How to quit without being a jerk
September 8, 2014 8:29 AM   Subscribe

Long-term work project starting. I want to quit my job. How do I start the project when I really, really hope that I am not here to finish it?

I'm super burnt out at my job and have been looking for a new job for several months now. At the same time, I'm trying to stay positive at my job and be here while I'm here. I'm trying to find a balance between being a good employee (showing up on time, being responsible) and taking care of myself (leaving the office at a reasonable time, working out during my lunch break). It's a challenge but I'm working on it.

One of the things I work on is an annual conference in the middle of February. It requires a ton of preparation. The actual event is exhausting and stressful. The idea of working at another one fills me with anxiety. It's actually weird - I feel anxious about it but also a little like, who cares, I'm going to do exactly what I need to do and not another thing. But I know that when push comes to shove, I will be even more stressed out if I end up at the event and haven't done a lot to prepare.

I'm worried that the longer I stick around, the harder that it will be to quit before the conference because I don't want to screw over my colleagues. I started my job in early December and it was a struggle getting up to speed on everything that needed to be done before the conference. Part of me says that's not my problem. I realize it's not my problem. I know that I'm replaceable and everyone is replaceable. But giving notice after, say, November 1 would put my colleagues in a crappy situation. I don't want to be a jerk.

My husband has told me to quit. We have savings (I have at least 9 months of salary in cash on hand) and we'll be okay for a while. I just don't want to quit because 1) I'm stubborn, 2) I think that I'll feel (more) miserable if I'm not working, and 3) I worry that it will be harder to get a job without a job. I have a friend who has been unemployed for months and I'm terrified of joining her. And, in some ways, work does make me feel proud of myself. I feel proud of myself for providing for my family, for having a stable job in my field. But that pride matters less and less these days. I also feel like I've gotten a lot out of this job but I'm done.

Should I just suck it up and deal until I get a new gig? If I don't have an offer by say, November, should I just quit? The idea of doing another event sounds really awful. I thought I could take classes in the spring if I don't have a new gig but I'd rather definitely have a new gig and be taking classes.

If I should just suck it up and deal, do you have any suggestions for doing that? I actually started congratulating myself a little every pay day, like yay you survived another two weeks without flipping out. I also look at my vacation days as a reminder that I've earned something. Little things but it helps. I've been working out during my lunch break a little which also helps.
posted by kat518 to Work & Money (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It will be hard, but just work like you're not leaving. Do your job just like you would normally. You aren't leaving anyways until you have a new job in hand. But when you do find a better job for yourself, you put in a reasonable notice, get your transitions in order and go. Honestly, this is business and that's just how it works. It may cause some hard times at your old employer, but they are professionals and will deal with it and once they have hired your replacement and gotten them up to speed, they won't even remember you. Do what is best for you and be professional with your employers. Try not to feel bad. It's hard, but it is how the system works. You need to not feel like you're letting them down by leaving. You're doing what is best for you and them because it is better for them in the long run to hire someone who wants to be there...
posted by cmm at 8:35 AM on September 8, 2014 [7 favorites]

Oh. I really think you should put all your extra effort into finding a new job.

Yes. Quit in November, if it comes to that.

And just... No. No. No. No. That conference and the way your workplace is structured is not your problem. Yes, plan to escape before it gets crazy.

I mean, is there a possibility it'll be easier this year because you had experience last year?

Argh! Now you've got me doing it!! Do you see how toxic and viral that line of thinking is?!

Make getting a new job your only goal and pursue that.

Good luck!!
posted by jbenben at 8:37 AM on September 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Don't worry about the project and where it's at when you're ready to leave. People leave jobs all the time with varying levels of notice, and you have to realize that everyone is replaceable.

Let me repeat this. Everyone. Is. Replaceable.

Your decision on timing of when to leave should be about taking care of yourself, and not trying to make the transition completely seamless. Your company's responsibility is for the latter.
posted by xingcat at 8:37 AM on September 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

It sounds like you've developed some excellent coping skills for managing your anxiety at this job. I think you should stay employed while actively seeking employment - and really hit the pavement. It's a tough market and half-assedly looking for a new job isn't going to ease your stress. Why don't you give yourself an end date in your mind? Like, if you haven't found a job by Dec 1st, quit and sign up for classes.
posted by pintapicasso at 8:38 AM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

The event will be easier this year because you've done it before. Don't quit without something lined up. Do put holiday time on the calendar now with your employer for post-conference R&R. Slow your roll. Do you job with focus. Don't allow yourself to get run over by stress. Take solid chunks of time during the day to focus on the duties of preparing for the conference then force yourself to move on to other things and ignore the conference the rest of the day.

