Is there a happy ending to breaking a contract and quitting your job?
August 1, 2012 7:36 PM   Subscribe

I want to quit my job.. but I can't. I'm unhappy. I'm lonely. And I don't know what to do.

After working at my current company for about a year, I took a relocation opportunity to move to a different city. It entailed relocation benefits and some sizable bonus payments/incentives.

Well, I've been at the new city for a couple months and I'm unhappy. By being at this new office, I'm isolated from the 'headquarters' and the projects I'm getting staffed on are not what I wanted. There are obvious disadvantages from being away from everyone because.. well, you get forgotten. You can't participate in things in person. It's just not the same. And because of this, my performance/evaluation has suffered.

The stipulation of the relocation contract is that if you leave before a year, you'd have to pay back everything, which is a lot...

I'd also be burning bridges if I left so early.. but dammit I've been through so much bullshit and treated like shit ever since I moved here and I've had it. Every day I wake up miserable and don't want to get out of bed.

I just want to leave.

What are my options? My best bet would be to start interviewing for new jobs, but I'd only jump ship if they could reimburse me for the money I'd have to pay back my current company. The question mark is I don't know how much the relocation benefits cost, but the bonuses/incentives total to around $20,000. I'm assuming the relocation costs were around $5,000, but I have no freaking clue. They could be as high as $20,000, according to a more seasoned colleague whom I'm very close with. So, I could potentially end up with a bill of $40,000.. maybe even more. All the bonus payments I received, I could pay back because I saved/invested it. As for the relocation benefit costs? If it's $5,000? Then yes, I can pay that back. $20,000?.. I'd be in debt.

I also don't even know if a company would even do that. What would my story be were I to interview. How would I even tell them that I'm leaving and breaking a contract, and then ask them to pay me a bonus to cover those costs?

For what it's worth, I work in an 'elite' profession where salaries are pretty high and skill sets are fairly transferable. I'm also entry level. So I'm not particularly worried about landing interviews or my ability to find another job.. it's just finding one where they'll cover these costs I'd have to pay back.

Does anyone have any experience or advice dealing with this kind of situation? I don't think I can handle staying with this company until the end of my contract. I just can't deal with all the stress anymore.

posted by anonymous to Work & Money (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Normally I would say that you should leave ASAP, but - here's the thing. You have a year before you can do anything. You've been there a couple of months. You know you want to leave. You know that getting a new job isn't immediate. It is more than achievable to stay where you are, ramp up a lot of health and wellbeing activities to help you get through this period, and find an excellent job to reward yourself with at the end of your year-stint.

If you take on debt to get out of this job now, you will be in a far, far worse position than you are now. Slow down, do a myriad of things to help you with your health and sanity, and know that you're getting out of there soon.
posted by heyjude at 7:46 PM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Have you talked to HR about how unhappy you are? Have you talked to your supervisor about how you feel you're out of the loop? Have you tried to fix the situation?

Why would you expect another company to pick up the cost of your mistake?

You don't seem willing to own the consequences of your own decision. I would think that any solution would have to start with you accepting that you made a bad decision, and then figuring out how you can fix it.
posted by musofire at 7:46 PM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Unless you work in some kind of amazing, magical industry, no one is gonna pick up a 5 figure tab on behalf of an entry level employee. I mean, that kind of thing only happens for the most in-demand or senior skillsets in most industries.

Are you young? I'm assuming maybe you are. I know a year seems like an age, but truly, in terms of career it's not that long, I would think about addressing your issues through HR, your manager, and meeting/socialising with other groups/people in your new location.
posted by smoke at 8:00 PM on August 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

If there is one thing I regret in my career, it's the first job change I made. I left a great job and company too early for all the wrong reasons (bad projects, I didn't like my team, I didn't like where I lived) and saddled myself with a whole heap of career problems as a result. This is probably going to strongly color my answer. :)

First, you're entry level - I assume that means this is your first job post-study (Apologies in advance if I got this wrong). First jobs suck in a lot of ways - even a year and a half out - and particularly for people who were star students. You have to come to grips with the reality that real jobs - 5 days a week, eight hours a day, 10 days leave a year - are pretty restrictive compared to studying. You can't skip a day when you feel like it. You can't coast through a semester and pull a few all nighters to perform well on the final. Instead of having a bunch of people tell you how glowing your future is going to be, you suddenly have a bunch of performance reviews that pick on the things you are doing wrong. I'm not saying you don't know all this, I'm saying that this is a huge change to deal with, and I've seen person after person underestimate how much the drag and every-dayness of work got to them in the first couple of years.

