10 Reasons to Quit Your Job

Man Cutting his TieI liked to think that every work place and every job is redeemable. To test this, I ran the following thought experiment:

Could I think of a list of 10 things that would tell me that it is time to give up on a job or a workplace?

It turned out that I could:

10. You Can’t Stop Dreading Monday Mornings

It crept up on me slowly, but eventually something subliminal started telling me “you aren’t doing what you should be doing”. It manifested itself mid-day every Sunday, when I started thinking about the coming week, and a feeling of dread washed over me. By every measure I could think of, I had a great job; but I couldn’t shake the feeling of dread, no matter how hard I tried. All rational efforts I took to sculpt my job, and its responsibilities, to better fit my (identified) motivations and talents, were undermined by a sense of dread driven by my subconscious. I suspect many of the elements that follow contributed in a big way, but the dread was the warning sign. If you get this feeling about your job, start preparing now for your eventual exit.

9. You Aren’t Learning Anything New

If someone paid you to fall behind the rest of the world in your skills and knowledge, would you take the money? You are being paid to trade your time and energy to advance someone else’s goals, but this shouldn’t mean that you are trading that money for a decrease in your own value to the market. Repetitive jobs that don’t allow you to build relationships with people, learn new skills, or become better at existing skills are a slow ticket to the bone pile. Good jobs provide you with money, increased talent and knowledge, as the reward for contributing to business success. The typical recruiters writes job descriptions that don’t bother to explain what you are going to gain by working for the organization (aside from –on occasion– the salary). Instead, they specify the education, experience and duties of the job as if they will find the perfect cog to replace one they have that is wearing out. Ask yourself, are you going to get 5 more years of experience if you stay 5 more years, or 5 x 1 year doing the same thing? If it is the latter, and your discussions with management on the topic are going nowhere, don’t let yourself be that cog wearing away in the machine. [And yes, here is Dan Pink’s ‘Mastery’ concept again. -ed.]

8. You are Working for a Narcissist / Sociopath

Narcissists are purpose-built to become bosses. They have all the self-promotional tools, grandiosity, and motivation to move up the ladder, without any of that pesky baggage that comes with caring for other people. They build fantasy worlds, with themselves as the reining monarch, and make sure that they take credit for anything good that happens within their kingdom. If your boss is a first-line manager, you may be able to manoeuvre out from under them to a better boss (unless you are really really good, then they will undermine your efforts to move out of the group). If your boss is higher up in the organization, you’re screwed. When narcissists move up in an organization, the organization itself becomes narcissistic and it’s time to move on.

7. You Don’t Fit, and That is a Bad Thing

Pure breeds aren’t healthy breeds. Most companies proclaim that they want to embrace ‘diversity’. Unfortunately, they think that true diversity comes from having people of different coloured skin, religion, language, etc. Those are symptoms, not the cause of diversity. The bridge crew of the Enterprise wasn’t effective because Uhura was a black woman, Spock was a male Vulcan or Kirk a male human, it was that they had diverse mental abilities, experiences, and very different ways of looking at the world. Often companies forget this, and personality types get marginalized to the detriment of diversity. It is very hard to put into words how you know when this is happening, but one clue is that the same problems appear again and again, based on issues that nobody else thinks are important. This problem –called ‘group-think’– indicates that there is a lack of true diversity, and when your contrary ideas (offered with good intent) are constantly met with emotional resistance, it’s time to find another group to think in.

6. Your Industry or Job is Dying

It is easier to see these trends in hindsight, but I think a lot of people saw the writing on the wall in the following industries: record labels, photographic film, whale oil, and typewriter manufacturers. You might feel it disloyal to jump ship, but large organizations have the corresponding momentum and –to extend the analogy– it is often hard to change their course. Here is the list of their corresponding icebergs: iTunes, digital photography, oil wells, and the PC. It is a lot more fun to take the useful skills that you have developed, and take part in the next wave as an active participant, than watch a company wither and shrink around you due to market pressures. The same goes for individual jobs: if your job can be easily turned into a process, digitized and/or done overseas, seek out opportunities to make your value proposition more unique, because the writing is on the wall, and its says ‘China & India’.

5. Your Job is Killing You

Part of getting older and wiser is gaining a level of self-knowledge. What situations will put you in the worst frame of mind, or at the greatest physical peril? You only have so much mental and physical energy, and some has to be left to enjoy your private life. Situations that particularly drain you should be minimized. For example, if you are an introvert, accepting a customer-facing role will take a heavy toll on the energy you have left over for your family. If you are an extrovert, solitude may be what will drive you mad. If you are prone to overeat, you may want to reconsider that job that requires you to travel all the time. If your head is constantly filled with creative ideas, a repetitive process-driven job will be soul-crushing. Keep in mind that work shouldn’t be your only outlet for your inner drivers, but if you are left drained (in a bad way) at the end of the day, you may not have the energy to do the things you need to do to stay mentally and physically healthy.

