How do you know when it's time to leave a job?

Updated: Jul 8

Young man with backpack in forest standing at a crossroads of two paths
Photo by Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash

“Should I stay, or should I go?”. Yes, these are the words of a Clash song, but also words that many of us find ourselves saying when we’re not quite sure whether we should stay in our current role, or leave for pastures new.

Whereas in the current climate, the practicalities of a depressed job market may make that question somewhat redundant, there are opportunities out there, and there will come a time when things start picking up again.

So how do you know whether you should stay and persevere or cut your losses and leave? It will, of course, depend very much on individual circumstances. There are obvious times when it may be sensible to leave a role - for example, when it’s detrimental to your mental or physical health. But here are three reasons for staying in a role and three reasons to leave that you may not have considered.

Reasons to stay:

  • You have been in the role for six months or less. It takes time to settle into a new role or organisation - sometimes up to a year. This can seem like an age for most of us, but you need to work out how things are done, how much you have flexibility within that and how to build your network to bring you the right opportunities.

  • You didn’t get the promotion. I see people leaving organisations all the time because they were overlooked for an opportunity. It can be easy to feel written off, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a future there. Get some feedback about why you didn’t get the role and how you can be supported to try again soon. Being able to demonstrate resilience after a career setback is a valuable career asset.

  • An interesting sideways move is available. This can be a way to move into a role that fits in with your current circumstances. For four years while I had my children, I moved to a “back office” type role that was easier to manage. It did nothing for my career progression, but I got exposure to some senior functional leaders. I learned how to deal with ambiguity, balance process with pragmatism, and influence people with a very different personality type. This helped me become a much more well-rounded professional.

Young women with dark hair and blue top looking at a laptop screen
Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash

Reasons to leave:

  • The organisational culture jars with your values. Working in an organisation or in a role where you have a nagging feeling of not belonging is not fun. You may discover this very soon after you join, though if you have been in a company for many years, the culture may have changed significantly, and you’ve not really noticed. Defining culture can be quite nefarious - how you would describe the culture to an outsider? If your response is different from your values, then its time to leave.

  • You love the working environment rather than the job itself. I have known several people who have stayed in a position too long because the organisation puts in a considerable effort to make work a nice place to be. This may be barista-quality coffee machines, free gym membership, or an in-house dentist. Think about your working at-home experience in the current pandemic. If your enjoyment has significantly deteriorated now all these perks are lost, it may be time to try something else.

  • You go to work to meet like-minded stimulating people and see your friends. How many leaving emails have you seen which say “most of all, I’ll miss the people…”? Your job can quickly become the hub of your social life as well as your work life, mainly if you live on your own. You will find other like-minded people and make new friends in a new organisation, and you will still keep in touch with old friends that matter to you.

Deciding whether to stay or go is never an easy decision. Hopefully, this article will help you think things through more clearly but do reach out if you need further help or support - I’d be delighted to hear from you.