Second, you relocated to a new town where you don't know anyone. So the social life that probably made your first year tolerable is suddenly gone. I've done three big relocations (country changes) and it takes a minimum of six months before you start feeling at home in a new place. A couple of months is long enough to find an apartment and a good coffee place. Not to know if you like the town or not.

Third: you feel like you are missing out on great projects. This is just as likely to happen to you in your original city or in a new job (particularly if you work in an industry that takes on crops of graduates every year - in a new job you will be out of sync with your peer group and lack the in-company network they already have). I bet that your peers in your old town are envious as hell because they perceive you as having freedom, autonomy and being out from under the thumb of head office. The grass is often greener.

Last: You are going to be financially screwed if you change jobs. In this market, a sign-on bonus is pretty rare, especially at more junior levels and especially for someone who signed a contract to stay somewhere for a year and is jumping ship.

You should stick out your contract for a year (to avoid the financial screwed-ness) and then do whatever you want. In the meantime, figure out some ways to stay better connected with head office (video conferences, volunteer to lead a visible initiative, start a blog, be the liaison for your branch ...). Find some ways to be more engaged with your new town. Your performance is probably suffering because (a) you aren't performing well on projects that are not what you want to do and (b) you are unhappy. (a) is going to happen to you throughout your career. Part of being a great team member is that you perform as well on crappy projects as you do on great ones. The sooner you figure that out how to make that happen, the more awesome your career trajectory will be. (b) is also going to happen throughout your career. Don't let it derail you.

If someone had said all this to me 20 years ago I would have dismissed all of it, because I thought my circumstances were different and special and not universal. They weren't. It took me five years to recover from that first disastrous career change - don't let that happen to you. Make your first career move from a position of strength. You are going to have amazing options in a few years and you won't regret learning how to stick out a bad job early on. In the short term, you sound like you could be depressed, so seeing a doctor or therapist might also be a good idea? (As well as getting enough sleep, sunshine, exercise - obvious stuff).

I don't mean to be unsympathetic, because I know that what you are going through sucks. It's awful, and I am so sorry you are feeling like this. I really hope you can find a successful way through.
posted by yogalemon at 8:08 PM on August 1, 2012 [32 favorites]

I had an incredibly difficult time fitting into my current job. I can't tell you how many times I cried and fantasized about quitting. But quitting was unrealistic because I really couldn't afford it. The job market is so rough, and the thought of having to possibly move out of my apartment and back with my parents was enough to keep me going to work every day. I promised myself I would try and take it one day at a time and it helped so much. You have to try to make it work for you. I did this by immersing myself in the aspects of my job I did like.

In the meantime, exploring your new city and meeting new people would probably also help you adjust to your new job.

(And, sorry, but keep dreaming on an entry-level five-figure reimbursement from any company).
posted by girlmightlive at 8:14 PM on August 1, 2012

Well, yogalemon said everything I wanted to say, but I'll emphasize one of those points: you won't regret learning how to stick out a bad job early on.

Work is going to suck sometimes. That's why most of us get paid money to do it. Yes, you should enjoy your job in the long-term, but if you insist that every month has to be fun, you're going to quit a lot of jobs over the rest of your life. Suck it up for a year. Put in just over the minimum effort required to do a satisfactory job and devote the rest of your energy to something else -- meeting new people, learning a hobby, finding a new job... there's lots of stuff to do, no matter where you are.
posted by Etrigan at 8:14 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

A few thoughts:

Why don't you contact an employment lawyer and find out what your legal options are?