Lastly, don't quit now to make things "easier" on your employer. It really doesn't matter when you quit, they'll suck it up, find someone else or make a change.
posted by amanda at 8:40 AM on September 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

A very experienced colleague recently retired. He is someone widely considered "irreplaceable" in my workplace.

At his retirement lunch, someone fawningly said that to him and he picked up his glass of water. "This is our organization," he told us, then held up his index finger, and stuck it in the water.

"This is me." And then he removed the finger. The water, of course, immediately filled in the void his finger had left. "No difference. You'll be fine."

Do what's right for you. Prepare people as best you can, but don't look back.
posted by arnicae at 8:48 AM on September 8, 2014 [12 favorites]

The best thing you can do for this organisation is make yourself replaceable by documenting your job for the next person to hold it. Do this while looking for a new job, which you will hopefully find before reaching your internal deadline for quitting.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:58 AM on September 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think you're imagining that a "normal" situation in a business is "everything is going perfectly because everyone is here 100%, fully trained, etc". Kind of like imagining that your "normal" commute should be twenty minutes, because that's how long it takes when you're driving it at 2am and there are no cars on the road.

So you're thinking that if you leave, you're pushing your company into an "abnormal" situation, messing things up, etc.

When you leave, yes, you may make things hard for your colleagues, a bit. But you know what? Stuff like that is always happening. It sucks, and a well-run company won't be organized such that one person's absence brings everything down like a house of cards, but dealing with someone who leaves while they still have a project going on is a fact of life. That's just how life works, because most people always have projects so if they ever leave at all they'll be leaving in the middle.

The difficulty of compensating for the loss of a colleague is a normal part of workplace life. It's par for the course.

Document what you're doing for this conference, leave good notes, try to leave it so that someone else can pick up. But that's all you've got to do.
posted by Frowner at 9:08 AM on September 8, 2014 [11 favorites]

What jumps out at me is that you've been looking for a job for several months WHILE EMPLOYED, without success, and yet your husband is encouraging you to quit without something else lined up. These two statements don't go together. If it were a simple thing for you to find another job you would have found one by now. Apparently it's not so easy, even without the disadvantage of having just quit a job, so don't quit without something else lined up.

I know it feels good to think about just quitting when you are burned out. Think about it if it feels good, but don't actually do it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:45 AM on September 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

I recently went through this. We were in the midsts of a huge restructuring of our corporate proprietary computer systems (going from a each site does what it wants to a standardized system. This was a multi year long project and we were coming to the end of it. At the end we were scheduled to do it all over again with the business systems (billing and payroll), but this time I'd only have to worry about my own location instead of being on the team that migrated sites. In the midst of all this it was decided the building would be sold and we'd have to move our entire infrastructure and every computer and paper clip.

There were also layoffs and furloughs and huge bonuses for executives, so it was a fairly toxic place to work.

I started looking for new work. I found new work. I put in my notice. Sure, I felt like an asshole bailing when there was a lot of work to be done, but my mental (and physical) health was more important, and the work wasn't going to stop, I saw a nice uptick in my wage, and I got back 2 hours of commute every day (and no on call!).

I spent too much time trying to figure out the best way to quit. In the end I wrote:

I will be leaving my position effectively March 1st. I thank you for the opportunities extended to me over the last X years. I believe I have made a positive impact, and hope you agree,


Working the next two weeks was easier than I expected. I refused to take on anything new. I stopped putting up with bullshit. I focused on wrapping up the project I could, passing on the ones I couldn't, and saying goodbye to those who I would miss.

You just need to keep reminding yourself you didn't create the situation that makes you want to move on and you didn't create the situation that will make it suck for others if you leave. They will survive. No one is as essential as they think they are and they may gripe, but you need to look out for you!
posted by cjorgensen at 9:51 AM on September 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for your feedback, everyone. Just to clarify a few things, last year was not my first conference. I've been a part of it a few times now. Some things get easier year to year because I'm just more confident but it's never easy, there's just something different that is stressing me out.

I'm trying to be an adult and avoid statements like "I *can't* do another conference" but I would really, really prefer to not do another. The preparation is stressful and at the actual event, it's not unusual for me to work from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Last year, I thought seriously of quitting during it but my director saw that I was at my breaking point and told me to get some fresh air. I'm tearing up thinking about how stressed out I was. Honestly, I think I'm a chill person and a hard worker and I know there are people at the event who are working harder and longer hours than I am but I don't know how they do it and I don't really want to learn. This event is like the machine in The Princess Bride.

