Is it stupid to choose unemployment during a recession?
July 6, 2009 3:46 PM   Subscribe

Is it stupid to choose unemployment during a recession?

I'm in my late 20s and have been working at a high stress company where I really feel like I'm a bad fit for the culture, and where I'm burnt out to the point that I feel certain that I don't want to be working there much longer. I know that the practical thing to do is to seek out jobs elsewhere and not leave until I have something else lined up, and I have actually been combing job listings.

However, I've been thinking about the fact that I haven't had more than a week off since graduating college, and how it would be nice to take some time off, maybe 2-3 months, to do some soul searching, figure out what I'd really like to be doing, and maybe get to some of the things that I haven't had time to do with work hanging overhead.

If I was certain I could get a job at the end of that period I'd submit my resignation tomorrow, but word on the street is that it's not all that easy these days. I have about $15k in savings, and while I'm comfortable spending some of it, I'd like to have some left over, and I don't want to find myself going months without being able to find a job. Does anyone have experience with this? Is my little daydream thoroughly impractical? Should I just take a week off and continue applying for jobs? Any thoughts are appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (28 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Be advised that when you are burnt out in a high-stress activity and switch to doing nothing for awhile, the first month or so is bound to be pretty unproductive "recovery time." Don't expect to find yourself right away. I would budget a month to recover, another couple months to enjoy yourself and figure out what you might like to do, and THEN you will be able to START looking for a job.

But for what it's worth, both my partner and I have done this recently, and it was totally worth it. For him, it allowed him to pursue an interest to the point of turning it into a profession. For me, I am now finding my way back to my original profession, but I am so much more ready to jump into the next year as a result of having time to recover and relax.

For me, it was easy to find a new job because I work in a high-demand field, so YMMV.
posted by mai at 3:55 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm really not trying to be a dick, but I'd say that the fact that you're asking this question to internet strangers tells me you probably wouldn't use the 2-3 months very productively, especially since you're so burnt out.

Yeah, if you have some vacation to burn, I'd say spread it out over a few extra-long weekends.
posted by mpls2 at 3:57 PM on July 6, 2009

Be very sure of your states unemployment benefits regulations before you do so - they do vary. I'm sure there's a website that tells you all you need to know (like how quitting vs being laid-off or fired affects your chances of collecting unemployment etc). And if you are dead set on leaving, burn your sick leave and vacation first. Just saying.

In my more than 25+ years of gainful (hehe) employment I've had to use unemployment benefits a couple times for brief periods. I actually enjoyed the time off (sleep is nice) but it's not my preferred work ethic. So then the question becomes how serious you take your civics. You've already paid for your unemployment - it's taken from your paycheck (ok its more complicated than that but still). Is it good for overall economy? Heck no. Is it good for you? Only you can answer that.
posted by elendil71 at 4:06 PM on July 6, 2009

I'd try to find a job that you can use as a transition, something that will help you pay some of the bills so you're not living off your savings. Maybe retail, waitstaff, barrista, that type of thing. I personally find that I'm not more productive when I'm unemployed than when I'm working 20-30 hours a week. Days seem to slip away when you really have nothing to do. A nice part-time job can give you structure and maybe give you some insight about what you didn't like about your former job.
posted by bluejayk at 4:11 PM on July 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

In my experience, two or three months spent sitting around the house searching your soul and mowing the lawn isn't going to help you find yourself any better than just going to work.

But when you do finally end up "finding yourself" you'll have more cash. And these days, capital is king.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:24 PM on July 6, 2009 [6 favorites]

Keep your job while also looking for a new one.

Don't be an idiot.
posted by rokusan at 4:28 PM on July 6, 2009 [5 favorites]

There are few things in this life more likely to feed depression than being burned out by your job.

Having no job and running out of money without being able to find a new one is one of them.

Don't do it.
posted by The World Famous at 4:37 PM on July 6, 2009 [15 favorites]

The short answer to each of your questions is yes.