4. Your Job and Your Inner Compass Don’t Align

I won’t be the first person to compare a corporation to a psychopath, but as I have seen it put very succinctly, “they have no soul to save, and they have no body to incarcerate”, yet they have all the rights of an individual; how do you think that is going to turn out? Maybe this is the fertile soil that the narcissists from #8 thrive in… but I digress. Some companies have a culture of ethical behaviour, others so not, but what matters is: how important is it to you? If you don’t give much though to the environment, child labour, giving your customers cancer, wasting taxpayer money, or filling the Gulf of Mexico with crude, you can safely skip to #3. If you do, and you aren’t in a position to help guide your organization’s moral compass, you might want to find another role, because it will eat at you, slowly but surely.

3. You Can’t Avoid Being Micromanaged

If you continue to pull tighter and tighter on the reigns of leadership, you’re going to end up looking a gift horse in the mouth… and you know what they say about gift horses… yes, you don’t look them in the mouth. [I just made that up, I am so proud of myself, I just combined two metaphors instead of splitting one! -ed.] If you are reading this, I can safely (?) assume you are getting paid to use your brain. If so, continuous micromanagement (beyond new job training) is a sure sign of one of two things: your boss doesn’t know how to manage people, or your boss thinks you suck at what you do, and aren’t getting any better. Do either of those two reasons make it sound like you should stick around? Smart people are paid to use their brains, smart leaders let them use them. [You can clearly see Dan Pink’s ‘Autonomy’ in #3.]

2. You Need a Bigger Pot

Steve Jobs used to work at Atari because he saw the potential of the personal computer, and Robert Noyce left Fairchild to form Intel when he wanted to create a better management culture. These guys had good jobs, but better ideas. It’s hard to know when your ideas are better than those of your boss, or if your boss just has a better grasp on reality. But, if you are pretty sure it is the prior, get yourself set up financially and emotionally to take the big leap. If you are capable of much more, and feel like you are leaving a lot on the table every day, you should seek out opportunities that will offer more responsibility and/or a greater opportunity to grow.

1. You Can’t Seem to Find Your Purpose

Do you need a sense of purpose at work, or is it just a job? This is a personal question, but for me, if I go way back to #10, I think it was the source of my dread feeling. Your work doesn’t have to define you, it can simply be a vehicle that supports you in fulfilling your sense of purpose in your non-work time; with your family, your hobbies, or volunteer work filling that role. Increasingly though, the concept of finding purpose in your work seems to be gaining importance as a means to boost personal performance, and that of the organization. This can simply (but not easily) be a good leader making it clear how your job relates to the organization’s success, or finding a cause that will be clear, tangible and meaningful to the whole organization (hopefully both). The latter can be a real challenge for the companies detailed in #4. A critical step is figuring our what really motivates you, and what goals you have in life. [You can clearly see Dan Pink’s ‘Purpose’ in #1. -ed.]

Your own take on what is important in your job is very personal, that is why building highly motivated work environments is so tricky, but I am sure you can certainly find some on that list you can resonate with! What would you add? [We are talking about previous jobs of course, not the one you have now –wink, wink– ed.]

My lawyers tell me to remind you that I am not actually recommending that you quit your job, and instead suggest you hire me to help ‘redeem’ your organization, so they can get paid.

LWD 2010WK35 – Are You Counting What Counts?


About ‘Leadership Weekly Digest’ (LWD): The goal of this weekly newsletter is to highlight quality articles from the past week –in a condensed format– that discuss leadership, with a focus on employee engagement. Much of the content comes from those we follow on Twitter, and members of the Employee Engagement Network.

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China’s Great GDP Leap Forward by Liu Shengjun

Usually, all the posts featured on LWD relate directly to the topics of leadership and employee engagement (with the occasional distantly-related article that is too cool not to share). Since this week’s edition has a theme, the first article is going to serve as fertilizer to grow the unifying theme in later summaries:

For those that didn’t catch the reference in the title, the ‘Great Leap Forward‘ was a period from 1958 to 1961 where China’s communist government made economic and social changes that unintentionally contributed to the deaths of ~20 million citizens. Outside of China, this period is typically referred to as the ‘Great Leap Backward’. There has been a lot of press covering China’s recent jump past Japan to take 2nd place in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is the most often used metric of a country’s economic well-being. Consistent with out theme of ‘counting what counts’,  Liu Shengjun sites several examples of why the Chinese shouldn’t be so proud of this accomplishment:

  • The huge GDP gains by Chinese government and industry have pushed the citizens share of GDP down by 10%, indicating an unhealthy structure
  • A widening gap between rich and poor (beyond levels in Japan and Europe)
  • A high environmental cost & increasing levels of corruption
  • A per capita income ranked 124th in the world at only $3,600, less than 1/10 of those in Japan and United States.

