How risky is it to quit a job before lining up a new one?
October 12, 2017 7:04 PM   Subscribe

I’m profoundly burnt out from my job of 5+ years. I’ve been commuting 3-4 hours/day for all those years. It’s a nontechnical job at a well-known Bay Area tech company, and recent org changes have made the job more difficult than ever before. I’ve always gotten great performance reviews, but have reason to believe my position is now precarious here. I’ve developed an ulcer, daily migraines, and miscellaneous still-undiagnosed health issues. The thought of doing this for another year literally makes me think about killing myself.

I know I need to leave, but it’s so hard to jobhunt when you’re already so tired and busy and miserable. In the past 20 years, I’ve not spent more than 10 days not-working. And the past 10 years have been the kinds of jobs where the work never ends, you have to login evenings and weekends just to do some semblance of keeping up.

Conventional wisdom is that it’s much easier to get a job when you have a job than when you’re unemployed. But even if I do get a job I like — and don’t just take the first thing I can get — the thought of giving two weeks notice, taking a week off and then jumping into something brand new is also profoundly depressing.

The one upside is that unlike a lot of other miserable, burnt-out, long-commuting people in the world, I’ve been paid well enough that it is financially possible for me to live without a paycheck for awhile.

What I fantasize about doing is: quitting, taking a month to recover, then spending another few months taking some Udacity and General Assembly classes to have a more formal background in the part of my job I like best, which I’d like to focus on in my next job. And then plunging back into the job market.

What’s preventing me from doing that is the fear that if I quit this job without another one lined up, nobody will ever hire me again. How reasonable is this fear?
posted by mrmurbles to Work & Money (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The thought of doing this for another year literally makes me think about killing myself.


Sure, it's risky. So is everything worth doing. From my perspective the risks of staying are worse than the risks of going, when you're already thinking like that.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:15 PM on October 12 [12 favorites]

Yes go. Temp while you look for a job.
posted by sandmanwv at 7:19 PM on October 12 [4 favorites]

If you have the savings to survive while you train up and hunt for something better, it sounds like a great idea. Consider a move- your dollars may stretch further, but you'll have to balance that with the loss of your professional network. You sound miserable. Life's too short for that.
posted by jenkinsEar at 7:27 PM on October 12

Look into going on disability - that way you can get your mental health on a more even keel, work on your next steps, and still be employed. I know several people who have done this when burnout shaded into elevated anxiety/depression.
posted by matildaben at 7:30 PM on October 12 [8 favorites]

Before you leave in a rush - why don't you take a vacation? You must have a lot of time accrued. Take a week or two. Stay at home or go away, whichever is more appealing. The first few days you will probably just do whatever you normally do in your off-time and it might feel weird. But then you will start to do some different things, and you might start feeling a little more relaxed (or maybe you'll just be stressed about the free time, and that will be good information to have as well). And start thinking about what you want to do, in a slightly less panicked/trapped fashion. Maybe contact a recruiter or work on your resume, maybe not.

Another idea, to maybe explore on your time off: what about an unpaid leave? Only we can know how your employer would react to a request like this, but I've been surprised at the number of employers who are open to it.

You might be thinking "why is this person suggesting vacation/leave? I just said I can't take time off!" But if you're on the verge of leaving anyway, you're actually in a great position. Maybe your boss will be annoyed, but if you've earned the time, they have to let you take it. And if you're on the verge of leaving, who cares if your boss is a little annoyed?

On that note, and maybe another thing to think about on your vacation: what if you just started working less hours? What if you just stopped responding on evenings and weekends? Or responded less quickly? What if you left at 5 or whatever and just didn't look at your phone for the rest of the night? Would you be fired? Would people just be annoyed? Are there other people who do this? Really think through what might actually happen.

Good luck. I've been in your position before and if there was one thing I wish I'd known, it's that I had a lot more options than I thought.
posted by lunasol at 7:33 PM on October 12 [34 favorites]

What if you left at 5 or whatever and just didn't look at your phone for the rest of the night? Would you be fired?

Getting canned wouldn't be that bad because you would at least stand a chance at collecting unemployment.
posted by paulcole at 7:42 PM on October 12 [16 favorites]

If you're at a big public company the odds are that they'd pay you if they fired you. So take vacation, stop working weekends, slow down. You sound extremely burned out, and that doesn't heal in weeks but months or longer.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:50 PM on October 12 [4 favorites]

"Literally makes me think about killing myself."

You need to take a big chunk of time off now. Now now now. How is up to you, but under no circumstances should you put this off.
And find preferably multiple someones, and including professional someones, to consult with about this.
posted by sacchan at 8:25 PM on October 12 [1 favorite]

It’s not reasonable. I quit my job to move across the country and I was working within a month. Now, is that typical? No. But you’ve got 20 years of solid work history/experience. You’ll be fine.