Keep the job. Especially because (at least where I am), you can't get unemployment insurance benefits if you leave voluntarily.

These days "not all that easy" is an understatement. Depending on where you live and your monthly expenses, you have to be prepared to burn through all of that 15K and then some. To me, it's a really stupid idea to do it voluntarily without any sort of back-up plan/income.

Take a week off or work out some sort of flex-time deal with your employer. Maybe a sabbatical or something. Burnt-out employees are unproductive employees and it's better for both of you to keep you on board while giving you a chance to recharge. Good luck.
posted by ml98tu at 4:43 PM on July 6, 2009

I say quit, but live frugally, and have a solid plan for what to do if you can't find another job as soon as you'd like to.

But you probably don't want to just stay where you live the whole time, either. Sublet your place and then travel cheaply (couch surfing, ride sharing, etc).
posted by fourmajor at 4:49 PM on July 6, 2009

I agree with bluejayk - find a part time retail gig (they are findable, I promise!), then quit your job, preferably without burning bridges - and have fun!

I don't know how what your expenses are - rent, car insurance, food - but make sure you've planned out how long you can last before you have to get a "real job" again. (Personally, I wouldn't want to have no job and less than $10,000 on hand, in case of emergency.)

You don't indicate whether it is the industry that is the problem, or the company. Do you want to keep doing what you are doing in a different firm, or are you no longer interested in that career? I think that is the most important thing to answer during this period.

Anecdotally, in March of this year, my 25 year old brother quit his job. He was working as a flash developer and decided he was sick and tired of how he was being treated at the company. He has been freelancing, working on personal projects, and stealing my DVD sets ever since. I don't think it's been everything he thought it would be - he gets bored during the day because all his friends are at work, etc - but I know that he would do it again in a heartbeat.

Life is too short to be miserable and burnt out! Whatever you choose to do, good luck.
posted by firei at 5:02 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

It is a bad idea to leave a job in this economic climate without having another one lined up. That doesn't mean, however, you should stay in such an unhappy work situation. Ideally, you could find a full-time job in a better work environment, and that would be the change you need. This will take time, patience, and perseverance. If that's not feasible, I also really like bluejayk's idea of a transitional/part-time job. It gives you structure, but it also gives you freedom to recoup and figure out your next steps. Plus, your savings will go a lot farther if you have some part-time income to supplement it.

Some other things to consider before leaving:
1. Are you due a bonus at the end of the year? It may be worth sticking it out until then so you'd have those funds to work with as well.

2. Do you have to be at your job for a certain period of time before you would be vested in a 401k, profit sharing plan, etc? If we're not talking years, it's probably well worth it to stay until you're vested.

3. Do you have vacation time coming to you? Maybe you should take it and give yourself a chance to decompress and reevaluate before making any major decisions. It's really easy to leap from a bad situation into a worse one when you are so burnt out.

Whatever you decide to do, good luck!
posted by katemcd at 5:02 PM on July 6, 2009

Helping people find work is what I do for a living. Be aware that if you walk away from your job now without another one lined up it will raise a lot of red flags for potential employers. Also, if you mention that you were burned out in your 20's--regardless of how valid that burnout feeling is--it will raise even more red flags.

The biggest red flag potential employers use to disqualify potential employees, though, is a large gap in time. If you leave now without something lined up, without a clear vision for yourself, you will most definitely create a very large gap in time in your resume.

This is the worst economy anyone has seen in ages. I would strongly advise that you avoid unemployment--not to mention adding all these unnecessary flags to your resume.

