Help with a huge career decision
June 25, 2014 6:50 AM   Subscribe

I'm between a rock and a hard place in my career, and I could really use some advice and outside perspective. In short: my current job is incredibly stressful, with an environment bordering on abusive. I have an offer for a new job which I think would be much more pleasant. But I'd really be putting some people I truly like in a bad position if I leave my job now. Details below.

I work in a key role in a very high profile company in a much sought-after field. A lot of people would kill to have my job. On paper it really is a dream job. But, as is often the case, the reality is a lot different than the perception. The leaders at the top of the organization are irrational, unstable and sometimes emotionally abusive. We get almost no time off, and when you do manage to get a day or two away, you MUST read your email, and you should expect some phone calls, often for trivial matters. People are fired regularly for bizarre reasons, and lots of people quit too. I could go on, but you get the picture. I am middle aged and have worked a lot of places, so I have enough perspective to know that this is not just normal "work sucks" stuff. This is a really dysfunctional place, unlike anything I have ever seen before.

I got fed up with it recently, and started looking for a new job. I found that the local job market for my skills isn't quite what I thought it was. I got some offers but they paid way less than I currently make. But I finally got one that I'm seriously considering taking. The role is less powerful, the company unknown, and the field is pretty boring. But I would get my life back, suffer much less stress, and make more money. I think I'm ok with that tradeoff.

So here's where my dilemma comes in. At my current job, we're working on a huge project. The biggest thing the company has done in its existence. It's probably not an exaggeration to say it's a make or break deal. I am not the leader of the project, but I play a very important part. A lot of people there are depending on me to make this a success. And I really, truly like all of the people I work with except the leaders who cause the problems. I also really believe in the products and mission of the company, and I want this project to succeed. It'll help a lot of people if it does.

If I leave this job now, I will not only be screwing over the company, but the many co-workers who I'm close with. The project won't fail, but it might not be as successful as it otherwise would have been, and a lot of people are really going to have to scramble to either find and train a replacement or take up the slack themselves. My skills are pretty specialized, so it's not an easy hire to make. I'd surely be burning some very large bridges, but also probably losing some friendships. On the other hand, if I want to see this project through, I have to commit myself to at least another 6-9 months of insane stress (bad enough that it's having a real impact on my marriage), and I have to turn down this offer for a job that really is perfect for both my skills and lifestyle. And of course start my job search over.

The longer I wait to make this decision, the harder it is to leave because we'll be deeper in the project, and it would be even more disruptive. I really should have left six months ago, but that ship has sailed.

It's easy to say that if the company doesn't have a succession plan, that's their problem, not mine. And I do believe that. It's also true that people are rarely as indispensable as they think they are. I'm sure some of that is at play here as well. But this is a really, really unique position in a unique company. I can't describe it more because I can't risk blowing my anonymity, but please believe me that it would be massively disruptive if I left.

I know this is kind of long and rambling, and there's no perfect answer. But I would really appreciate some advice and thoughts. I've been struggling with this for a while now, and I think my spouse is sick of talking about it. If you've been through something similar, please let me know what you did and how it turned out.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (40 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Take the new job. You're not responsible for the fallout at your old workplace. Just give your two weeks' notice and let the chips fall where they may.
posted by barnoley at 6:54 AM on June 25, 2014 [38 favorites]

Ask yourself: are your health and marriage worth less to you than this company's continued profitability?
posted by Andrhia at 6:55 AM on June 25, 2014 [12 favorites]

I am not the leader of the project, but I play a very important part

You are not irreplaceable. Nobody is. Take the job that's going to make you happy.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:57 AM on June 25, 2014 [11 favorites]

You have to look out for yourself - your sanity, your marriage, your future. Take the job.
posted by something something at 6:58 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

If they had to, they would fire you without this much thought. Companies have no loyalty.