I do strongly recommend the suggestion to stop working past 5, stop checking email at night, and take you vacation time. What are they going to do, fire you? Well then, you’ll get unemployment and possibly severance. Sounds like a win-win to me!
posted by Automocar at 8:36 PM on October 12 [5 favorites]

How old are you? That could be a factor in getting rehired. I'm old enough that I'd think twice about outright quitting. But stop being available after hours? And a good, long vacation? You need these things right now. Think of them as professional boundaries.
posted by summerstorm at 8:45 PM on October 12 [2 favorites]

+1 for taking a medical leave (stress leave is medical leave) and giving yourself some time to breathe and regroup. Going straight from burnout to job hunting is super stressful. Don't do that to yourself. Take 90 days and quit after that if you can't stomach going back.
posted by vignettist at 11:31 PM on October 12 [3 favorites]

i am also for a solution of seeing a psychologist and then taking medical leave. Then come back with a doctors note that you can't work nights and weekends. Leave at 5 and turn your phone off on the weekend. See what happens. Communicate clearly to your boss what you can and can't do. The worst that happens is you are fired.
posted by jazh at 12:40 AM on October 13 [3 favorites]

Seconding the medical leave advice above. I've met people who took months off from jobs at big Bay Area companies for mental health reasons, and it sounds like that might apply for you, given the suicidal ideation you describe. Some used their sick leave and then didn't go back at the end of their leave, some did. Memail me if you want details of where they went for treatment--all spoke glowingly of the experience.
posted by col_pogo at 12:53 AM on October 13 [2 favorites]

Fwiw, many years ago I went out on a stress leave and the leave ppwk was signed by my GP, not a psychologist. If I'd thought I needed to find a psychologist and I didn't already have one, in my state of mind at the time I'm not sure I would have taken the time. At least check with your GP before ruling them out.
posted by vignettist at 1:53 AM on October 13

How risky is it to quit a job before lining up a new one?

"Less risky than driving yourself to suicide by not quitting" is the only answer applicable to your present circumstances.
posted by flabdablet at 2:17 AM on October 13 [11 favorites]

It's much easier to get a job when you aren't feeling suicidal. The playing-it-safe route would be to get a leave of absence signed off by a doctor and spend time getting therapy and looking for other work, the must-preserve-mental-health-at-all-costs route is to leave a 2 week notice of resignation on your immediate superior's desk and see how soon they try to shuffle you out of there.

Take a look at your finances, now, and cut the extra expenditures of a life of comfort, because whatever you are able to buffer with your current savings can stretch even farther when you downsize your life a bit. This is so you can exist while you're looking for new work and also attending therapy - because it isn't just job burnout that got you here, it's coping skills. Start planning to not drive 3-4 hours a day for a job. Look into work closer to home OR look into selling and moving closer to another center of employment that would be closer to home. Simplify your life. Bring peace back into your self.

Remind yourself that we have this one life and it is worth a whole damn lot. Your life is worth a whole damn lot. Do not let fear stop you in your tracks. Get out of that job, take the classes you need to strengthen your skills, and get after the next stage in your life with a passion. You will get hired. You will find a new job. You will feel better. Don't put a timeline on it, just know it is going to happen and you have to be willing to do anything to make it happen.
posted by missh at 2:44 AM on October 13 [5 favorites]

If the advice above about getting disability or otherwise paid/still technically on the payroll if not being paid right this moment is doable for you, follow that up, because paid is better than unpaid.

That said, I was in a similar position in 2010 -- job thankless and stressful and I was seriously burnt out, and I had some cash in savings to cover the bills for a while, so I said "fuck it" and gave my two weeks' notice and took summer vacation. I quit in May and started looking in August, and found a position within a couple of weeks, started working again at the end of September. The time served me well, and when the money was getting thin, I was ready to go back to work anyway. I explain the gap by telling people I took summer vacation and it was the best thing I ever did and encouraging them to take a summer vacation of their own. I think the enthusiasm and the backstory (I say that I was getting bummed out by seeing all these museums and things post free admission on Tuesdays or whatever, and I always had to work, but I wanted to actually just go wake up in the morning and then go do something impromptu and fun -- which is true, just less important than the other reasons) avoids any "you were not employed for six whole months! you must be unemployable!!" weirdness. Especially if you take classes during your vacation, this will be fine and totally explainable. You may even find yourself advocating for vacations with your interviewers, as I do. So please don't let a fear of explaining that gap keep you tied to a place that has you in such misery, and get out now.
posted by sldownard at 2:56 AM on October 13 [8 favorites]