Instead, spend a weekend in a coffee shop and do the workbook section of What Color Is My Parachute? Get clear about who you are professionally and what your goals are. And know that for every job posting we've been placing on Cragslist we've been receiving hundreds of resumes. Please think long and hard about that. It breaks my heart to repeatedly tell phenomenally talented, bright people that we have no work for them. Some of my favorite people are now living out of their cars. This economy is not a joke. Take a vacation. Take long weekends. Go for long walks. Be kind to yourself and do what you can to get through this.
posted by ohyouknow at 5:05 PM on July 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

Seconding the workbook section of What Color Is My Parachute. It's a great resource for identifying dream jobs you are perfectly suited for and will never, ever land.
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:15 PM on July 6, 2009

I just made the same choice. I'm in my early 30s, I've been working at a high stress company where I'm a bad fit for the culture, and I was burnt out well past the point that I was certain I didn't want to be working there any longer. I held out as long as I could, did just enough job-searching to convince myself that I wasn't going to fall completely flat, but eventually could not stand it anymore and submitted my resignation. Perhaps this will seem like a terrible mistake after the salary checks dry up, but right now I feel a huge sense of relief and renewed hope for the future. I had been imagining laying around all summer trying to rest and recover, but I haven't even hit my last day yet and I already feel enthusiasm coming back.
posted by Mars Saxman at 5:18 PM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Okay I hate to be that guy who jumps in again, but from where I am standing the world is less gloom-and-doom than others are making it out to be. The realities of the economic situation depend on a lot on your city, your field, and how expensive a lifestyle you lead. Before I quit I had saved up about as much as you, and I knew that I could live comfortably for over a year on that money. But I am young and have no kids or car payments, and my rent is pretty darn cheap.

Do some research on the following to make your decision:

1. What is the job market like in your particular field for someone with your skills and experience?
2. What could you do in your "time off" that could potentially benefit your resume or job search, or help you figure out what you would rather be doing?
3. How could you cut your expenses to make your savings stretch as long as possible? I found that being unemployed was cheaper than working because I ate out less, bought fewer clothes, etc.
4. What are your back-up plans? Is there anything that you know you could do for money if you needed to? How would you feel about doing that as compared to your current job? (For me, I knew I could always pay the bills as a tutor, so I didn't worry as much).

Last bit of advice: life is short. If you don't like your life, change it. Money is not the most important thing, although it is easy to feel like you need more of it than you really do.
posted by mai at 5:21 PM on July 6, 2009

The general rule of thumb is that you can't "afford" to be unemployed unless you have at least 6-8 months worth of living expenses saved - and that means your normal living costs, not just the "essentials". If you were aiming to take a 6 month break, you'd want to start applying for stuff about the three month mark. If you're in total burn-out, a break of less than 6 months may even make it worse. In my experience, few people who take extended stress leave return to their jobs - any significant break tends to make you very "real" about just how intolerable it's become.

Take a short holiday - if you return refreshed and motivated, then you're probably not burnt out. If not, then maybe you do need to look at other options.
posted by Lolie at 5:38 PM on July 6, 2009

Keep in mind your next job, not the crappy one you're in now. That's the one that matters.

If you quit tomorrow, are unemployed for a while (and burn through your savings or at least a substantial chunk of it), and then start looking for a job, you're going to be under the gun. There's going to be a lot of pressure, when you start looking at your bank balance in the 4 and then 3 digits, to take whatever you can find. And that's what you want to avoid over everything else.

Sure it'd be nice to take a few months off and relax, but if the end result is taking a job you're not going to like more than the one you have now, or worse be forced to take one you like even less — and as much as you hate the one you have, if there is one Iron Law of job hunting I have found, it's that things can always be worse.

So do your job hunting from your current job. You'll be drawing a paycheck, you'll have benefits (what are you going to do if you fall down the stairs while unemployed?), and you'll be able to accept or reject the various offers you might get without worrying about whether you'll be able to make rent next month if you pass it up.

I've tried the quitting-to-find-work thing and it sucks. I would never do it again. It might be different if you're in a relationship with someone who'll support you, but from the way you asked your question it sounds like you're considering doing this by yourself. I wouldn't advise it.