You could use this as an opportunity to try to be more of a go-getter at work, and push for the projects that you want.

You have only been at the new location 2 months. Try socializing more outside of work. Having a good social outlet can make a crappy job more tolerable.

You sound depressed to me, too. Just in case, the Mayo clinic has a good online evaluation tool.
posted by annsunny at 8:18 PM on August 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

I went through this one time. I was in just the same situation as you were. I couldn't leave because the amount I owed them was prohibitively ridiculous. I joked that I was an indentured servant.

I think that you should stick it out for a year. I did it and I survived.

But I also think that you should take action to handle your depression and stay as mentally/emotionally healthy as you can. Go to therapy. Start exercising regularly. Remember every day that this is not going to be your life forever. Don't work long hours. Look at me, look in my eyes when I tell you this - DO NOT WORK LONG HOURS!

The big mistake that I made is that I got so invested in my soul-sucking job after a year that I felt that I couldn't leave until the project I was on was done. I stayed for a whole 1.5 years more and it was a BAD IDEA. Once you can leave without harming your bank account. DO IT!
posted by pazazygeek at 8:20 PM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

you should start by talking to your colleagues who were in similar positions recently, and colleagues who are in similar positions (moving to that city, possibly even their first assignment abroad).

Chances are, they understand you. They have probably felt this way- jobs abroad can be very rewarding but very rough to adjust to- it took most of me and my friends a year to adjust. 2 months is just the beginning.

I think that having your peer group understand you will take a huge weight off your shoulders. Professionally a lot of times its better to have some distance from your colleagues, but when abroad often the psychological need to feel connected to others in your situation overcomes the benefits of keeping professional distance.

If after a couple months you're still not feeling great about this- talk to your supervisor. Do it now if you feel you really need to. Talk about the frustrations that you face and mention that you think it would go a long way to make things more livable for you if you are staffed on better projects.

Don't talk about leaving, talk about the need to integrate with the local team and the enthusiasm you have for contributing your best to projects that are meaningful for you.

They know that these assignments abroad take a psychological adjustment- they will probably be able to provide a constructive conversation as long as you frame the conversation positively.

not to add more stress but don't forget to consider the tax implications of you leaving the job. for instance, if you are from the US, you may lose your tax break on the salary you've received so far if you don't meet certain guidelines. look it up.

best of luck for a productive future. the good news is that if you stick it out, this could end up being very rewarding! intl assignments are almost always growing experiences, even if you don't grow how you originally envisioned, and also look great on your resume.
posted by saraindc at 8:21 PM on August 1, 2012

oh, it might not be an international assignment, so ignore all international references and tax bit but general advice still holds. maybe professional restraint is still a good thing though.
posted by saraindc at 8:25 PM on August 1, 2012

There are a few situations that are so bad that it's actually worth paying $25,000+ to get out of them. I'm pretty sure you need to do quite a few things to make sure this situation is really that bad.

1. Do something different with the 128 hours a week that you aren't at work. Evaluate how you feel about your mornings, your lunchtimes, your evenings, your weekends, and your commute, and change things so that whatever you're unhappy with (even a little bit,) you do differently. Take up a new hobby, join a meetup group, find religion, start listening to the History of Rome podcast while you're in the car, whatever. Buy new sheets and a better mattress, if you have to. Those 128 hours are three times the amount of time you (ought to) spend at work, and if they're at all messed up, work is going to be intolerable no matter what's happening there. In any case, if you find a new job chances are you won't be changing places, too - you need to learn to love, or at least tolerate, your current situation as much as is possible.

2. Make a list of all your resources at work - EAP, HR, your manager, the yoga group that meets on Tuesdays at 11am, whatever. Maximize the extent to which they are helping you sort out your work-related issues. Focus on communicating more frequently and more professionally/competently with everyone. Focus on getting tasks done (you may need help from an outside therapist or EAP if procrastination or self-sabotage has set in.) Try to direct your energy toward positive results, even just for the sake of practicing good habits.