The reason that my husband thinks I should quit is because it would give me more time to work on job applications. If I'm getting interviews but only applying for 30% of the jobs that I could potentially apply for, applying for more jobs should mean more interviews and hopefully an offer. I'm also applying only for stuff that would be in most cases a step up if not a lateral move. And we have savings and I supported him when he wasn't getting paid for a while. But I know that the best thing for me and us would be if I got another job so I'm trying to stay focused on that.
posted by kat518 at 11:33 AM on September 8, 2014

It will be infinitely harder to find a job while unemployed. People are incredibly biased against unemployed people when hiring. Do not do not do not quit without having already accepted another offer. Searching for another job while unemployed is not easier; it is incredibly demoralizing and almost always takes longer than you think it will/should. Don't quit without an accepted offer.

As for current job, don't feel even the slightest bit of worry about screwing them over. What if you got incredibly sick tomorrow, and had to leave? Or, more optimistically, won the lottery and moved to a tropical paradise? Their lack of redundancies and continuity planning is not your problem. It's nice of you to feel concern for your colleagues, but the most professional and helpful thing you can do is, as you said, don't leave before you leave, and document immaculately. In a best case scenario, you get a new job and don't have to do the conference, and you've left behind incredibly well-organized records and documentation of processes and current statuses, and can hand that off to your colleagues/your replacement during your two weeks' notice. That would make you a real mensch, but even if you don't do that, they will muddle along just fine whenever you leave.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 1:43 PM on September 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

To expand on what bowtiesarecool said: not only is there a prejudice against unemployed job candidates; but it's infinitely worse against people who up and quit their job. I'm a recruiter for a very selective company, but I can still make an offer to a candidate who's unemployed if I can show that they were laid off in a downsize, or their role was restructured to some part of the country they couldn't stand, or whatever. But at this point I wouldn't even show my hiring managers a resume from someone who quit because her job was stressing her out. They'd just say "our jobs can be stressful too" and assume it's a mismatch.

Hey… is there any chance this conference could be useful to you as a networking gig? Will you be AT the conference?
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:00 PM on September 8, 2014

Keep your job until you have a new one. Find the time to apply for 100% of the positions you want. Find recruiters, update LinkedIn.

I too wanted to get a new job, but I hung out pending a new project that was changing everything in our organization materially, so I decided to hang out for that and see what happened afterwards. Joke was on me. I was let go, with two weeks notice so I could train the embryo who was replacing me. Good times.

In that two weeks I applied for 100 jobs. After my last day, I went on 5 interviews, and started my new job 3 weeks later. Between unemployment and severance and unused vacation, I made money on the deal. My point...they won't think twice about screwing you over if the situation was reversed.

Start setting up your job so that you can turn it over to others. Ask for help, offer to cross-train someone. I guarantee you there's some eager young thing who would LOVE to help you out with this, in an 'All About Eve' sort of way. I PROMISE there's someone who wants to get in on this so bad she can taste it.

While you can get hired at any time, end of fiscal year (now for most of us) end of calendar year (next quarter) are pretty grim times to get that going.

For sure, put aside about an hour a day just for applying for new jobs. Perhaps it's after the kids are in bed, or early in the morning. There's something so fun about doing it, and knowing that the applications are out there. Keep a spreadsheet, this stuff gets nuts.

In your regular job, come in on time, leave on time, take lunch and breaks. It's important to get that fresh air, and to confirm that there is a world beyond your desk.

If the source of the stress with this event is that you're doing too much, get help. I'll say it again, GET HELP!

But no, don't quit your job.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:28 PM on September 8, 2014

Long-term work project starting. I want to quit my job. How do I start the project when I really, really hope that I am not here to finish it?

You do your job to the best of your ability. You look for other jobs. When you get one that you want, you quit your current job. You give a reasonable amount of notice - that is the notice that you are required to give.

Your employer is not your friend. What you owe them is set out in your contract, and that is all you owe them.

Remember, they would not hesitate to fire you with minimum notice, irrespective of your personal needs, if they thought it was in the interests of their business. Similarly, you should not hesitate to put your personal needs ahead of their business needs. So quit at the time that would be best for you. Their business issues are not your problem.

If you want to be really nice, you can give them extra notice. But don't put off quitting, and put yourself through stress that you don't need, so they can make more money.

I don't want to be a jerk.

Behaving in your own best interests is not being a jerk. It is being smart. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't show some consideration, but in the end, your needs should take priority over your bosses' business and your coworkers' convenience.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:56 PM on September 8, 2014

I definitely would not quit until I had something else lined up; all your instincts on that are correct. You should feel zero remorse for quitting whenever you get another job with the standard two week notice, as others have rightly stated.