Take some vacation if you need to get away, but don't throw away your meal ticket without having something better to replace it with.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:38 PM on July 6, 2009

I have 5 friends that have been laid off this year. One friend has been looking for four months. And I have one friend who just got a permanent job after being laid off over a year ago. This is in California, but yes, it's a really bad job market. To me, the stress of a job that sucks is bad, but not nearly as bad as the stress of not having money to pay your rent. Just saying.
posted by gt2 at 6:24 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

If it were me, I'd do it, no questions, no looking back. But this is why I've been self employed for my adult life. So it really depends on the individual. And you sound comparatively risk adverse. If you want to keep working for someone else, want to keep your savings and not go into debt, then you know exactly what to do.

You say you've been combing the job listings... are you regularly seeing jobs that you're qualified for and interested in?
posted by Ookseer at 6:27 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't do it. Taking 2-3 months off with no concrete plans will probably depress you when you don't "find yourself" and 3 months turns into 6 months...and you quit so you don't get unemployment and you have to pay 100% of the costs of COBRA...been there, done that, was pissed off that I wasted my savings which could have gone towards making me more financially independent and, in the long run, more free. Desperate, I ended up taking a job even shittier than the job I left.

Add a hobby or class that interests you to your life. Go to the bookstore and buy a book that has nothing to do with your job and read it. Take care of yourself until you can get a new job that doesn't suck. Take a day off for mental health (hell, take three) and work on some of those projects. Leave work earlier than usual. Slack a little. You're not planning on staying so don't kill yourself to meet some standard for promotion. Do enough to get by and enjoy the freedom that comes from sorta kinda not giving a fuck.

Take care of yourself, take care of your finances too.
posted by kathrineg at 7:49 PM on July 6, 2009

I'm in California. I did this a year ago and deeply regret it. The problem is threefold:

1. If you are feeling burnout, once you quit you will likely become deeply unmotivated. With savings, this can stretch out for months without you even realizing it. Money dries up fast, especially if you maintain your while-employed lifestyle to any degree.

2. The economy is terrible. It's getting worse. This might depend on field, so I could only speak for my own (software development). You may end up taking whatever you can once your savings dry up, putting you in a worse place, which is hugely demoralizing.

3. Realize you need to explain to future employers what the hell you were doing in that time. Realize that saying you got "burnt out," while understandable, doesn't look that great to someone assessing whether you will be an asset or a liability, especially if you are going back into the same profession.

That said, my own decision turned out well in the end, but mostly just from luck. I couldn't recommend to anyone in good faith to roll these dice with this economy.
posted by cj_ at 7:56 PM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Comment form a MeFite who would prefer to remain anonymous
First, find out if your state will allow you to collect unemployment if you quit. Many of them won't; you have to be laid off or cut down to part time in order to qualify for benefits. Quitting is not just cause for unemployment benefits except for in a few specific cases. So investigate that before doing anything.

My partner and I were both laid off within the same five month period. We have always lived paycheck to paycheck and had no savings in the bank. So it was kind of a desperate situation.

In my area, there are NO jobs. There are, but they are either for managerial level, highly specialized, or things we are "over qualified" for. We realize that we could easily get temp jobs, but we actually make more on unemployment than we would temping. Plus, temp jobs don't come with health insurance, and we qualified for the subsidized COBRA. So for us, being on unemployment for as long as possible is a much better deal than temping or working a low-paying job.

We do still skim the job boards just in case something comes along. But so far it hasn't. My unemployment runs out at the end of the month I think, and then I'll start getting serious about looking for unemployment, whatever the pay rate.

So, if you can get unemployment, and it will pay you a livable wage, I say go for it.

(But the other part of me says you should leave the unemployment money for people who really need it, the ones who lost their jobs, not just the ones who don't like their jobs.)
posted by jessamyn at 9:26 PM on July 6, 2009

Rather than just soul-searching, maybe you could think about doing something specific. For instance, travel, hiking, backpacking, volunteer work.

