Working Life: Go on, take the plunge

Your father told you never to leave a job without something to go to. But walking out can work wonders for your self-esteem. Emma Cook steers you through it

IF CAREERS can be compared to relationships, then chucking in your job is the drawn-out separation that always leaves one party feeling rejected, however diplomatic the execution may have been. And as any jilted partner will tell you, if you want to retain a modicum of self-respect, it's really a question of getting in first.

"It felt like splitting up with a boyfriend," says Louise, 32 and a copywriter working for a large advertising agency. She handed in her notice after months of feeling overlooked by bosses. "After I realised I needed to leave I stayed on far too long hoping that things would change, just as one does in a relationship that goes wrong. You become demoralised and sad as the months go by, desperately hoping things will improve but they don't. And when I eventually resigned, I felt terribly relieved."

Unlike finishing a relationship, though, resigning is still loaded with negative connotations. Despite the fact that no one expects to remain in one organisation for life, or even in the same career, walking out of your company still smacks of a lack of commitment; a sense that something went horribly wrong. Although anyone who's handed in their notice will tell you the act itself takes a fair amount of resolve and strength of mind, future employers rarely see it that way. As Stefan Stern, spokesman for the Industrial Society, says, "If you haven't got a job to go to, a recruiter will ask certain questions; 'Why did it happen?' If it's happened before they will ask, 'Why do you always run away?'"

But like all decisions that seem rash at the time, they can bring an enormous sense of exhilaration. "I felt miserable for months, and just making the decision to get out felt like a tremendous step forward. I felt liberated," says Sophie, 30, a management consultant who walked out of a highly paid job last summer. Louise agrees. "I was able to walk away without a twinge of regret. I felt totally calm and peaceful." Having said that, by the time Louise had handed in her notice, she had another job lined up. "My self-esteem was too low to leave without having another position to go to."

Sometimes it isn't so much the fear of what you are leaving, more a dread of your employer's reaction. There are plenty of scary stories that tell of the shamed ex-employee asked to clear their desk in front of shocked and silent colleagues, after which they are "escorted from the premises" by a security guard. We still fear that employers will somehow have the ultimate revenge; the power to make us feel we're in the wrong and that everyone else will find out. Surely that's why so many workers suffer silently in jobs that make them miserable; they rarely even admit to their bosses that they're unhappy. That would look too much like weakness. "People are so frightened to have these sorts of conversations," says Ros Taylor, director of Plus Consulting. "They're afraid of how they'll be asked to leave. Employers as well need to learn that when people leave it isn't necessarily disloyalty. It's good for the company - it introduces new blood. And it can be rejuvenating." Both sides need to view the inevitable conclusion as the next natural stage - a little like children flying the nest. Taylor recalls a company who actively nurture their employees when they want to leave - advising and helping them in whatever path they wish to follow. Interestingly, they have a number of returners who rejoin the company and bring back fresh experience from elsewhere. It's hard to imagine other organisations adopting such an enlightened attitude.

Instead, since so little discussion takes place, resigning ends up as the final opportunity to "set the record straight", in other words, the culmination of months of petty grudges and resentments. One disgruntled friend of a friend was so disillusioned with her job in a marketing company, she used her resignation letter to air a whole list of grievances, along the lines of, "And while I'm on the subject, you never gave me the chance to achieve X,Y and Z, and I really wasn't happy when you said such-and- such," along with other angry accusations, most of which sounded dangerously like sour grapes. Certainly, they weren't the sort of thoughts you'd want to commit to paper, especially with a photocopier in the vicinity.

When Rob, 34 and then working as a manager in a retail company, decided to leave, he was definitely hoping for a reaction. "I was really looking forward to it. I wanted to shock them. I almost wanted them to think, 'What have we done to offend him?'" Rob's work had become so intolerable that even the idea of going on the dole seemed blissful compared to spending ten hours a day feeling compromised. After Rob left, he did nothing for several weeks, and then signed up for a writing course, which led to freelancing. Like Louise, the first analogy he mentions is the relationship one. "I'd finished a six-year relationship some time before I chucked in the job. It was a similar experience in that when you get out of an unhappy situation you can suddenly gain perspective. In both cases, I didn't realise how depressed I had been until I left."

Still, in terms of work, it's not an example career advisors would advocate. Stern says, "There are a few cliches that still have some truth; you should try to leave on good terms because you don't know when you'll be back. It may be tempting to send a poisonous memo saying, 'I never liked you anyway', but things get spread around - you never know who's friends with other people."

Despite paying lip service to the idea that resigning can be empowering, the sensible, grown-up view is one of extreme caution. Drop the fantasy of storming into your boss's office, shouting "I quit" and slamming the door behind you in triumphant fury. Or at least if you do, make sure you've got a much better alternative waiting in the wings.

"Resign in haste and repent at leisure," warns Stern. "Although if it's done in the right way it can be a positive experiences. But you've got to think things through." Taylor agrees. "Plan for it. Give yourself three months. Start sending out letters to head-hunters. Have something to go for and set timescales." Above all, she says, feel positive. That's all very wise, but as most over-worked employees can testify, it's almost impossible to job-hunt seriously while still in a current position - especially an unhappy one. Somehow all your energy gets sapped by the living nightmare of feeling miserable and under-valued. That's why careers advisors shouldn't be quite so cut and dry about planning carefully for the next stage of life.

Rob's decision was spontaneous but, as it happened, it was the best way of finding out what he really wanted to do. "It was a case of jumping in at the deep end. I knew that was the only way I could motivate myself to get a proper job, rather than falling into something for the sake of it. I also knew that whatever I did next had to be more enjoyable. Then, when I followed my instincts, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted."

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
Life and Style
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

    £45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

    Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

    £60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

    Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

    £50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

    Java Developer - 1 year contract

    £350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone