Should I stay or should I go?
January 12, 2010 12:22 PM   Subscribe

Which is worse -- the stress of being unemployed and not eligible for employment insurance and burning through your savings, or being stuck in a job you hate?

I've never been more tempted to just get up and quit my job. It's not completely horrible -- I'm sure some out of work developers would give their right arm for my job. But there are so many little things wrong with it -- the fact I've been here too long and just need out, my increasing crappy attitude, the disastrous management, my 20% pay cut (so the company can actually make their payroll, implemented over a year ago!), the fact that the company is broke as hell and my job has been hanging on a thread for 18 months now, the boring repetitious work, and the fact I'm just plain burnt out. It's all leaving me a huge pile of frazzled nerves who is perpetually on the verge of an anxiety attack (which are not things I'm typically prone to), and I think it's even affecting my health. I'm looking out the window and seriously contemplating just leaving and never coming back, day after day.

But I'm too darn responsible for that. I only have myself and my pets to support, and I even have a quasi-sizable cushion of cash (almost 6 months salary) I've stashed away for a downpayment on a house I was hoping to buy in the near future. I'd rather not use that, but maybe I should... for my mental well being. Still, I can't convince myself to just up and quit. The responsible thing to do is to not leave until I have another job (or even an idea) lined up. I've been looking, but there hasn't been as much effort into the hunt as I should be putting -- it's really hard to go home after a long day and crank out cover letters.

I've been unemployed before, but it wasn't by choice, which I think might change how my brain deals with the situation if i were to quit. I'm not convinced I'll be able to find another job quickly. I might be able to pick up some freelance work, but nothing's guaranteed obviously. I'm one of those people who has always done the "right" thing in the past, and I know what that "right" thing is right now (to wait), but dang... i'm going crazy here. But the idea of just up and quitting, and all it entails (no EI benefits, no health benefits [in Canada, but would have to pay my own prescriptions and dental bills]) scares the crap out of me as well.

What would you do? Have you ever quit a job without another lined up? How bad was it? Is it worse than being in a soul crushing situation?

Anonymous because obviously being linked to my employer would be a very bad thing right now.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (30 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered asking to be laid off so you can get unemployment?

Otherwise most financial planners would say keep the job until you have a new one.

Shrinks may say otherwise.

Personally I'm a "leap and the net will appear" sort of guy. Could you find some consulting work in your field to help bridge the gap?
posted by bitdamaged at 12:28 PM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Putting more effort into looking for a job sounds much more reasonable (and will ultimately be easier on you) than quitting your current job with no prospects. Try that for a while before you decided to never come back to your current job because it's much easier to find a job when you already have one.

As for making your current job a little more bearable, I suggest trying to focus on some of the things about the job that are worthwhile--even if it's only the benefits. The only thing you really, truly have control over is your attitude--you can tell yourself that you're really happy to have those benefits while you look for another job instead of being stressed because you have no income. I didn't quit my job, but I took a year off and while it was great at first, it was really, really rough not knowing how we were going to pay for things.
posted by Kimberly at 12:29 PM on January 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

With the economy the way it is these days, who knows how long it could take you to find another job. It took me seven months to find work after I was laid off last year. I strongly recommend you tough it out while searching for something else so you don't end up in a worse situation. It won't be fun, but I think it'll be better in the long term. Much preferable to transfer from one job to a better one, than to transfer to nothing at all.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 12:30 PM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Speaking as someone who's been unemployed for most of the last seven months after being in an awful trainwreck of a job for the previous year, let me tell you from experience: As bad as being in your horrible job is, multiply that by about ten and you're just getting close to how terrible and stressful it is to be unemployed in this economy.

Personally, I would hold onto that job like the One Ring, and start looking full speed ahead. Worst case is that the company finally comes off the rails and you've already got your job hunt rolling along, and you'll be collecting UI to boot. Best case is that you find something and can quit without depleting your savings.
posted by deadmessenger at 12:31 PM on January 12, 2010 [8 favorites]

I'm professionally risk-averse. I would spend as much time at work as I could looking for a new job, and then transfer when the new job comes through.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:31 PM on January 12, 2010

If finding a new job is a priority for you, then act in a way that can make that happen. Are you working 5 days a week? Can you set aside X number of hours on a Saturday to work on your CV, get registered in job sites, etc? Can you take a vacation day from work to see an interview coach?

You're not in an impossible situation; you can work with what you've got to make things better.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:36 PM on January 12, 2010

I think the answer to this question has a lot to do with your temperament. Not having a dependable source of income, and/or job lined up would drive me crazier than a sucky job. But a friend of mine quit with nothing lined up and he's totally fine.

it's really hard to go home after a long day and crank out cover letters.

Can you set aside part of the weekend to do this? Like wake up Saturday and spend x hours looking for and applying to jobs? Or look for the jobs while at boring soul-sucking job, and then apply to everything at once on the weekend?
posted by grapesaresour at 12:42 PM on January 12, 2010

D'oh! Or what DarlingBri said.
posted by grapesaresour at 12:42 PM on January 12, 2010

Just as a wild-hair assumption, it's a bit coincidental that you feel your job has been hanging by a thread pretty much since the company started having financial problems. Is it possible that management is using fear to keep people working for a company that is cutting their pay? That is, consider that your job may not, in fact, be hanging by a thread. It may allow you to relax a bit and do your job while you find a job at a better company.

I've been something like what you describe and in hindsight it's always been because I acquired an emotional attachment to my job. I think this is natural if you like your coworkers, have a good idea about what the company is trying to do, and so on, but this can be a bit of mental quicksand. If you can find a way to "dry out" a bit from your job--you're a tech worker, perhaps you never take vacations--and approach it just as something that pays the bills, is repetitive (thus easy, mechanically), and just put in your 40hrs, you may be able to endure the time being at face value. Don't check out and short-time your responsibilities, but divorce yourself from the drama.
posted by rhizome at 12:43 PM on January 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

it's really hard to go home after a long day and crank out cover letters.

Indeed, it is. It's even harder to continue the way you are. Crank them out. Work out a template with boilerplate language. Once you have that taken care of, two or three a night, and 10 on the weekend are no sweat. Take vacation time to work on looking. "Typical" advice is to send 10 resumes per week. That's two per night and leaves weekends free. But, feeling the way you do, you should be making a job hunt your first priority after responsibly doing your day job.

I once took vacation to look and sent 34 resumes in two days -- with tailored, excellent cover letters. Within three weeks, I had a great offer. That was in a better time, but, you get my point.


just up and quitting, and all it entails (no EI benefits, no health benefits [in Canada, but would have to pay my own prescriptions and dental bills

is a LOT harder than coming home and cranking out letters.

I sympathize, trust me.
posted by jgirl at 12:44 PM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

How about asking for a shorter workweek that still doesn't impact your benefits? This would give you the time you need to regain your mental stability and look for something better. You might even find your current job more tolerable in the new arrangement.
posted by Dragonness at 12:46 PM on January 12, 2010

Right now you have the luxury of two options, stay or quit. Sometimes knowing you HAVE an option is all you need to get through the bad times. If you quit, you have no more options and may feel even worse and trapped.

Since you took a 20% pay cut, why not ask to work one less day a week and use that day to look hard for work.
posted by saucysault at 12:47 PM on January 12, 2010

I’ve left jobs without having another job lined up, and it always worked out. If you are ambivalent/stressed, though, why not follow a different plan.? You mentioned

I might be able to pick up some freelance work, but nothing's guaranteed obviously.

Doesn’t this give you an option of an intermediate step? For example, if you can acquire freelance gigs then you can survive until you find something that is a better fit. But potentially you have $ or a way to stay out there for longer than six months. Why not do something like this?

• Call all former colleagues/potential clients (only the ones that won’t talk) – tell them you are not happy and are thinking of picking up freelance work. Do they have anything? (it may be a job or freelance work) If a few pple respond “yes”, I would jump
• Once you are freelance, you will have down time. Email/call every potential client….this may take a week, but your name will be everywhere at that point
• Make a plan. If you have enough $ for 6 months, perhaps you can plan to give freelancing a go for X months and if doesn’t work well, take another part-time job or whatever it takes.

That was my actual plan when I left my job last year, by the way. I’m going to earn close to what I did as a fulltime employee…..with a much better schedule. It has been nerve wracking at times, but as you go along this route you learn to swim. May not be the best solution for others, though. But I’m one data point telling you that you don’t have to live that. Feel free to memail me if you want sometone to talk you into jumping off that bridge into freelance world or something that you create for yourself.
posted by Wolfster at 12:52 PM on January 12, 2010

A vote for jgirl. Make the effort.

