Returning to work in the new year can be rough. And for some, the itch to quit may be burning stronger than ever — even if they don’t yet have a new job prospect lined up.
It’s no coincidence January is a peak time for job searches on Monster.ca. Time off during the holidays is often used to reflect and make resolutions for a happier and more fulfilled life, one which seemingly conflicts with the current reality.
It can make for a busy month for life coaches and psychologists, who counsel disenchanted employees on how and when to leave their job.
“I’ve had clients come in who say, ‘every time I go to work, I just feel depressed and like I can’t be there anymore,'” said Natasha Sharma, a Toronto-based happiness and relationship expert and author of The Kindness Journal.
There can be a multitude of other reasons, though, for wanting to leave.
Sharma says some people need recognition and more meaningful projects. They may be bored and just going through the motions. Others are overworked.
“Burnout is another big issue,” Sharma warned. “That can lead to anxiety that’s very severe.”
She and other experts have seen a growing desire for more flexibility in the workforce, even if it comes at the cost of less money.
Sharma can relate. She grew tired of working for someone else and opened her own mental health practice. But not without careful planning.
Here’s what she and other experts think you should do before pulling the plug on your livelihood.
1. Look at your finances
“I think the first question people have to ask themselves,” Sharma said, “is number one: Can they afford it?”
“You could walk out on a job, but if it’s going to drastically affect your livelihood, you are not going to be happy.
“The only exception is if you’re at a job where your mental and physical health is suffering so badly that leaving and having to pinch financially would outweigh staying.”
“I will tell a person if they quit their job, they’re literally going to need a year of income. I do not think the job market is fun and friendly. I don’t think getting a job is easy.”
She also doesn’t think blowing through savings to support yourself for an indefinite period of time is a good idea.
Nor does she believe it puts you in the best job-hunting position, as you may eventually feel forced to accept something you don’t truly love because of financial pressure. If that happens, chances are you won’t enjoy that job for long either.
Even if you plan to start your own venture, she points out business doesn’t always boom right away. You’ll still need a cushion to soften the blow.
A good staring point would be to set up a free meeting with a financial adviser to see where you stand.
2. Figure out why you’re unhappy and what you want
The second thing you should ask yourself, Sharma says, is: “What are my reasons for wanting to submit my resignation? What am I not getting here?”
Once you identify exactly why you want to leave — whether it’s because you want a higher salary, more vacation or flex time — Sharma urges people to first find out if there’s any way they can get that at their current place of employment.
“If you don’t ask, you don’t get,” she said.
Worst-case scenario is you’re told “no,” which can empower you to move on to something new with no regrets.
Some people might also need help uncovering what their true passion is. That’s Zander’s specialty.
“You’d be amazed at how few people do what they love,” she said.
To help her clients realize what they want and how they’re standing in their own way, Zander gets them to complete self-discovering homework assignments (the first of which takes roughly five hours).
One exercise the life coach teaches her clients is to think of the life they want to have two years from now. She then gets them to visualize it daily until that goal is within reach.
3. Make a plan
Set a deadline for yourself and map out the incremental moves you can take until then.
Stanford researcher Bill Burnett co-wrote a book on that topic. It’s called Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life.
Burnett argues it’s much easier to “prototype” the career you want by breaking it up into small steps that lead you towards your goal. Some examples of this can include taking an online or night class that teaches you a new skill, and talking to someone who already does what you want to do.
“Just because you can’t walk out the door tomorrow,” Sharma said, “doesn’t mean you can’t walk out the door in three or six months from now.”
“Start putting into motion the tools to get you where you’d rather be.”
4. Get back to your A-game
The first thing Zander does with clients who want out of their job is get them to be great at it again.
“I think what normally happens when a person … is thinking about leaving a job, is they become a C-player … I like [A-players] thinking about what’s next for them.”
“If you’re like, ‘I hate my job … I hate my boss,’ I would go, ‘OK, we’re going to leave your job but first we’re going to get an A so your boss is begging you to not to leave.
“There’s no better place to practice than the place you’re leaving. That’s not the place to be an a**hole. That’s the place you want a recommendation from.”
Zander says she can help her clients pull the transformation off in as little as a month. She starts by getting them to admit all the ways they’ve been “sucking” — like coming in late or not caring — and stop.
It’s not just performance inside the workplace Zander cares about.
She makes her clients get into better physical shape, as well. She explains if you’re exercising and taking care of yourself, your level of thinking will be higher across the board.
5. Leave on a good note
When you’re at the top of your game and things still haven’t improved, it’s time to take the plunge.
Your resignation letter just needs to clearly state you’re leaving, and ideally at least two weeks notice.
It doesn’t have to be long or detailed. Keep it classy, though, and express some gratitude for your time at the company.
“It’s best not to burn any bridges on your way out,” said Arturo Gallo of Monster.ca.
“You may work in a close-knit industry and you never know when you might work alongside a former colleague – or under a former boss – again.
“Regardless of your situation, it’s best to be mature, polite and discreet on your way out the door.”
6. Realize no job is perfect
Even though work is estimated to take an entire decade (24/7) of our lives, Sharma reminds people it’s not the only thing we live for.
“Soak up and enjoy all the things in your life outside of your job that are amazing,” she said.
“We can’t enjoy work all the time,” she said.
But we can manage our expectations and take ownership of the situation, she added. “You always have the choice” to leave.
“You’re as stuck as you want to be.”