Thinking of Leaving Your Job? When to Wait it Out, When to Leave

Written by Melissa Anzman

Working isn’t always glamorous. It can be downright miserable at times – isn’t that why the phrase, “work is supposed to be work,” hits home so hard? Leaving your job is big decision and shouldn’t be made lightly, regardless of where you are in your career.

One of the most common reasons people look to jump to their next opportunity is because they are ambivalent or downright unhappy with their job. But being unhappy at work is not always a sign that it is immediately time to move on to your next adventure. Here’s how to tell when you should stick it out, or when it’s time to go.

When to Cool Your Jets and Stay Put

We have an idealized view of how fabulous and glamorous our jobs should be. So when they are anything but exceptional, we complain about how miserable we are and start thinking about jumping ship. Staying put can be one of the best things you can do for your career, if your unhappiness is stemming from these things.

1. You have an interesting job.

If even on your bad days you can find something “cool” about what you do, then your job still has redeemable qualities. Being able to find unique aspects in what you do will help you continue to learn and grow – ensuring you get absolutely everything possible out of the experience.

2. You like the company culture.

Companies are not created equally. I promise—I tried so many cultures out as “research,” just for you. Being able to be yourself at work, be surrounded by like-minded people, or feeling like your values align with the company’s, is not something to balk at. You are not necessarily going to get the same things in a new role— in fact, it will be hard for anything to measure up going forward.

3. You are on-board with the greater mission.

When you feel as though you are a part of something bigger, serving a true purpose to the clients that your company interacts with, it is a special thing. One of my most “miserable” jobs was working within healthcare, but I was continually re-energized by the stories our clients shared—we were literally helping to save their lives. If you are serving what you consider to be the greater good, making an impact, delivering a difference, then working through the temporary unhappiness will take you further than you can imagine.

4. You hate your boss, but like pretty much everything else.

People typically leave their managers, not the company—stop this trend. Your boss will not be in that position forever—and conversely, you don’t have to stay under him forever either (ever hear of internal job postings?). If your boss is your only thorn in your side, figure out a way to deal with him or her until you work your way into a new opportunity.

5. A project, team member or otherwise temporary thing is bugging you.

Even though it feels like it will go on forever, leaving your job because of a temporary situation is not a great idea. If you were content in your job (or met any of the above criteria), before this annoying “thing” came along, stick it out. You’ll come out of the situation a better person and appreciate all of the things you enjoyed about your job, even more. 

When to Say Sayonara

There are a few reasons to leave the misery behind you—and do it NOW. As in, brush off your resume and start getting serious about landing your next job. For the situations below, no amount of reasoning, or pay, or benefits, or “stability, or whatever else you are trying to convince yourself is why you continue to hang on to this job, is worth it.

1. You are in an abusive work environment.

If you are crying at the end of every day, feel as though your boss is verbally attacking you on a constant basis, or you feel bullied. There is never a good reason to stay in an abusive (work) environment, regardless of the reasons behind it – so start looking!

2. If the environment is making you physically sick.

Speaking from personal experience, this happens… and there isn’t anything worse than having to return to a place on a daily basis that impacts your health. First, check with the office manager or facilities group if it’s something environmental that’s making you sick such as allergies from filters not being changed or being moved temporarily when the building is being repainted – these are “fixable.” However, if you are suffering from a chronic illness from being at work due to stress, nerves, or anything else, it’s time to leave.

3. You are not getting paid consistently.

You work for personal enrichment (right?), but you also do it to pay the bills. I’m not sure I understand the logic in “waiting it out” until the company moves back into a positive cash flow situation, but if you are not getting paid on scheduled pay periods, it’s time to move on (and maybe hire legal counsel).