Nthing what others have said about the stress of being unemployed. I was out of work for seven months before finding a new job. And then the new job turned out to be truly intolerable after four months (not just extremely stressful, but literally impossible to tolerate) such that I quit. And then I was out of work for three months, in work for the next 3, and then out of work for another 2 months.

I think I can speak from experience here.

And jobhunting is extremely expensive. You need a paycheck to support it.
posted by tel3path at 12:53 PM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I concur with deadmessenger: being unemployed with no reasonable hope of changing that any time soon, which is pretty much what most people are going through now, is FAR more worse than being in a job you hate. You're at the job hating it for 40 (or whatever) hours a week but you still have money/benefits. Being stressed out and terrified and hoping to god you don't get sick when unemployed is 24-7, and even worse when there's no end in sight to that condition.

Make them give you the boot, don't make it easy for them by quitting.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:54 PM on January 12, 2010

Which is worse -- the stress of being unemployed and not eligible for employment insurance and burning through your savings, or being stuck in a job you hate?

Burning through your savings is, in my opinion, much more stressful than being at a job you hate. Getting income lets you do things - after work, go see movie; go to dinner; get drinks with your friends and bitch about your job. These are all things you can do to help cope with your awful job. When you have 0 income, after awhile, you will view everything that you do as "something that costs money" and you will do what you can to minimize the money you spend. Your whole outlook towards the world, your friends, your relationships, and your family can change. It's extremely stressful.

I would recommend keeping your job and change how you're coping with it. If you're taking work home, stop. Take your vacation days. Take your personal days. If someone comes to you 5 minutes before closing and ask you to do something, let them know that you'll do it tomorrow morning. Change how you work. It will help you destress to the point where, after a long day at the office, you will have the energy to write cover letters and job hunt. Getting bogged down in the miserableness of your job will kill you and it will eat up your time. Stop letting your job do that.
posted by Stynxno at 1:13 PM on January 12, 2010 [3 favorites] need a devil's advocate here.
(not because the advice here is incorrect)

My mother was diagnosed with cancer and was dead 12 weeks week before her retirement party. I know I know...who cares. True. But life is for living. You work partly as a trade for money, partly as a trade for the opportunity to better yourself. When those two things drop significantly out of the equation, the costs of work become unbalanced. And not in your favor.

Watch this. It's Stefan Sagmeister's TED Talk on the power of time off. He has an interesting strategy of planning complete breaks from his career to rejuvenate, re-think, and to become re-inspired. Think of it like this: You spend a decade learning, four decades working, and wrap it up with one-plus decades of retirement. Every few years, insert one year (or 6 months) of retirement in advance. Use that pre-retirement to grow, regain passion and direction, and to align your changing attitudes to corresponding changes in your work.

You have a 6 month rainy day fund (which you worked hard for). It's raining. Don't let yourself drown. The house isn't worth it. When you begin to work again passionately, chances are you will build that back up sooner than you expect.
posted by nickjadlowe at 1:25 PM on January 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

In the many, many years I've been in the workforce I've had a couple of sucky, stressful jobs. I usually just manned up and accepted the drudgery/crazy boss/etc because I was too stressed out/drained/lazy to look for something else. I probably shouldn't have been so passive, as many times the stress affected my health (I have Lupus and stress can send you into a flare.) Anyway, I finally did hit a point where the job was unbearably nerve-wracking; the boss was involved in many illegal activities (asking me to Photoshop weigh scale tags, things like that) as well as slightly psycho (he'd smash a computer monitor in a fit of temper). I started actively looking for something else while staying at that cesspool because I desperately needed the medical coverage. In fact, it was this hideous job that gave me the kick in the butt to finally seriously look into my true love - writing. While working at this company, I spent my evenings and weekends sending out query letters and writing articles. That first acceptance letter made me higher than any cocktail I've ever had, and doubled my resolve. Just under one year (yes, it took that long) after starting my after-hours writing career I was able to quit the Job from Hell and write full-time. My advice is to stay at this job while exploring other possibilities/avenues. If you hate your day job enough, you'll have that much more fire to find something else so you can leave it without dipping into your savings or worrying about the gap in your resume.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:39 PM on January 12, 2010

and just to clarify...
The break need not result in any kind of wholesale career change or otherwise diminish the intellectual assets you have built up in your field. It is a time to grow. To build momentum. It isn't meant to be a vacation.
posted by nickjadlowe at 1:39 PM on January 12, 2010

I have been in your position and decided to quit a miserable job without another job lined up. I had six months worth of savings, no dependents, and no mortgage. It was the best decision I ever made. I should add that I did land another job within a few weeks of quitting my old job, and that this was at a time when the economy was in better shape than it is now. Had things gone differently, I might now have a different view of my decision.