Explain "I am so sorry, I don't want to leave you in a lurch, you can contact me for reasonable requests after I've left, but this new position was a good step for me and I had to take it" in order to not burn bridges. Leaving in the middle of a project isn't terribly professional, so you want to leave on the best terms possible. But remember people leave companies all the time.

Then take the new job.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:59 AM on June 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

You have to save yourself before you can worry about saving others.
Take the new job.
posted by Flood at 6:59 AM on June 25, 2014

There may be a middle ground (involving a longer notice period) which would leave you happier about being able to hand off responsibilities/train someone up, but still gives you a short term exit plan. Depending on how rational your employer is when you hand in your notice, of course.

The other way of looking at it: if one of your friends at work came to you for advice and said the same thing - horrific hours, stress, more money being available in a calmer atmosphere elsewhere - wouldn't your advice be to leave regardless of the scale of the current project?
posted by dvrmmr at 7:00 AM on June 25, 2014

I recently faced a somewhat simiar decision, though I was not as indespensible to the other organization. My two cents: take the other job. The organization you're working at sounds like a miserable place to work, and it's on them if you leave. You have to treat staff like people if you want to keep them or if you want them to be thoughtful when they leave. I left the organization, and found out recently that all of my coworkers followed within a couple months.

Miserable workplaces are able to keep on being miserable because their employees feel bad about letting them fail. Don't be a crutch for them. Your coworkers will get through it, and maybe they'll be inspired to find a better work situation too.
posted by geegollygosh at 7:00 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Take the new job. Your (soon to be former) co-workers will step up and take the lead on this project, and you will soon forget all about that stupid, soul-crushing stress. Ask me how I know.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:04 AM on June 25, 2014 [9 favorites]

Take the new job, offer a somewhat longer exit period (which they may or may not take you up on).
posted by jeather at 7:07 AM on June 25, 2014

I am middle aged. Closer to the end of my career than the beginning. I totally appreciate your concerns about leaving. I would hesitate too. However, my wise old sage advice is to take care of yourself and your family especially first.

I think the only question you should have right now is how to resign and when (Friday?)
posted by 724A at 7:08 AM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Leave leave leave leave.

1. No one is as irreplaceable as we think we are, given the medium term.

2. If you need to think of the good of the company, think about this: this project maybe isn't as great as it could be right now, and the company learns at least a little lesson about not structuring work this way. They may not reform, but chances are they'll adapt a bit.

3. Anything could happen - you could be hit by a bus, war could break out, another key element of this project could collapse. There's no guarantee that the project will succeed even if you stay. You could drop over of a stroke from stress, come to that.

4. In another job, I observed repeated bad habits on the part of management - really foolish stuff that made work and always - as your company does - left us on the edge of "this could go really wrong". Everyone always scrambled to fix the foolery and called in favors and bent rules, and nothing ever changed. What you're doing is saying "these people are so abusive and such poor planners that the only solution is for me to give up something I really want in order to save them from themselves". Do not do this.

Seriously, these people would fire you in a heartbeat if it was convenient - you have proof. Now is the time to jump ship like a very jumpy rat.
posted by Frowner at 7:10 AM on June 25, 2014 [22 favorites]

On a smaller scale 5 years ago, this was me. I gave my notice and the president of the company stopped talking to me. Everyone else understood. I left and a month later I got a text from one of the folks I left behind that the company was shutting down. (Not because I left, but because of the issues that led up to me wanting to leave).

You're not irreplaceable, and if you are, that's poor planning on the company's side, not your fault. The phrase we kept using was "you could get hit by a bus tomorrow and then where would they be."

Jump, and don't look back. You'll be happier, your relationship will be happier and you'll feel better.
posted by neilbert at 7:12 AM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

A lot of people would kill to have my job.
I found that the local job market for my skills isn't quite what I thought it was.
My skills are pretty specialized, so it's not an easy hire to make.

This doesn't add up. Who are those "lot of people"? One of them could be hired to take your place if the company needed it.

Go take the other job.

