GenZ attitude but more in the realm of all employees are numbers and all non managing employees are replaceable. It immediately gives people a bad taste and an unwillingness to try to make things better.

    A companies greatest asset is the lowest employee on the ladder, if they feel good about the work and feel included in the operations they will tell others that it is a great place to work.

    At this present time in history you many need to swallow all the pride and all the expectations you have and go with the flow so you are not unemployed.

    Work is work, it sucks. If it didn’t it would be called happy joyful free time. We work because we have to. No one truly wants to work for some else away from what they would rather be doing. As the phrase goes in the military “embrace the suck”

    If are lucky to have options that let you work as you see fit and be able to truly influence the company….you are a lucky one and that is a job to stick with forever.

  7. Ask yourself WHY “You don’t want to get up in the morning to go to work” and if you can come up with 3 answers in under 10 seconds, then your gut / brain has already made up its mind that it’s time to go.

  8. When the employer suddenly decides to no longer offer direct deposit on paychecks (cuz they need the bank float of a few days) then when they bounce paychecks. Yikes!

    • @Marilyn: That’s a good one! Yikes indeed!

  9. Lest we forget:

    You work for a family operation, and you gotten as far as you can get without being a blood relative.

    Corollary: The blood relatives couldn’t manage their way out of a paper bag even if provided a box cutter and a map.

  10. I’ve been able to circumvent 2, 4 and 5 at my current company with lateral moves to align my interests and strengths with the emerging needs of the business. It requires concerted effort in an environment that lacks any real professional development structure, but has been worth it so far. However, I have a fairly new coworker who has been riding my coattails hard since he started, with subtle undermining, one overt back stabbing, and who even knows what else. Having a toxic competitor rather than a trusted collaborator on our team has led to a lot of anger, lost sleep, and too many #6 days. Too often lately, I’m torn between not giving this person the satisfaction of pushing me out the door given all that I’ve worked for, and the liberation of handing in a resignation letter (drafted when the backstabbing incident came to a head) with a two week effective date.

    • I don’t give a two week notice, when asked why, my reply is: would you give me a two week termination notice? At this point, I am terminating you.

  11. Let’s see…#’s 1-6, check. At my current job, this superb list ticks all my boxes.
    #6? I’ve always this found to be my trigger. I love doing what I do and I’m paid very well to do it, but when I find I’m hitting the Snooze button repeatedly most days then it’s time to dust off the resume and reach out to that network of people I trust and move on.
    Once again, Nick, you’ve knocked it out of the park.

  12. A little fun for a change…

    I stayed far too long at my first professional job. One day I was bent over the drinking fountain and someone walked by. Unable to see anything but their shoes, I was still able to recognize them. I thought, “I’ve been working here too long.”

  13. I had been feeling increasingly uncomfortable at the company. When a co-worker died on the July 4th weekend, that opened my eyes and immediately I started making plans to leave. Maybe it was the fireworks that added to the wake-up call. It was up to me to move beyond this bad job and add more life balance, challenges, and happiness before my story was over, too.