Is it ever ok to quit?
November 4, 2012 10:10 AM   Subscribe

Is it ok to quit a job when you know you are not going to be successful? I'm currently involved in a huge system transformation at work which is vastly underresourced and going sideways in a huge way. Is it ever ok to walk away from a situation like this? Should I stick it out and try to bring some success and closure to this project no matter how many overtime hours it takes? Or throw in the towel? Advice from anyone who has been in this situation is much appreciated?
posted by Minos888 to Work & Money (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Sticking to things and doing a good job of your part, even if you know the project itself will fail, is a virtue. Of course, knowing when to leave a sinking ship is an equally important virtue. I'd start looking for another job while working on this, rather than just saying "screw it" and walking off. When future employers ask you why you left/are leaving, they'd rather not hear "there was a big dumb project and I gave up and left," regardless of why you did so.
posted by griphus at 10:16 AM on November 4, 2012

There's a middle ground, which is work your regular number of hours and let the project fail.

You didn't mention anything else about your job. If you have good pay, benefits, decent commute, and/or tolerable coworkers, then it's not worth discarding that just for a project that's not working out.

There will be other projects. Presumably you are not in charge of resourcing. Let this one fail due to lack of resources, then see if you can live to see another (preferably better resourced) day.
posted by crazycanuck at 10:23 AM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Should I stick it out and try to bring some success and closure to this project no matter how many overtime hours it takes?

The answer to this question isn't always "run away", but I think you need to have a good set of reasons for putting your sanity, health, and basic happiness on the line when it's clear that a project is doomed. Especially if there are other things in your life (family, relationships, etc.) that might suffer serious harm. The most productive thing you could do might be to communicate to higher ups that the project is hosed enough that you're sincerely considering walking away. (Of course, it's smart to have something else lined up first if you can.)

In other words, yes, sometimes it is ok to quit.

crazycanuck's take has a lot of merit - if this is something you can ride out and the job will still be decent afterwards, that's a very different question from working for an organization that has the stench of death all over it as a whole.
posted by brennen at 10:32 AM on November 4, 2012

If you are planning to stay, please make sure you have plenty of cover-your-ass documentation as to why the failure isn't your fault.
posted by chairface at 10:43 AM on November 4, 2012

huge system transformation at work which is vastly underresourced

So, this isn't a situation where "critical thing broke must fix now!"? This is "we have to change things in a big way but don't feel like paying for it"?

My work is undergoing a huge website transformation, front to back. The process has been going on for more than a year, with much employee time devoted to it, and much money as well. Management and the board take it seriously and are providing the resources to make it happen.

If your higher-ups don't see the need to provide the resources to make this process happen successfully, well, why should you? I mean, it's one thing to take your work seriously and always do even boring tasks to the best of your ability, but it's another to volunteer for a rigged-to-fail process.
posted by rtha at 10:53 AM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's ok to quit a job for any reason, if you can afford to. What's your concern? Moral obligation to your employer? Professional reputation? Collecting a pay check?
posted by J. Wilson at 11:31 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

It is okay for you to take heroic measures to save the life of a dying tree. But if the tree is falling, it is not fair to yourself to try to catch it.

That's the lens I tend to look at these things through. Meaning, if the situation is so bad that even heroic individual work can't redeem it, then why is it okay for your employer to ask you to participate in an irredeemable situation? If they set you up for failure, it does you no good to follow through with it. If they won't resource the effort adequately then they won't get a completed effort and that's not your hill to die on.

Don't let them burn you out. Communicate clearly that the project cannot succeed without a much larger team (or whatever) and then see yourself out the door.
posted by mindsound at 11:46 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can walk away from a job, yes. Your work friends (especially on the same team) might consider it something of a dick move, but they won't really hold it against you (since they will all have had the same idea, more than once).

That said - Throughout your career, you'll end up on a lot of doomed-to-fail projects. Not really any way around this. So the sooner you learn to deal with them in a healthy way (and quitting may save a bit of sanity but doesn't really deal with anything), the better for your long-term success.

As for my way of dealing with "death marches"... I just have a well-vocalized personal policy that I'll put in almost infinite extra hours for a few days to put out fires. If "crisis mode" extends beyond a week, sorry coworkers, but I won't kill myself to deal with institutional deficiencies - Workin' my 40ish, and let it burn, burn, burn; and maybe management will fund/staff/schedule the next project more realistically.
posted by pla at 11:47 AM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's ALWAYS ok to quit a job. Life is too short if you're unhappy. On the other hand, it's up to you to decide if the benefits of staying are good enough.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:30 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is this a doomed project or a doomed division or company? If it is a project, does your job depend on your "bringing some success and closure" to it?

There are always going to be doomed projects on any job, and that's something you sometimes just have to roll with the punches on. Normally everyone just picks themselves up and dusts off and goes on to the next (hopefully better) project. Don't knock yourself out going overtime on something that is doomed to fail. Pla's death-march policy is an excellent one.

The only reason to walk away from your actual job is if 1) the whole company or your whole division is going under and you have good reason to believe you might be laid off soon, or 2) if this project is something that will take you down with it if it fails, and you will find yourself looking for a new job anyway.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:49 PM on November 4, 2012

Do what feels right for you. Put yourself first. Because I can promise you, the company will put itself first when it's not happy.

The days of company loyalty are long over, and the companies have only themselves to blame for that.
posted by Decani at 12:53 PM on November 4, 2012 [6 favorites]

My old company was in a death spiral I saw and understood, and I sought to get out but not fast enough: I got laid off. Had I been able to bail out it would have been my very next move.

Waiting to move for six months after the vital signs started getting squirrely was an error on my part.

As Rosie M. Banks says, if it is a bad project in an otherwise good company, that is a very different matter. Companies have to try stuff and the good ones know some will fail. The writing you would like is "the XYZ project sucked but Minos888 came up with a bunch of good {code | designs | whatever} and we can use that on the ABG project".
posted by jet_silver at 12:54 PM on November 4, 2012

Sometimes you have to walk away. I have walked away when it became clear there was drama/would be more drama (for many reasons). Had I stayed, I would've been laid off.

If something looks like it has the potential to be a clusterfuck that might take you down with it and you have other options or the ability to get other options quickly, then go with that.

If there is a chance you'll be able to succeed (even though it will be difficult) and that you'll have some great accomplishment to highlight, then keep going.

But this is a 'go with your gut' thing.
posted by heyjude at 1:56 PM on November 4, 2012

Is it your project? Did you propose it? Or are you just staffing it? If it is the former, then sticking it out may be the right thing to do, but only if you fight to get it the resources it needs to succeed, or have the scope scaled back.

If you own the project but can get it on the path to success, or if you are just staffing it, then yes, you should get out. Working in a no-win-situation can teach you a lot of bad lessons, even if you know it is a no win situation. Seriously, get out. The longer you stay, the more you are likely to loose sight of your strengths and doubt your own abilities.

Also, leaving might be the only thing left you can do that might bring attention to the problems with the project.
posted by Good Brain at 4:50 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, it's ok to quit. However, figure out what's best... for you. Five or ten years down the road, what will have given you the best experience?

Will you take the rap if you leave? Will you gain valuable experience if you stay? Some companies reward people for surviving failed projects on the theory that they'll better avoid the same mistakes. The entrepreneurial/startup scene is big on embracing and learning from your failures. Many people have written about this, including Henry Petroski, in books such as "To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design", and "Success Through Failure: The Paradox of Design". Or just google "value of failure".
posted by at at 8:51 AM on November 5, 2012

« Older Bored cat wants to play!   |   Good instrumental dance music for studying? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.