One more thing - if you decide to take this advice:
"I am so sorry, I don't want to leave you in a lurch, you can contact me for reasonable requests after I've left"
make sure you don't tell that to the horrible management people, but only tell it to a very few specific people that you consider friends.
posted by CathyG at 7:20 AM on June 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think that "loyalty to one's company" is misguided. These days, your company has no loyalty to you, so you owe it no loyalty in return. One of the things that dysfunctional workplaces do is try to make you believe that you are irreplaceable. You are not. Nobody is.

Put on your own oxygen mask. Take the new job. Your health and your marriage are priceless. You don't want to have a formerly happy marriage crumble in midlife, and you certainly don't want to trash your health to the point where you cannot work anymore, ever. If your health is shot, that is one bridge that you cannot ever rebuild.

If the company goes under - well, sucks to be the owners, too bad, so sad, boo hoo. It's management's fault and responsibility, not yours.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:21 AM on June 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think your title or headline is off. This isn't a career decision. You already know what to do about that. This is an emotional decision about leaving some work friends in a lurch. This is a decision that is you and your family versus work friends. Again, the only decision is how and when to make the move, not if.
posted by 724A at 7:22 AM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Your guilt about leaving isn't a reason not to leave; it's a symptom of the problems at the company. Think about it: a dysfunctional workplace has to play some manipulative games with its employees to get them to stay, otherwise no one would work there. The fact that you know they wouldn't hesitate to fire you yet you somehow still feel loyalty is a sign that your thinking is distorted from being in this awful environment.

Leave now before they sink their grubby paws even further into your brain.
posted by medusa at 7:23 AM on June 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

Get out now. You owe it to yourself and your family. Your coworkers will manage. What will you have personally to show for it if you see the current project through? I'm betting, not much except increased misery and a strained marriage.
posted by rocketpup at 7:24 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your health and sanity, your marriage, your life, are all more important than your coworkers.

Look, how many of those coworkers can you guarantee would not jump at another offer, just to save you (not the company: you personally) stress? Any of them with any sense would be out the door in a flash. And as folks say above: you are not irreplaceable; no one is --- this mega-project will go forward, with or without you, if this company causes you to have a heart attack tomorrow, or if they simply fire you as they have fired so many others.

Take the new job offer, and keep your current coworkers in mind whenever you see another opening there they might be interested in.
posted by easily confused at 7:24 AM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Your work friends will likely be secretly jealous that you are getting out. And they'll probably be sending you resumes. Leave and don't look back.
posted by COD at 7:24 AM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

You are not leaving the company in the lurch. The company's bad behavior -- read "bad decisions" are driving you away. They can treat people the way that they do because there's no consequence. You may actually be doing your former co-workers a service by showing management that perhaps how they treat employees does matter after all.

Don't mistake your emotional investment in the project for responsibility or even self-interest. If the project succeeds, it won't be you raking in the profits, and your management probably wouldn't similarly agonize about dropping you.
posted by tyllwin at 7:25 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I know things look different from your perspective, but I think it's quite telling that so many unbiased outsiders are agreeing on something. Leave! Right now! Don't fall for this Stockholm syndrome bullshit.
posted by Behemoth at 7:26 AM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Work friends usually aren't real friends. You'll make new work friends. The people from work who are real friends will understand and support you. They'll probably ask you for advice to jump ship once their jealousy wears off.

Finding a new life partner if your marriage crumbles is going to be a hell of a lot more devastating and difficult than finding someone to chit chat with in the break room.

Kudos to you on finding a new job in such a difficult economy AND while dealing with such an awful job. You'll do better work and be happier at the new place. Congrats!
posted by sockermom at 7:27 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Plus, what if you stay and you find out the other people are leaving! You'll feel like a real chump, then! I add my vote to those who say leave now.
posted by feste at 7:31 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

You would be happy for one of your co-workers if they managed to get out of that toxic environment - I'm willing to bet they'll be just as happy for you.