4. They are telling you to go.

“Thanks for your service, but it’s really time for you to start brushing off your resume because we don’t value you anymore.” Wouldn’t it be easier if they were that straightforward? So it may not be that obvious, but look for the signs. If you are being cut out of meetings, taken off projects that you helped develop, not getting the raise or promotion you were expecting/earned (be realistic here), or being put on a performance plan that seems impossible to achieve, consider these clear signs that you should be looking for something else – outside of your current company.

Final Thoughts

Whether it’s time for you to go or time for you to stick it out, it’s important that you don’t check out early. Being present, working as hard as you can, getting as much out of the situation as possible, will help you leave (eventually) on good terms, as well as bolster your working reputation in the meantime. Don’t check out too early – keep working through it, until you’ve come out on the other side.

We’d love to hear from you in the comments:
Have you worked through your “miserable” to something better on the other side?
Are there other reasons you’ve stayed on, pushing through your unhappiness? 


melissa anzman

About Melissa

Melissa Anzman is the creator of Launch Your Job  where she equips ambitious leaders with practical ways to grow their career. She is the author of two books: How to Land a Job and Stop Hating Your Job. Follow her @MelissaAnzman.


{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Jenn February 26, 2013 at 9:30 am

I’ve had this conversation in my head and with friends a lot lately. Based on these markers, I should probably stay in my job. My biggest concern though is a lack of professional development and opportunities for growth. At some point, even if you’re working at the best company ever, there seems to come a time when you need to take a big step forward. If my company isn’t offering me that for the forseeable future, then it’s time to look for the next challenge. (But maybe not leave the current job until I find the next one!)


Sam Luther February 26, 2013 at 10:35 am

Jenn, I’m not sure what field you are in but one thing that I recently figured out, like a big light bulb going off is that professional development isn’t going to just be handed to me. I have spent the last few months doing some serious research, finding books, blogs, etc. that will help me. My theory is that if you are willing to do the work to be on this rockin’ blog, then you are absolutely motivated to search for your appropriate professional development. The only thing that truly stinks about that is it makes it difficult to know if you are going in a direction that will help you at your current company, but worst case scenario you are building a solid foundation that will only help you in the future! Goodluck!!


Jenn February 26, 2013 at 10:40 am

I definitely agree – I’ve taken full advantage of all the trainings my company offers and expanded my role in professional organizations outside the company as well. For my personal situation, it’s less about the mentoring and more about what opportunities exist for me to grow into, and at this point there isn’t. So while I’m not unhappy at the moment, my five year plan is in the back of my mind and I’m always thinking about where each professional decision will lead.


melissalywc February 26, 2013 at 1:14 pm

It sounds like you are thinking long-term, which is awesome. Start making mini-goals around personal development (or a full-blown career development plan – Jenny has an awesome template for this). And then start chipping away at it. Do not let company resources go to waste while you have them! If there are courses they provide, carve out the time… and then find something external that interests you as well. Make little strides to start building your toolbox.


melissalywc February 26, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Yes yes yes!!! Personal development is NEVER something that will be handed to you – YOU have to drive that bus. It’s so hard to fit in one more thing into “working on your career,” especially when your boss is not mandating it (or worse, not supporting it) – but only you can grow your talent.


melissalywc February 26, 2013 at 1:11 pm

@jenniferalaine:disqus – Absolutely! These are not “stay in that job forever” advice, but for immediate state decisions. When you look at your career in the long-term and where you want it to go, if the pieces aren’t there/still ringing true such as growth opportunities, then it could be time to reevaluate. But I would suggest not leaving a job that meets the top 5 things to say, before finding a new one (I have done this several times – both sides of the fence, and it was *much* better waiting it out).


Sam Luther February 26, 2013 at 10:16 am

Melissa, thank you so much for posting this – what perfect timing!! As you know I have been going back and forth in the MSH course as to what to do with my career and I have been desperately looking for clarity as to make a decision. Incredible how the universe has a way of giving you signs when you are willing to notice them!