I considered a lot of factors before quitting, but the bottom line was that I had been absolutely miserable for more than a year, things weren't getting any better, and life is short and sometimes you need to take risks.
posted by crLLC at 1:49 PM on January 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

If I was you, and I'm not, because I would probably quit if it got to the point I was having anxiety attacks... I would try staying employed at your job, and start seeing a therapist so you don't flip out and can get good support, and then do everything else possible to pamper myself with the money I was making- massage, sushi, all the sick days I could take, etc. As well as look for any type of other work that could float you while you get out of hell job. I agree with Wolfster sometimes you just need one freelance thing to get you started, and you might be SO much happier.

Also, if you really feel like you have nothing to lose, can you ask you supervisor for a shorter work week, or part time hours, or working from home, something to ease the burden? If s/he says no, you can still just up and quit.
posted by Rocket26 at 2:28 PM on January 12, 2010

Living off your savings has a distinct end date that leads to you being homeless, unless you find a new job. Staying at a job you hate never ends, unless you find a new job. Therefore, Stay at the job you hate while you find a new job; if you find a new job right away, you still have your savings, and if you never find a new job, you don't end up homeless.

However, and I mean this in all seriousness: use some of your income for therapy, vacations, little treats for yourself and other coping mechanisms in the meantime.
posted by davejay at 4:46 PM on January 12, 2010

disclaimer: I kept a job three years past its sell-by date because the insurance benefits enabled something important; it sucked, but I found ways to cope, and once the insurance benefit I needed was no longer needed, I left and found a job I love (and still love.)
posted by davejay at 4:47 PM on January 12, 2010

... i'm going crazy here.

That could be closer than you might think. I don't recommend chancing it.

I was in your place almost two years ago - and am just this week settling my stress work comp claim. I am (by no means) 'rehabilitated to return to the same or equal work.'

On the plus side, I missed out on some of this generations most vicious employer 'belt tightening strategies'. Everyone I know in higher education is frayed beyond belief over the changes in their work environment. On the minus side, I am afloat on a sea of opportunities -- and crisis.

A lot of the advice here reflects my own crazy mind circling (Get that resume out! Push like crazy to get back on the professional ladder! NO, take off and write a novel! NO! go paint and do sculpture - make movies! NO! Take off to another country! NO! Jump at any job now!)

Do I have any advice? lol - no; I am not even good at assimilating the advice I get. I can say that being unemployed for a long time (whether ill or not) takes its toll on your very concept of your Self. That is the most dangerous risk. I am not sure how much of that damage is reversible, and how much is malignantly corrosive ... or even permanent.

Hunker down.
posted by Surfurrus at 4:51 PM on January 12, 2010

First off - unemployment sucks. Indisputably.

However, I've been in your boat. And I took the leap in 2008 and lived to tell about it. My job of three years had become intolerable, and I needed some time to decompress before starting a new job. So then I was unemployed, and I got a great job after 2 months of searching. Then I got laid off from that job in the summer of 2009. Then I was unemployed again for about three months, after which I got pretty much exactly the sort of job I was looking for all along. I am happy with the decisions I've made because things turned out well for me.

Just know that the feeling of being unemployed, wanting to work (whether you're out of money or not), and not knowing when you'll be able to get a job is absolutely awful. It is harrowing. It's a totally different kind of awful than working in a job that is sucking the soul out of your body. As opposed to feeling used and abused, you simply feel useless. But as crazy as it might sound, I value the time I was unemployed and had time to do all the hobby-type things I couldn't do while I was working too many hours at my tedious job, at a company that was similarly not doing well and had become depressing to work for, with people getting laid off all around me. And although you do have all this glorious free time while unemployed, you're tied down because you're always waiting for a potential employer to call you for an interview.

