How to quit my stressful job?
January 7, 2010 12:42 PM   Subscribe

How do I quit my over-the-top stressful job? (More complicated than that, obviously.)

I started this job by being poached by my current boss, who I worked with as a colleague at a previous organization which we both left because the leadership was terrible. I spent 10 months working so hard here, but now I see I've jumped form the frying pan into the fire. I've now been here for 14 months.

The job itself was misrepresented to me - I thought I'd be doing a lot of professional work related to my specialization, but in reality, I've found myself being a glorified assistant. My boss regularly changes deadlines and the essential qualities of projects. For example, I had a policy book to write - something I'd been looking forward to - and in the workplan for the new fiscal year back in July, we'd broken out different parts for me to work on monthly until it was slated to be done in June 2010. In December, she says she expects it to be done by Christmas. 60-hour weeks later... you get the idea.

She tells me she doesn't want to "have" to manage me, and I should be proactive about telling her what I am capable of doing when she gives me tasks, but it becomes clear when I try and ask for direction on how to prioritize the twelve projects I suddenly have due tomorrow, she expects nothing less than exactly what she wants, exactly when she wants it, and expects me to know that before she tells me (if she tells me at all).

Bosslady isn't even the core of the problem. The core is the Fearless Leader, who is mercurial, flaky, and only works part-time. She has no concept of what I do all day and no interest in learning, and it is my understanding that she makes similar demands of my boss that my boss does to me. I feel like my boss has Stockholm Syndrome, and is a total loss.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to get a new job. I've got a few good leads on the horizon, and with my skill set, I won't have trouble finding one. But in an environment where taking a sick day is cause for retribution and scheduling a doctor's appointment results in obvious punishment, getting to interviews is not going to be easy. That being said, I know I'm going to have to suck it up and do that.

The result of all of this, of course, is a massive amount of stress. I have had a headache for three weeks, from clenching my jaw. I have what I think are panic attacks on Sundays. I cry more mornings than not upon waking up because I know that I have to go to work. I had a miscarriage last week, and I don't know if it was due to the stress I am under but it can't have helped.

In this economy, I can't just quit my job without something else lined up. I'm working on lining something up, but I don't know how to quit here. HR isn't very effective at my workplace, but I'm thinking of going to them first upon my and telling them that this job is negatively affecting my health and I have no choice but to quit, and going together to my boss to break the news so I feel more protected. But regardless, I think my last two weeks would be hell. I don't know what to do and this is all so overwhelming. A step-by-step, or just some tips, would be helpful.

Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If you're in as high demand as you seem to state, can you work with potential employers to meet for interviews during off-hours, like before 8am and after 5pm? Otherwise, I would start building a safety net of savings money, maybe 6 months worth, and then quit when you're ready to start looking in earnest.
posted by scarykarrey at 12:49 PM on January 7, 2010

I'm so very sorry for your loss. Will post more later. At risk of seeming inappropriate: *HUG*
posted by jock@law at 1:05 PM on January 7, 2010

Do you have any vacation time you could arrange to use, say, a month from now? Aim to schedule interviews during that time. If nothing comes up, you say your vacation has been postponed and reschedule.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:17 PM on January 7, 2010

At the other end, I think that you might want to skip the customary two week notice and just bail once you have a firm offer.
posted by Citrus at 1:19 PM on January 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't know where you are geographically, but in the places where I've lived in my professional career (in the US and the UK) it's not difficult to schedule interviews and meetings for potential new hires after hours.

If you're most worried about getting the time off to pursue the job hunt in earnest, why not communicate this to a couple of those leads you already have? If there's someone I want to hire, I do everything I can to accommodate their schedules.

And to reiterate what jock@law said: you have my sympathy for your loss. Good luck.
posted by CRM114 at 1:21 PM on January 7, 2010

More complicated than that, obviously.
It doesn't seem to be, to me. The only part that's more complicated, i.e. taking time off to do interviews, you've already resolved to "suck it up and do".

Find another job. If they complain about you taking time off, too bad for them. When you have one lined up, quit.

I am sorry for your loss, and for the obvious stress. But might I suggest that perhaps your thought that this situation is "more complicated than that" is nothing more than overflow from all the stressfulness and what you're going through, as opposed to any real complication in this situation particularly?
posted by Flunkie at 1:23 PM on January 7, 2010

Yikes, you are me six months ago. Let me point out that there is nothing at all that you can do to improve this situation, apart from suddenly developing the ability to read minds. So, the above advice is absolutely correct, start looking for something else and soon!

In the meantime, the other thing I would add is that, for your own health and well-being, you need to be able to draw a line and stick to it. Meaning, you need to be able to tell your boss what you can accomplish and under what kinds of time-frames without compromising your own well-being. The problem being, if you do the sixty hour work-week thing to deliver on a document once, she's going to assume you can do it again. Herculean feats of office work result only in greater expectations and longer hours.
posted by LN at 1:38 PM on January 7, 2010 [5 favorites]

And, yes, like others above, I'm very sorry for your loss. :(
posted by LN at 1:40 PM on January 7, 2010

In some US states and in some professions high stress and burnout are valid reasons for quitting and collecting unemployment. Check it out. Also go to a doctor and get all of your symptoms evaluated and documented. Good luck.
posted by mareli at 1:48 PM on January 7, 2010

Wow. I am so sorry.

Here are a few thoughts:

1. You don't have to ask for time off, and you don't have to hide it as a doctor's appointment. You say, "I have an appointment this afternoon. I will be out of the office from 2 to 4." If they think this is a question, how does that change your statement? You will be out of the office. They can choose to not pay you for those hours, but they cannot force you to stay.