3. Network the heck out of your industry. Attend events, participate in message groups, whatever it takes. Do as much outside study (towards certificates, towards random but related client content areas, whatever) as you can stand. Polish up that resume in every other way you can think of. Find whatever soft skills you may be lacking in (confrontations and assertiveness, writing professionally, and public speaking are big ones) and work as hard as possible to get all that stuff ready for the time, about nine months from now, when you actually start shopping your resume around.

If, after talking with professionals and trying as hard as you can to actually make this situation tolerable, you determine that it's really worth $25,000 for you to quit, talk to an employment lawyer and a tax professional.
posted by SMPA at 8:29 PM on August 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

For what it's worth, I've relocated a couple of times and it's always taken me a while to adjust. Moving a long distance is a huge disruption to your life and there's always an adjustment period. If I were you, I'd focus on trying to adjust to the new circumstances and on fixing what I could. I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up taking the year for things to return to normal in the new location.
posted by suetanvil at 8:47 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Join a dating site.
posted by rhizome at 9:15 PM on August 1, 2012

The money isn't your only issue.

Hiring people - especially junior staff - is an endeavor in finding the right attitude and commitment. Consider for a moment what you'd need to tell a new employer. "Hi, I'm an entry-level person who can't/won't honor the contract I made which was rich with bonus goodness. How about you pay off my employer to fix my mistake? Don't worry. I promise I won't bail on you New Employer."

That's probably not an accurate portrayal of your situation, but it's how a lot of hiring managers would see it. If you had more experience and bailed quickly on a job, I could evaluate that in the context of your full employment history. One job and one quick exit? That's harder to explain.

Are you sure you can't tough it out?
posted by 26.2 at 10:57 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Please try to stick out the year. The plus side of doing so goes way beyond the monetary benefit; it will be an act of courage that you will respect yourself for in years to come. Quit now and you have set your upper challenge limit - not such a good thing to do at a young age.

(Speaking as one who has done both the quitting and the sticking it out. The latter has given me strength for years, the former has depressed me when I've thought about how weak I let myself be.)
posted by Kerasia at 2:01 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's worth dropping a hundred bucks on an employment lawyer to see what your exposure is on repayment. It's not at all obvious that you're on the hook for anything.
posted by moammargaret at 3:17 AM on August 2, 2012

All the reasons you have for staying and sticking it out for the year are rational. All the reasons you have for leaving and breaking the contract are emotional.

That alone should make it pretty clear what the smart choice is.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 5:36 AM on August 2, 2012

Stick it out and make sure your off-work hours are spent doing things you love. For the next couple of months, work will be a place you go every day to make it feasible to do everything you're going to do when you're not at work. Buy a plant or two, put them on your desk and water them every day, because it seriously does help to have a reason to go into work when you'd rather lay in bed and mope. See a therapist for depression, because what you're saying sounds an awful lot like the things I said when I was at my most depressed (I burned out from undercreativity, then spent most days crying and mourning my career!)
posted by theraflu at 6:37 AM on August 2, 2012

You might need to make a list of pros and cons.

If you really hate it, leave. But know why you hate it first.
posted by inkypinky at 7:26 AM on August 2, 2012

My instinct is that you need to stay in this job, but if you can come back and update this thread with some details of what has been so awful about the transfer, we may be able to help you more. It's one thing if your boss is taking the credit for all your ideas, and another if there is sexual harassment or unsafe working conditions going on. In order to answer your question and give you good advice, we need some idea which.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:52 AM on August 2, 2012

Stick out the year, and diligently pursue ways to make it better. Feeling out of the loop? Try webcams, or more one-on-one phone calls, or checking in more often. Don't like your projects? Keep working on them, but as you finish each (or hit key milestones) talk about the good (and the could-be-better) of what you've done, as a segue into inquiring about projects that are more in line with your intersts. Keep an ear out for new or more interesting projects, and as you finish your assignments, ask if there are options to join those.

In short, make sticking out the job for a year into its own job, and do the best job you can at it. Hokey, I know, but surprisingly effective if practiced with the right attitude.
posted by davejay at 12:03 AM on August 3, 2012

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