Sam Luther February 26, 2013 at 10:21 am

PS. #3 You are on board with a greater mission is my favorite. Sometimes I feel like my company has two divisions the business side and then the true core of why we started it – to help all athletes have equal opportunity in showcasing their athletic skill. A mission that is dear to my heart. At times I get overwhelmed by the business side of it, but reading this made me realize that when the biz starts overshadowing the core mission, it is my responsibility to stand my ground and bring our vision back. Thank you for that!


melissalywc February 26, 2013 at 1:09 pm

Hi @56a9cf5bff6f55478e096bb77f7b989f:disqus – I’m so glad the timing of this resonates with where you are! #3 was a huge factor for me to, as I shared. Knowing that you are truly fulfilling something that’s important to YOU, makes all of the difference during bumps in the road. Glad it is a sign for you. :)


Drew Tewell February 26, 2013 at 8:09 pm

Quitting your job is serious, but it happens. Usually more than once. Be proactive and build your professional brand and your network before you need them. Thanks for sharing, Melissa!


melissalywc February 27, 2013 at 4:49 pm

Quitting definitely happens… but from my experience, it’s always better when you’ve thought a little bit ahead, before making the plunge. And I’ve also learned that sometimes when you leave for the wrong reasons, you end up in a worse environment than the one you were leaving. :)


Susan Cooper February 26, 2013 at 9:21 pm

It is so important to know when you need to hold your ground or walk away from a job. Especially in today’s tough job market, if you leave too soon, it may be hard to find another position. I completely agree that you should leave when you are in an abusive work environment. Great article. :-)


melissalywc February 27, 2013 at 4:51 pm

Thanks @twitter-79411452:disqus! Our current job market definitely encourages a bit more trepidation before making the plunge, but there are still opportunities out there – so it’s about leaving for the right reasons, at the right time. :)


Aimee Fahey March 9, 2013 at 8:39 pm

Agree with all but the part about staying in your job with a crappy boss. The “If your boss is your only thorn in your side” comment minimizes what impact one’s boss can have over their entire ability to be successful, how one’s boss can make or break your reputation within a company and, as importantly, support you in moving into a new role. Rather than tell people to stay in their jobs anyhow, I would suggest instead looking into new ways to communicate with the boss, and see if a heart-to-heart would help, or asking for different work (or hours, or whatever applies) might help the relationship. But there are a lot of jackasses in management roles, and I don’t think it’s a negative to give yourself permission to leave a job because of a poor relationship with your boss. The main thing is to learn how to spot a bad manager before you start to work for them (i.e., learning how to ‘interview them back’), as many of us job-hunt in a way that’s just looking for them to like us, but don’t spend much time analyzing how much we truly like them…


melissalywc May 20, 2013 at 10:38 am

Thanks for adding your perspective @bd005efd164465fc290215ef28e394a3:disqus . It’s always better to have a conversation before making decisions, but if you have a horrific boss, most likely it’s gotten that way because you two haven’t been able to connect and discuss all of the things that matter – but it’s definitely a good place to start.


Liz May 19, 2013 at 10:49 pm

I recently left a position where my boss was a fun guy, but totally unprofessional. You could talk to him for hours, but if you had a sick day, he’d be the first one talking behind your back to your coworkers. I was depressed for the last 5 months of the position- my skin got horrible and I gained weight. Towards the end, I was starting to be cut out of major projects, so I took this as a cue to leave. I have never had a job where I loathed coming into work until this one.


melissalywc May 20, 2013 at 10:36 am

@b73e895b6757e4c333674dbc32dee7d8:disqus – That sounds like a terrible situation to be in. I’m glad that you took the initiative to realize it wasn’t a healthy place for you, and took the cue to leave. Work effecting you like is never a good sign – it will be better (or hopefully it already is!), in your next role!


stella December 20, 2013 at 12:57 am

ive been at a job for barely 5 months, its what i thought i wanted to start out with as a career in nonprofit but it doesnt seem to be what i wanted to do. people are ungrateful but i dont know what else i would do.


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