2. Two weeks are customarily given, as a courtesy. There is no law that says you must give 2 weeks notice, or any notice at all.

3. As scarykarrey says, people understand when you are interviewing while holding a job. Ask, and you will probably find that they are more than willing to interview you before or after work, or during lunch.

4. I would go to HR and explain the what happened with the policy manual. Then explain that you had a miscarriage that you believe is stress related. Surely this will fire them up to do something -- give you paid bereavement leave, address the management issue, help you transition to a new position, or something.
posted by Houstonian at 1:50 PM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sorry to hear about this.

I started this job by being poached by my current boss, who I worked with as a colleague at a previous organization which we both left because the leadership was terrible. I spent 10 months working so hard here, but now I see I've jumped form the frying pan into the fire.

Job-wise, I have been in almost exactly your situation. My boss seemed like an island of sanity at my old job, but when I followed him to a new job he revealed himself to be a reprehensible human being whose political beliefs could be described, without exaggeration, as "fascist."

I just up and quit because they were trying to force me to, and I didn't think it was worth my mental and physical health to stay. Go to the interviews; do what you have to do. The worst thing they can do is fire you- which is actually the best possible result, since you can probably get unemployment. Of course, small companies run by scumbags tend to not want to pay unemployment, so you may not get off that easy.

In this economy, I can't just quit my job without something else lined up.
I don't know you personally, but I thought this too, and I did it anyway. I just decided nothing was worth my health. You'll get help from parents, or friends, or something will come up. Again, unless you fear literal starvation, it's just not worth it.

PS Check the laws of your jurisdiction, but here is a "backdoor" to unemployment that works in CA and probably other places. If you quit a job, then earn 5 times your weekly award (probably around $2000) at another job, you are eligible for unemployment, *based on your old salary.* So in the worst case, all you have to do is make ~$2000 through a temp agency, and then your old company will be paying your unemployment until you find something full-time.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:37 PM on January 7, 2010

Do you belong to a union? If so, go to them without delay.

And I'm afraid it's not that complicated. It's the stress you are under that is making you believe it's complicated. In reality it's simple - but not easy. The only way out is through some unpleasantness, but you were going to experience unpleasantness anyway.

Sorry, it sucks. But if you have to save money and quit, do so. If you can get interviews outside of your working hours (which should normally be possible), do that instead. And if you can get help from a union, get their advice first; this is by far the best option.

In the meantime, keep a record of every task you do and the time spent on it. Record also any feedback you get, whether negative or positive.

Sorry, it sucks. You'll be out of there soon enough.
posted by tel3path at 2:38 PM on January 7, 2010

2. Two weeks are customarily given, as a courtesy. There is no law that says you must give 2 weeks notice, or any notice at all.

Agree with this, too. Courtesy is for those who deserve it. When i quit my hell-job I emailed them on the morning I quit. I said, "In a perfect world I would have liked to give more notice, but in a perfect world I would not have been subjected to an inappropriate and harassing work environment for the last month."

Fuck people like that. Seriously.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:39 PM on January 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Check your email, and here's another *HUG*.
posted by lunasol at 3:31 PM on January 7, 2010

I suggest that you do *not* contact HR at your current job. They are not there for you. Repeat that to yourself several times. They are there to protect the company. HR people are almost universally evil weasels, and in this circumstance, you are almost certainly going to get burned if you talk to them at all.

Really, how could they help? If you don't know, do not talk to them. HR = the company = the bosses.

Leave ASAP, no notice needed, even a *good* job wouldn't be worth that stress.
posted by Invoke at 4:13 PM on January 7, 2010

I just walked. Politely, with a 2-week notice. No regrets. (In Canada, if health-care is an issue?).
posted by ovvl at 4:50 PM on January 7, 2010

So very sorry. I wish you could get out right away. Between your miscarriage and the stress/depression symptoms that I'm thinking would show on record after a standard psychiatric assessment (I'm not at all saying that you are depressed - just that a psychiatric assessment would likely say you are and you can use this to your advantage) - I'm sure a doctor would sign off on a medical leave for you. Once a doctor signed off, you'd need to fill out forms through HR. I'm suggesting this because perhaps this way you could still get paid (through employment insurance?) while you take a much-needed rest, continue your job hunt and even interview. Get yourself a new job, tell your doctor you're ready to go back to work, he/she authorizes the return to work and voila. I'm in Canada and I'm not sure if this is a possibility for you, but I've done it and it was well worth it.
posted by kitcat at 5:15 PM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can't add much to your job search problems, other than what other posters have already said. I can say that I am having a similar experience with my job. Deadlines changed last-minute, insulting tones, the works. It's not cool. I hope we both find a way out.
posted by jock@law at 5:50 PM on January 7, 2010

Your bosses are not nice people (or at least their jobs make them that way), let go of caring what they think a little bit, they did not earn it. What kind of retribution can they do, if you are almost out the door? Make you work 60 hr weeks? Just don't do it, put it off. You are leaving anyways.

Take care of yourself.
posted by Vaike at 6:33 PM on January 7, 2010

I am sorry you are having such a terrible time.

You need to do whatever it takes to take care of yourself right now. Treat yourself with all the love and care you can.

- Don't go to HR. They're someone else's dog.
- Do you have a partner with an income? Can you rely on that for a couple of months?
- Don't worry about two weeks notice. Take a medical leave, and just don't go back.

You've already started to frame this situation in a helpful illustrative manner (e.g. the misrepresentation, the poor management, the scope creep on projects). This will help you to think about this as a temporary condition that you are actively working to change for the better, and that will help you get into a better spot faster.
posted by Sallyfur at 6:51 PM on January 7, 2010

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