Their work may become a little more difficult in some ways when you go, but you can bet the farm that if the management didn't make their lives miserable over that, they would find something else to make them miserable over.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:35 AM on June 25, 2014

If it makes you feel better, people have to leave for a sick system to fall apart. Think of it as doing your part.

Also never ever ever ever stay at a job out of guilt or the misguided impression that you are so important they can't function without you. They can, and they'd fire you without a second thought for anything they wanted to, if they wanted to.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:43 AM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Be a leader. This may give your coworkers the courage to leave. Tell them what you discovered about the job market and once you are out keep your eyes open for opportunities for those left behind.
Don't quit till you know you have the job though.
You are in a bad relationship, DTMF.
posted by BoscosMom at 7:59 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

This company isn't treating you right, why are you thinking in its best interests? If you have the offer there isn't much that they can do out of spite.
posted by Slackermagee at 8:04 AM on June 25, 2014

Read the Issendai LiveJournal post on Sick Systems. Think about how much of this applies to your current job. Notice how one of the effects of a sick system is that it creates an emotional involvement that can override logical and practical considerations - if you let it.

Right now your rational brain is saying "GO!', but your heart and your gut are saying, "No, wait, they NEED me . . . . " Maybe it's not always best for you to listen to your heart, because it sure sounds like your heart has been played for a sucker.

I would get my life back

That's a quote from you. How many lives do you have? Personally, I think that one simple sentence should tell you what you need to do, and what you know you need to do. (Take the new job.)
posted by soundguy99 at 8:37 AM on June 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

There's never a great time to leave. But for you, that time is NOW!

Bite the bullet, and submit your resignation. Be as helpful as possible during the transition, and then....go.

You don't really want to be there anyway.

If anyone else had an offer, they'd probably leave.

At this point there's NO upside in staying.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:57 AM on June 25, 2014

Pardon me, but you sounds like a very smart person who got sucked deep into a cult. The alienation from self (you put your project's success above your own), the substitution of family (you put your co-worker's needs above those of your life partner), a new identity wholly dependent on the cult (people would kill to have your job, your contributions are vital to the cause, etc), processes in place that prevent you from leaving (you'd be leaving other victims behind, there is no time to think because you can never fully disconnect), the minimization of harm done to you vs. the good of all (the organization and the work it does are magical, if only some of the leaders weren't so bad) - everything about your post screams "cult" to me.

Just leave! Remember who you were before the cult, the magic that brought you together with your life partner... remember all of those important things, and leave.

It's just an exchange of labor for money. You were offered more money for less labor elsewhere, and there you are. As simple as that.
posted by rada at 10:45 AM on June 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

Leave. You've got one life and this isn't how you want to spend it.
posted by jessca84 at 11:03 AM on June 25, 2014

I've been you. Please just quit and don't look back.

I was in such a specialized role that I wasn't able to take vacation because the company wouldn't give me permission to find and train a substitute. So I took random days off when I could and came back to an increased workload the next day. It was soul-crushing, but I loved my job and my co-workers.

When I got a far better offer, I agonized about how to break it to my similarly abusive boss, thinking the place would crumble without me. But I gave my two weeks' notice and he had a replacement for me lined up within two days so I could train her on my way out. (Deeply, deeply ironic, no?)

My co-workers still occasionally email me about arcane aspects of the job, but I'm fine with helping them out. And we're all still friends -- you'll keep in touch with the ones you want to keep in touch with.
posted by vickyverky at 11:10 AM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Nthing the "take the new job and don't feel bad about it"s. But to touch on something I don't think has been mentioned yet:

I have to commit myself to at least another 6-9 months of insane stress (bad enough that it's having a real impact on my marriage)

In my experience with sick systems like this, there will never be a "good" time because they tend to operate in states of almost constant emergency. The six months will become nine which will become a year... while that drags on, some other highly important initiative will be launched, and so on. I left my bad environment like that and my only regret is that I didn't do so sooner.
posted by Candleman at 11:25 AM on June 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

Not only that, but I'm gonna guess that some other super-important shitstorm will come up in 4-8 months, shortly before the current one looks to be ending, so that the next insanity overlaps with this one. A badly run company is not interested in stability, OP's leaving will be just another crisis in a sea of constant crises.
posted by rhizome at 11:33 AM on June 25, 2014

Do it and don't feel guilty.