Since your boss sort of acknowledged how stressed you were at that conference, is there any way to preempt some of the stress or change certain responsibilities by talking to your boss well in advance? "Boss, I reached my limit with x, y, and z at the conference last year; can we give some of x and y to other coworkers or reorganize some aspect of conference so I can excel there?" or ask for more breaks/pre-plan decompression time during the event?
posted by rawralphadawg at 6:38 AM on September 9, 2014

Response by poster: The conference is a networking opportunity for everyone but me. My colleagues get to make new connections and rub elbows. I get to sit in a windowless room that I can't leave unless there's a crisis in another room. Colleagues invite me to dinner and I get to say, maybe if you're eating at 10:30 p.m. Or my colleagues are working harder than I am and had to pull an all-nighter. More often than not, when I meet people with whom I have exchanged several emails with, talked to on the phone many times, gotten excited about finally meeting in person, they say, "oh hi, can I bring my friend to the event tonight? This event space is so confusing, why don't you have any signs?" When I was up late the evening before putting up signs.

That's part of the reason I hate this event so much (I'm tearing up thinking about it). For all of the work I put into it, I'm basically invisible except when someone needs something. People I thought of as friends just come up to me for more drink tickets or directions to the free breakfast. I like being helpful but there are only so many times I can tell people what the wifi password is before I start to lose it ("it's on the slip of paper I just handed you, the sign that is directly in front of you, and a handout in your folder.") I probably sound like a princess and I don't expect a medal for doing my job. I do get thank yous and I try to savor them. But it's not only stressful, it's also isolating. I sent a good friend an email during a quiet moment last year telling her that I just felt really sad and lonely after my director yelled at me for leaving the room.

I'm basically crying at my desk now thinking about this stupid event. How on earth am I going to potentially work at it again?

My director knows that it's a problem that some people work a ton at the event and others work less so. We talked about it last year. We talked about it the year before. I don't expect anything to change. I actually expect it will be worse this year because one colleague will be on maternity leave. I've thought of laying it on the line and telling her that I just can't do it again but seeing that I can't think about it without turning into a red-faced mess, I don't know that I can talk to her about it without doing the same. I've thought of going to HR and telling them my concerns but I feel like that's along the lines of telling them that I can't do my job. Part of me says, what do I have to lose, this crappy job? but the other part of me says, yes, don't lose your job.
posted by kat518 at 1:52 PM on September 9, 2014

I'm basically crying at my desk now thinking about this stupid event. How on earth am I going to potentially work at it again?

How about this approach?:
"Hi boss. My experience working on this project last year suggests that this is a job that cannot be done properly by one person. If we want this conference to run smoothly, we need to put more people on it than just me."
If your boss is not a total ass, he'll accept that argument.

If you know you'll have help this time, it might make the thought of working the conference less stressful for you. Also, if there are more people on the job, then it won't be such a big deal if you leave - the project knowledge will be spread out. This may also make you feel more comfortable with leaving abruptly.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:37 PM on September 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Why don't you take one or two of your vacation days off to work on job applications? (Although--I'm paranoid. I would work on them all day, but submit them after work hours, so they don't imagine you working on applications at work.) A day away from your current environment will probably be a morale booster, and you can get a lot done in just a day if you can really buckle down without interruptions.
posted by anaelith at 5:25 PM on September 13, 2014

So, you are not me and this is not advice. But, if it were me, I think I'd manage my stress levels by committing to only what I can reasonably do that doesn't make me crazy. Pretend you are a zen master. Walk away when things get stressful.

"oh hi, can I bring my friend to the event tonight? This event space is so confusing, why don't you have any signs?" The zen master smiles ever-so-slightly and says, "friend, there are signs all around you" and never answers the other questions. Are you in charge of finding out if friend can attend the event? That doesn't seem like your problem. Send them to the person who can answer that question. Or say, "Sure!" and then make no moves to do anything about that.

People I thought of as friends just come up to me for more drink tickets or directions to the free breakfast. The zen master says, "Oh...I don't have any more drink tickets. I'm not sure where the breakfast is...?" and then trails off to some other thing that needs attention.

Colleagues invite me to dinner. Go. Everything else can wait.

after my director yelled at me for leaving the room. The zen master says, "Wow. You seem really stressed out. I don't like being yelled at. Is there something I can help you with right now?" If the yelling continues, you just need to walk out and away. If the director keeps yelling, keep walking. The zen master might also say, "I'm sorry, I needed to get some lunch/take a restroom break/get some air/help a colleague, how can I help you?" And you should force yourself to take these breaks. I know that things get crazy at these things. And it's often a bunch of Type-A personalities are marathoning at the same time which can be horrible. You don't have to be that person. Have an alarm on your phone which is a reminder to take a break. If there's other people in your vicinity who will give you the side-eye just pull out your phone and go, "Oh! I'll be right back!" then take your sweet time with whatever break you had planned. When you come back say, "I'm back!" [big smiles!] "What's next?!" [big smiles!]

You can manage yourself in this situation. But, of course, you don't have to. Keep looking for that job, quit when you want.
posted by amanda at 10:09 AM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older You are not my vet, but you may have some advice...   |   Help me hack a Darien Lake vacation (for next... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.