What you have to decide is what's the worst that could happen. Just in case you do quit your job and end up unemployed long enough to burn through your savings, is there anyone in your life who would be willing/able to help you out (either financially or shelter-wise) until you get back on your feet, or are you literally out on the street if you can't find anything after 6 months?
posted by wondermouse at 5:59 PM on January 12, 2010

I have been in the soul-crushing situation, believe me, I understand what that is like and I know how hard it is to look for another job in that situation. And I'm just coming off of five months of unemployment. They are totally different types of stress, and they are both awful. Wondermouse nailed it, it's harrowing. At first being unemployed was wonderful, but after about a month I was doing stuff like reorganizing the pantry because I was feeling so under-stimulated. After a few months of no luck, it started to get really scary and I felt an entirely new level of stress. For me, the perks of a job (read: a steady paycheck) outweigh the soul-crushing aspects; it's soul-crushing and demoralizing in a completely different way when you spend 40 or 60 hours a week applying for jobs and networking and so on and not hearing anything back for months. It ate at me. I was able to be on unemployment (I was laid off) and I had family to stay with, so I was okay financially, but I know if either of those hadn't been true every week I didn't get a single call I would have gotten more and more stressed. This economy is awful. Most people I know found a job after 7-9 months, but I know people who are still looking a year later.

Normally, I'd be the first to say you should up and quit (and I've done that and didn't regret it--but that was in 2005). But in this economy, unless you have such amazing and unique skills you know you are in immediate demand, or you're being asked to do morally reprehensible things, don't quit. Ask if you can cut back your hours; take sick days every other week; spoil yourself in little ways that help get you through the day or the week. But based on my experience, I'd say don't quit till you've got something else lined up. Even if that something else is moving back home and cooking and cleaning for your family instead of paying rent, and freelancing four hours a week. But don't quit if you've only got six months in the bank, because that's really not enough in this economy.
posted by min at 7:33 PM on January 12, 2010

Oh, and feel free to memail me, if you'd like to talk about this in more detail than either of us is willing to post on the internet.
posted by min at 7:37 PM on January 12, 2010

Nearly four years ago I was working a job that was excellent for my career, growing responsibilities, interesting work, and stressful for me at that point in my life. My prior job had lasted eight years (started in college) and only ended because I moved to a new state. I had been at this job eight months and couldn't see myself leaving everyone hanging. I didn't realize how stressed I was until I went on a full week vacation away at my favorite event of the year, and seven days after leaving the office I still wasn't able to 100% let go and just enjoy myself.

I gave notice the day I came back to work. Two weeks later I started a month of no work, during which I unwound, did stuff around the house and contemplated giving up my five years of schooling and eight years of practice in architecture to do something different. I finally decided what I wanted to do, attempted to interview at the few firms that really matched my goals and was fortunate enough to get a job at one.

Giving myself the freedom to walk away from something that made me unsatisfied was one of the best decisions I've ever made. It not only impacted that decision, but I know I have the strength to walk away again. It has allowed me to tackle challenges in my current job I wouldn't have managed before that experience.

I know the economy sucks, but decide how much physical things mean to you, assess your talent and ability to find work doing whatever, and make a simple decision that if you go to work tomorrow it is because it is what you want to do that aligns best with your goals. Don't do it because you feel obligated or coerced, but because it is your choice. If you can't make that choice you get to start a different difficult adventure.
posted by meinvt at 8:44 PM on January 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Taking vacation time to reassess, and perhaps do the groundwork of job-hunting that you're too drained to do during the workweek, seems like a reasonable "in-between" strategy--you're neither quitting your job nor trying to look for a new one at the same time you're working.

And I would set aside at least three days of that time for reassessing. No job-hunting, no projects around the house, just sitting with your thoughts.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:11 PM on January 12, 2010

Just in counter-point to all the "this economy sucks" comments. It is really only the immediate local economy that matters for your job search. I help people apply for EI and job search as part of my job, definately a year ago there was a spike up but it has really settled down (although students looking for their first job are still underemployed). But there is a diversified economy in the GTA. In places like Oshawa or Windsor I would be much more leery of giving up a sure thing unless I was willing to move.
posted by saucysault at 5:58 AM on January 13, 2010

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