During the last recession I did a fair amount of travel, mostly in the developing world, paid for by stints of factory work or bar work... and it was great. If there's a recession on and there aren't many decent jobs around, doing something else instead can be a great idea.

But you do need to be practical about it. It depends on whether you have a safety net, for instance would your parents be happy to take you in if things got tough and you needed a roof over your head.

And as others have said, it can be surprisingly hard to get motivated when you're unemployed and have no deadlines or pressures. If you want to travel, for instance, buy the plane tickets in advance while you still have a job.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:30 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'll present an alternative model for you to consider. Maybe it's not for you.

Why not search for a new job, and, once you find one, arrange your departure and start dates so that you have a period of time off between them? Nothing huge, but you'll probably have the flexibility to take one or two weeks off. Then ... since you say you have the money to spare ... go nuts during that time. Pack a lot of fun. Plan those days to pack in as much relaxation and fun and enjoyment (and it need not necessarily mean "vacation" fun – maybe long walks, or catching up on tons of movies, or ... ).

It's a thought. Maybe you need something more substantial. But maybe that super-refresh path, combined with a less super-intensive job, would be an alternative path to what you're proposing -- and one that, I think, would be much less risky.
posted by WCityMike at 7:10 AM on July 7, 2009

Just wanted to chime in...You mention that you haven't had mroe than a week off since graduating college - be aware that many times when you start at a new company, you start at the bottom of the vacation time scale, so you may only get 2 weeks off (if any) that first year.

Also DEFINITELY check for your state's guidelines on unemployment if you quit. My state only gives unemployment to people who involuntarily lost their jobs. The only time I have collected was when I was unemployed after my time at a seasonal job position expired.
posted by WeekendJen at 7:41 AM on July 7, 2009

I was considering a voluntary resignation in late winter, but ended up getting laid off on May 1 along with more than half of my department. It's now July 7 and I am just starting to get my head out of the mind-numbing transition that is the ascent from burnout. My industry is basically getting outsourced to software or overseas [insert standard rant about quality] so I have decided to go back to school instead, this time for a counseling degree because hey, people always need therapists.

It isn't clear from your post whether you mean the "unemployment" in the post title as "not having a job" or "getting a check from the state." I am currently receiving unemployment compensation from the state of Georgia, which tops out at $297 a week after taxes, including the Obama stimulus bump. When this was announced at the mandatory orientation, jaws dropped. Several people there were under the impression that unemployment matched their previous salaries, and/or that unemployment payments are taxable income. Luckily, like the anon commenter above, I qualify for the subsidized COBRA benefit, which requires that the recipient be laid off. Without that subsidy, my entire unemployment check would go to health insurance.

Do the Parachute work, maybe see a career coach or a therapist, take some time off - but don't quit just to quit unless you have a clear idea of what you're going to do next and some concrete work on getting there.
posted by catlet at 8:48 AM on July 7, 2009

Um. "and/or that unemployment payments are NOT taxable income," which is a common misconception. The Man, both fed and state, get theirs every week.
posted by catlet at 8:50 AM on July 7, 2009

This is very late to the thread but I just wanted to chime in in case anyone's still reading. Why not take time out to travel or volunteer? Quitting your job in order to take an extended break in order to do something specific is actually very positive in terms of personal/professional development, and planning it will give you the distraction needed to last out a few more months in your job. People will be pleased for you (and possibly a bit envious) and it won't be seen as flaking out.

I did this for a few months back in 2003 and it was great. You can live very inexpensively in various places around the world, and you'll get a whole new perspective. You can sub-let your room/apartment/house for the duration if need be.

You will need to have enough cash put by when you get back, but even just six weeks off may give your CV the boost of demonstrating beyond-the-average independance and organisational skills for fresh job-hunting.
posted by freya_lamb at 2:54 AM on July 22, 2009

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