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The Great Resignation: How to know when it’s time to quit your job – and how to do it right

As employees leave their jobs in droves across the globe, Kate Ng speaks to a career coach to find out what questions we should be asking ourselves before quitting and how to go about it

Kate Ng
Friday 27 August 2021 17:09 BST

The lifting of lockdown restrictions has triggered an unprecedented exodus of employees turning away from the jobs they held before the coronavirus pandemic struck, a phenomenon some economists have dubbed “The Great Resignation”.

In the last 18 months, people all over the world have been forced to examine their lives in a different light, including what they do in order to make a living – and data shows that many of them are choosing not to stay in jobs that they don’t already love.

Job vacancies reached an all-time high in July, nearly reaching a million available posts for the first time in the UK, and a study by HR software firm Personio found 38 per cent of employees planned to quit within the next six months to a year.

Victoria McLean, a career coach and founder and CEO of City CV, said people were quitting their jobs in droves because their priorities have changed post-pandemic.

“We go to work to earn money, but actually there’s a lot more to it and people are realising that now more than ever,” she told The Independent.

“We want to feel fulfilled, be challenged, we want to develop and be in a role where we are thriving. When you thrive and are happy in a role, it can be really transformative and you feel happier in every part of your life.”

The shift in priorities varies from person to person. For some, lockdown allowed them to put their families before work, while for others, it made them realise life’s too short to stay in a job they don’t love.

Whatever the reason for wanting to quit or change roles, McLean gives her top tips for quitting the right way.

When do I know it’s time to quit?

There are three elements that come into play when thinking about what to do with your career, says McLean; the company you work for, the role that you’re in and the sector you’re in.

“You might be in the perfect company for you, but in the wrong role, or in the right role but the wrong sector – any combination in which one of those elements feels wrong for you could drive you into wanting to quit,” she said. “Role, sector and company need to be balanced.

“Often, it’s a good idea to see if you can have the right career conversation with someone in your company. A lot of people resign unnecessarily, but if you can have a conversation about changing roles or teams without resigning, you might find you’re much happier just by making that pivot.”

However, there are a number of questions you should ask yourself if you are thinking of resigning. Do you feel like you’re thriving? Do you feel respected by your managers and colleagues, and confident in your role? Is the culture good for you? Are there opportunities for career progression?

“If you feel miserable in your role and have the Sunday night blues, then it’s time to move on,” advises McLean. “Any toxic environment or feeling that your company isn’t treating you or anyone else well is worth examining.

If you feel burnt out because you’re having to work long hours, or your boss is micromanaging you, or all your energy is being sapped from you throughout your working days – these are all reasons to resign, she said.

Laying out the pros and cons of your job is a good way of getting some perspective on whether your current job is right for you, said McLean.

“When we advise employees, we go through an audit of their job to think about a number of things,” she said.

“Once you figure out your values and what’s important to you, you can take a closer look at why you want to quit. Often, you may find you’re unhappy because your values are misaligned with your company or your boss.”

With more people recognising the importance of work/life balance, this is a good time to figure out your priorities. Research shows that 75 per cent of employees would prefer a hybrid working model rather than going back to the office full-time, while searches for remote work on job search site Indeed have soared by more than 500 per cent since February 2020.

“We’re more geographically mobile, we can work form home, so why not get a job somewhere else in the world?” said McLean.

“There’s a lot more opportunity because much of the world was working from home. Think about how you can progress your career or where you want to go. A really positive reason for leaving a current job is that you want to grow and develop in your career.”

How do I quit?

If you are thinking seriously about quitting your job, McLean advises having a sit-down with your manager or HR to talk about what changes could be made that would make you stay.

“It doesn’t hurt to see what options are available to you before you quit,” she said. “This is also a really great way to get a pay rise. Employers do not want to lose their people, and they can often change your role completely.”

But if your heart is set on leaving, then do so on good terms.

“Don’t burn any bridges when you quit,” said McLean. “You never know what the future holds. Most industries are fairly small and people move around in the same circles, so leave on really good terms.”

Once you have decided, don’t “dilly dally”, she adds. “Continuing to work when you know you want to quit is very demoralising, so tell your manager as soon as possible and make sure they hear it from you, not anyone else. Be honest, don’t blame anybody and be polite in your resignation letter.”

But what if you’re quitting because of a toxic work environment or person?

“I’d still try to leave on good terms even if it’s been toxic, and during the exit interview – which is usually carried out by HR – that’s your opportunity to be really honest because everyone can learn from that experience.

“The more positive your exit can be the better. Also, from an employer’s perspective, you never know when you want to rehire someone so they should help people exit in the best way possible.”

What do I do if I get another job offer?

If you have received a job offer that you really want to pursue, you should take your time to make sure it’s exactly what you want.

“Don’t be too hasty, check out the final details and make sure in writing it’s exactly what you want,” said McLean. “Think of the interview, did you ask everything you wanted to? Were there any questions that weren’t quite answered in the way you wanted? That can be a warning sign.”

She also advises not to be afraid to negotiate salaries, and to make sure the new role is in the direction you want to take.

“Be really clear about it. It’s worth having a list of pros and cons and ensuring your next job meets all those needs.

“If it doesn’t, then don’t take it if you can afford not to. Right now, it’s really in your favour as a job-seeker so figure out what is non-negotiable in your next job and have the confidence not to take it if it doesn’t meet your criteria.”

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