ExitIf you really don’t like where you work, you are not alone. A Gallup poll found that more than half of workers are either “enduring” their current jobs or actively hating then. In another poll, more than 50 percent of employees surveyed left their jobs as a result of a “jerk” boss.

But quitting your job in today’s difficult economy is a scary decision to make. Finding another job with the same or better pay is challenging, to say the least. So, it is wise to stop and think about the realities of life before you say, “Take this job and shove it!” and walk out the door.

As a psychologist, career coach, and business consultant, I’ve seen the challenges that arise when there is a bad match between employees, supervisors, and employers from multiple perspectives. In our book, Rising Above a Toxic Workplace, my coauthors and I interviewed dozens of people who had worked or were working in unhealthy work environments. Many who reported that they had chosen to leave a toxic workplace stated that they didn’t realize how bad their situation was until after they left. As one person told us, “I can’t believe I didn’t see how bad it was sooner!”

How Bad Is Your Job, Really?

One helpful approach to deciding whether or not it’s time to quit is to assess the situation at your job by asking a series of questions regarding the problem behaviors and negative characteristics displayed in the organization.

- How Many Problem Behaviors Are There?

Just one or two? Or are there 10 or more? Or seemingly too many to count?

- What Has Been the Duration of the Problem Behaviors?

That is, how long have they existed? Are they relatively new, or have they been there as long as you have worked there, or possibly longer?

- What Is the Frequency of the Negative Behaviors?

How often do they occur? Daily? Weekly? Every three months?

- What Is the Intensity of the Behaviors?

For example, there is a difference between your supervisor using an angry tone with you and your supervisor swearing at you.

- How Many People Display the Behaviors Regularly?

Is it primarily your supervisor or one colleague, or are the behaviors rampant across most of the organization and at multiple levels?Yellow

- What Solutions Have Been Tried, if Any, by You or Others?

What results have occurred in response to the actions taken? If no interventions have been tried yet, why not?

- How Do the Negative Behaviors and Characteristics Impact the Organization?

Is the overall culture of the workplace negative? Is the organization functioning as it should (positive impact, goals achieved)?

- How Do the Negative Behaviors and Characteristics Impact You?

The behaviors may affect your physical and emotional health, relationships, and behaviors, just to name a few of the ways they may impact you.

- Were Your Concerns Raised by a Series of Recent Events, or Do They Result From a Pattern of Long-Term, Chronic Negative Behavior?

It is important to take some time to think through and write down your answers to the previous questions. It is relatively easy to quickly go through them in your mind, but if you take the time to reflect and write down specifics, you will gain a far more accurate picture of the seriousness (or not) of the issues concerning you.

You Have a Decision to Make

Once you’ve answered these questions, you must take some action. This is your life, and if you don’t take responsibility for it, no one will. Remember: Choosing to do nothing is a choice. You are essentially saying, “I like my life at work now (in comparison to my options) and I want to continue there.”

Generally speaking, you have three options when things are bad at work:

  1. Continue at your current workplace.
  2. Leave your current job and pursue work someplace else.
  3. Decide that you do not want to continue to work at your current job, but that you need to take a series of steps to find an acceptable new job, and that you are going to actively pursue those steps.

If you decide to stay:

- Identify what you need to do for you. You need to take care of yourself; if you don’t, no one else will.

- Determine what action steps you can take to help make the workplace healthier.

Heat- Set a time frame by which you will reevaluate the situation (e.g., six months). See if you are managing the stress from work okay (and ask those around you). Be honest with yourself: Has the situation gotten worse, or has it improved?

If you believe you need to leave:

- Seek counsel to make sure you are thinking clearly and haven’t overlooked something important.

- Take steps to prepare: Get your resume in order, start looking for job opportunities, discreetly put the word out that you’re open to new work, and start saving money to help you during the transition.

- Develop a plan for finding your next job and implement it.

- Continue to implement the plan over time.

- Determine when “enough is enough.” Sometimes you just can’t take any more. If your health is deteriorating or your boss does or says something that is totally unacceptable, it may be time to just get out, even if you don’t have a new job in place yet.

- Finally, if at all possible, avoid getting into a position of being desperate. If possible, keep working while you look for another job. Keep your expenses low. Consider taking a “fill in the gap” job just for cash flow while you look for another job in your field of expertise. Assume that finding a job will take at least two times longer than you think it will (and often, it will take far longer than that).


Remember, your career is a pathway over time comprised of individual steps you take. Continue to pursue your goals and dreams — keep going in the right direction, making adjustments along the way, and you will continue to get closer to your ultimate goal.

Adapted from “How To Decide When to Leave Your Job” by Dr. Paul White.

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