I had this dead end job after high school. When it was time for me to move onto college, I felt guilty about leaving my work friends behind, good women in their mid-20s and 30s, who were living hand to mouth, in some really dire situations. Twenty years later I still think about these people and what I learned from them.

One of my work friends took me aside and told me that it was important I move on because I could move on. "You're smart. You have a chance at a real education."

In short, the Ben Affleck scene in "Good Will Hunting".

You want to make a difference in the lives of the people you work with? Show them there is a way out, with better opportunities. Move on.
posted by mitschlag at 12:02 PM on June 25, 2014

I've been in toxic workplaces and seen people leave, and leave me and my group in the lurch. Never once did I blame them for getting out. I've envied them, a bit, and wondered when it would be my turn, but I've never blamed them and I've never heard anybody else blame someone for quitting a toxic workplace.

Take the new job. You don't owe your co-workers anything. Trust me, they understand.
posted by gauche at 2:02 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you decide to stay (you shouldn't), you should at the very least still quit and then watch what they offer you to keep you. You are at the very least in for a substantial raise, perhaps you could even use the opportunity to influence leadership on the culture they've decided to create and perpetuate.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:58 PM on June 25, 2014

You CAN leave, if you want to, and that doesn't make you a bad person, and you're not really letting anyone down.

I was you, in a somewhat less toxic environment. Key role in a super-major, make-or-break organizational project. Lots of people depending on me, etc. I'm sure you're important, but they'll find a way to move forward without you.

My question doesn't really cover it, but I also had a lot of anxiety about how my departure would affect my coworkers and how they would react to me leaving. I had some direct reports that I really felt like I was letting down, along with other coworkers.

People were generally supportive of my leaving, although they were disappointed and sad. No one was really surprised. I left in good standing, and with a good reference from my manager. Even when things are dysfunctional, there's a lot you can do to leave people with a positive impression of your professionalism.

Give a reasonable notice. IME 4 weeks is standard for specialized, mid-career professionals and management. Two-weeks is more appropriate for entry-level, admin, etc. type jobs. A lot of workplaces have policies on this, so be sure you know what the policy states.

Have an exit strategy. Have an idea about who can cover the various parts of your job. Nobody will do it like you did, but who at least has an idea? Management may not take your suggestions, but it looks good to have a basic plan for how the important parts of your work can continue. Document the non-obvious, key parts of your work, or make sure you share them with someone before you leave.

Put the right frame around your departure. You're leaving because x opportunity is so perfect, wonderful, etc. You have to leave DysfunctionCo, but you just couldn't pass it up. Get a script like this and follow it scrupulously with your boss, other higher-ups, direct reports, and coworkers you don't know well. It is also a really good time to thank people who have been helpful to you, and express whatever good feelings you have about the people, the work, and the organization.

If your management is just nuts, none of this may help with them, but it will make a difference to your coworkers. I understand how you feel that your just bailing out on people, but really - things change, people leave, life goes on and being a mensch during the transition is how you keep from letting people down.

A lot of MeFites say that you don't "owe" the company anything, and I agree with that. But I think it is a good idea to be professional and courteous to the humans who work there.
posted by jeoc at 4:14 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Pretty much every employer will lay you off with no compunction; you have the same freedom. Make sure your work is well-documented and well-organized, and when you give notice, work with them to to make it as easy as possible for your successor.
posted by theora55 at 8:45 AM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older How do severe depression and (inattentive)ADHD mix...   |   Help me kill time while working near 34th St, NYC Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.