I'll bet you have accrued sick time. Ask your doctor to prescribe a leave, and use sick time. It should just be a letter from the doctor, will vary based on policies at your work. Use the time to look for work, get your bearings, make a decision away from the source of stress. It sounds like you're great at your job and will find a new one easily, so if, while on leave, you come to the decision that you just have to leave, leave. I left a toxic job in April, and am nearing the end of my short term savings, and have 0 regret.
posted by theora55 at 7:12 AM on October 13

This is your life at stake - there is NO job in the world worth that.
Take a well-deserved vacation or medical leave, or quit. But get your life back.
When it's back, make a solemn promise not to let any job do this to you. Set those boundaries and stick with them!
With your work history, you'll be surprised how hireable you are.
Be good to yourself first.
posted by dbmcd at 12:13 PM on October 13

I have been part of the hiring process for at least three people in technical positions in the Bay Area who discussed that during their interviews and wound up getting hired by us (this was over at least 2 companies for me, one small and one large). Always some variant of "at my last job, XXX was happening so I got the F out of there." The question that arises, that you will have to be prepared to answer, is whether things were really that bad or whether you just can't handle normal work culture and pressure. And in the case of the people who we interviewed, they brought up specific examples that made us think "Man, that's messed up. You were right to leave." In one case where I called up a reference, they implied that the statements were true without straight up saying "Yeah, this company blows."

When you face these questions in your future interviews, don't focus so much on people being assholes. Instead, focus on specific organizational things that anyone in their right mind would agree were terrible.

To echo everyone else, quit (or medical leave or whatever; I'd recommend quitting) right now. You are heading down a dangerous road.
posted by hammurderer at 2:47 PM on October 13 [1 favorite]

Before you read what I'm going to write, I don't want you to fixate just on my response for it fulfilling your fears. I have tended to do that in the past with some Ask Mefis; we fall victim to confirmation bias and just look for the answers where people confirm our pre-existing beliefs. Don't do that here. I want you to read this as something that mostly agrees with everyone here, but introduces one small NUANCE of caution. Don't blow that up into a giant message chaining you to your desk, because that is so very much, not how I meant it.

I was out of work over seven years ago, and one of the things I did was take a few months off before looking. Here's the nuance, and it's a small one and probably unique to my situation: this proved to be detrimental to me when I was ready to start looking again. This was, admittedly, during the Great Recession, so the bar was so very much higher back then. I found that people wanted to know what I had been doing during that time, and I found it difficult to find work.

My circumstances were different than yours, most likely. I doubt our careers are the same, which means the employer-employee balance is likely different, and the world's financial circumstances are currently much better than they were.

And my life wasn't an issue. Either way, I'd continue to live. Maybe that's the biggest difference.

I suppose I am mentioning this because I know companies can be hard in their outlooks. So I think that, by all means, yes, by God, you need to take time off to recover from burnout – which, let's make it clear, I think is a deeply valid need, especially if you are "literally [...] think[ing] about killing [your]self," a phrase which made me very concerned for your welfare – but make sure you have something "employer-friendly" to say about the time you needed to recover that is hard and practical, not warm and fuzzy.

But the thing is, it sounds like you've got that planned, based on what you wrote. If you tell employers you spent that time retraining – and, hell, that doesn't mean you have to retrain 9-5 5 days a week – then that's very "employer-friendly." People like that, it sounds full of "gumption" and "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps" and all that good Americana stuff. (By the way, Steve Wozniak just opened up "Woz U" today.)

To me, it sounds like you are firmly burnt out. And I don't mean that in the casual easygoing way, where you'd say to a friend after a long week, "Man, am I burnt out." I mean that you literally are burnt. out. Soul-weary. I know that feeling, brother.

Your resources sound like they are just 99.999% gone and need time to regenerate. It might be worth taking a look at a few of the articles about burnout posted to Hacker News; there's some good advice there, some specific to the tech field, some not. At the very least, it and their comments will make it clear to you that you are not alone.

One other thing I'd suggest ... and it's a one-off ... is see if you can find something you enjoy that engages a wholly different part of your brain, and make that as much of a priority for your life as your work. It can be a salve in tough times.

Lastly, if you find yourself truly moments away from the act ... click here and here.
posted by WCityMike at 3:36 PM on October 13 [1 favorite]

Before you leave in a rush - why don't you take a vacation? You must have a lot of time accrued.

Noooooo -- not if your California employer is like my California employer, where remaining vacation time is paid out in cash upon an employee's departure but sick time is not.

In that case, stay home sick. And no joke, the mental situation you describe sounds like you urgently need a mental health day (or like 60). As a manager, I've had HR give me clear direction about what counts as a valid sick day, including for mental health, and situations far less severe than what you describe would be appropriate for using health PTO.
posted by salvia at 3:47 PM on October 13 [3 favorites]

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