The Great Resignation may feel like a farce for workers who can’t quit their jobs.
There are myriad reasons that employees who might want to leave their jobs cannot do so — financial obligations, health care benefits or a fear of the unknown. But that doesn’t make the desire to leave any less acute.
Career transitions are rarely seamless, says Octavia Goredema, a career coach and the founder of Twenty Ten Agency, a career coaching company. But what you do today won’t define you forever.
“Your current situation is a steppingstone to something better,” she said. “You might not be able to see or reach for it right now, but trust that it’s there.”
Read on for tips on how to make your current working situation more bearable and how to prepare for an eventual departure from your job.
Understand why you want to quit
Reflect on what isn’t working for you in your current job, Goredema said. Is it the work environment or your role? Do you not feel valued at the organization?
It’s important to “understand what your triggers are,” said Denise Pinkett, head of people at HUM Nutrition, a vitamin and supplement company. For example, if you wake up dreading the workday, “dig into that feeling,” she said. Pinkett advises asking yourself whether it’s the work itself or the coworkers causing your unhappiness or frustration at work.
Then think about what attracted you to the job in the first place, and what could make the situation improve in the short term. Taking initiative can help. Consider asking if you can attend a meeting that you usually wouldn’t, or work on a project that aligns more with your interests.
“Doors might start to open that you might have never known were there,” Goredema said.
Write down your wins
Keep a list of your short-term accomplishments to recognize what you have achieved — and refer to it when negotiating for higher pay or a different role with your current employer, as well as in future job interviews. It can range from finishing a big project to getting your to-do list done. That helps you see your progress where you currently work, which is important if you’re feeling stuck, Goredema said.
It also helps validate your work, which is important even if your employer isn’t recognizing it.
Speak to your manager
Once you reflect on your work situation, it’s important to inform your manager, career experts say.
“If you do not say something, there’s no way for them to know,” said Sertrice Grice, chief consulting officer and co-founder of Mattingly Solutions, a consulting firm focused on diversity, equity and inclusion.
Instead of simply telling your manager that you’re unfulfilled, articulate what precisely is making you unhappy. Grice suggests statements such as, “I’m not happy because X, Y, and Z. What are some options for me to do better here?” and “I like working here, I just want to find a way to be a bit more satisfied.”
And don’t make it seem like you have one foot out the door.
“If they think you’re a flight risk, they may start looking to replace you,” said Pinkett of HUM Nutrition. Rather, focus on being “a little more transparent about what you need to feel fulfilled.”
If your direct manager is part of the problem, seek out their manager or your “dotted line manager,” such as another leader you report to for certain projects, Grice said. She recommends using language such as: “I do not feel comfortable working under [your manager’s name]. I would really like it if there’s a way for me to get a new assignment. I know these things take time, but I wanted to bring it to your attention.”
“It’s OK to have these conversations,” Grice said. “If that conversation doesn’t go well, or if you don’t feel comfortable, just because of the culture of the organization you’re in, figure out how you can get out.”
And make sure to leave the meeting with actionable next steps, such as a plan to meet again in a few weeks, experts say.
Negotiate a higher salary
Today’s competitive labor market means employers might offer higher salaries to attract new hires. It’s not unreasonable for current employees to ask for a raise to match the new employees’ compensation, said Blake Ashforth, a professor at Arizona State University who focuses on management.
But don’t overplay your hand. Research the approximate salary for your job in your industry and area. Sites such as Glassdoor often list company salaries or other pay data, or you can connect with trusted industry colleagues to get a feel for pay ranges.
This also applies if you’re now doing two jobs because a co-worker left, said Lazetta Rainey Braxton, co-chief executive at 2050 Wealth Partners, a virtual financial planning and wealth management firm. Negotiate to get paid for your additional responsibilities.
If you’re planning to leave your job, build savings to support a transition. Braxton advises making a “lifestyle plan” around the monthly cost of running your household. That budget should factor in how long it might take you to find a new job and account for time off between your old and new jobs, as well as costs such as relocation.
“Quantify your time horizons,” she said.
A good goal is saving six months’ worth of expenses, said Brittney Castro, a certified financial planner. Depending on your risk tolerance, you might set aside only three or four months’ worth.
Review your benefits
Consider the value of your health insurance, 401(k) plan and any other benefits your current company offers when planning for an eventual job transition, Castro said.
If other companies don’t offer the same level of benefits, it may be a good idea to negotiate for a higher salary, Castro said.
If you leave without moving immediately to another job, set aside funds for COBRA health insurance, a federally administered program that allows workers to remain on an employer-sponsored health insurance plan in certain circumstances. Cash out any paid time off or sick leave you have earned.
Don’t wait until you’re debt-free
You don’t need to pay off all debt before leaving a role that isn’t working for you, Castro said. Instead, find a balance between paying off debt and building your savings.
If you need help balancing priorities, it may be a good idea to work with an affordable financial planner who charges by the hour to create a plan, Castro said. She suggests checking the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards’ website to find a planner who could work within your budget.
Network, internally and externally
Speaking with people in your desired industry is a good use of time when in an unfulfilling role. Depending on the shift you’re hoping to make, it could make sense to start with people at your workplace.
“Network with people internally in different departments. … Get to know them, and let them know your interest,” said Grice of Mattingly Solutions. “When opportunities and projects come up, they’re more likely to think of you.”
Don’t worry about job hopping
If you feel like you’re going nowhere at your current workplace, don’t let the fear of being considered a “job hopper” keep you from leaving.
“We’re in a pandemic. Take nothing for granted,” said Pinkett. “Live your life the way you would like to and design the life that you love.”
Find new projects in your current workplace that let you hone new skills. That could impress your boss, open up new possibilities, and give you experience that will look good on your résumé for future job searches, said Ashforth of ASU.
“Intrinsic stuff really does matter,” he said. “We tend to forget the job itself matters in terms of giving you the knowledge, skills and abilities you need down the road.”