In business, important numbers like revenue and margin are typically the quarterly focus. Other measures that better predict the current and future health of the company, often take a distant back seat…

Measuring What Makes Life Worthwhile by Chip Conley

In this video, Mr. Conley highlights a quote which is most often attributed to Albert Einstein:

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

Chip Conley was featured in last week’s LWD, and when I came across his TED video, it set the tone for this week’s LWD: Measuring What Makes Life Worthwhile… which I liberally translated into counting what counts.

For me the key take-away was something that I have often seen, but rarely seen put into words so eloquently: businesses often take great pains to measure items that relate to ‘survival’ but rarely put measures into place that will evaluate if the business is motivating their employees and their customers to move up Maslow’s hierarchy (or Conley’s derivative ‘Transformation Pyramid’). There is LOTS of supporting evidence to show that many of the standard metrics are significantly improved by increasing your level of employee and customer engagement.

Both Sides of the Counter by Kneale Mann

Kneale (I’m usually more formal with names, but Kneale is a buddy), helps illustrate something about customers that rarely gets measured in any meaningful way; and I hope the featured business’ owner gets to see Kneale’s feedback!

You’ve contracted someone to do a hard job for you, and all else being equal, wouldn’t you rather they do the job with a smile instead of a scowl? IMHO I would rather the guy working on my house be in a good mood, I think it will translate into better quality work and fewer future problems. Kneale shares his story with us:

Eleven guys were working on my driveway: two on the paving machine, three with hand packers, three more with rakes, another guy driving a small roller machine, one guy in the truck and a supervisor. This was not a stoic grumpy bunch, just the opposite. They were talking and laughing and cracking jokes and having a good time. They were laying 300 degree asphalt in stinking hot 90 degree weather. It was certainly good for the old perspective.

Everything you do is marketing: If anyone saw this crew working and needed a new driveway, they’d be inclined to hire this company. It’s contagious to be around positive people.

I wonder how this business owner counts this business attribute, an attribute that so clearly counts?

If I’m flipping the burgers and you’re paying for lunch then we have our roles. But if later in the day, you are changing my oil and I’m paying the bill we simply switch places. It is easy to lob complaints when we are on the customer side. But we often would like to think our customers will understand we are trying our best. Eventually we will be serving each other so perhaps it is something we should keep in mind.


The New York Times Is Dead Wrong by William Taylor

Years of talking about the importance of gender diversity in leadership roles has surely paid off by now, hasn’t it?!

For 2010 as a whole, the Times has published 698 obituaries–and only 92 were of women.

What’s going on here? The question is especially vexing since the percentage of women in the paper’s 2010 obituaries is virtually identical to the percentage of women chronicled in Times obituaries back in 1990. “Are the world’s prominent women–the ones deserving of NYT obituaries–simply living forever?” the NYTpicker wonders. “In the last two decades, has there been zero growth in the number of notable women who’ve died? Does it stand to reason that no more women have worked their way into the limelight in the last twenty years than in the previous twenty?”

Oh my!

A related question is, What really matters? As a society and business culture, we still tend to equate money with success. If someone is rich, the thinking goes, he or she may or may not be a no-good SOB, but a fortune is evidence that someone is smart, or at least shrewd, and no doubt a success. Which helps to explain why so many wealthy males get The New York Times obituaries, while women who died with smaller bank accounts, but who may have led richer lives, don’t get the attention they deserve.

If we’ve learned anything from the boom-and-bust cycles over the last 20 years, it’s that money is a pretty empty (and fleeting) metric of success.


So as I think about the bizarre gender gap in the obituary page of The New York Times, I worry less about what it says about the newspaper of record–and more about what it tells all of us about who deserves such recognition in the first place, and what their stories might suggest about a life well-lived.

It seems that the NYT Obituaries may be yet another organization guilty of not counting what counts! Read the complete article for their take on an alternate definition of success.

Does Your Company Suffer from Process Attention Deficit Disorder? by Brad Power

So what causes leaders to so often over-emphasize short-sighted metrics? Brad Power contends that there is a tendency for senior executives to get distracted from integrating continuous process improvement in the DNA of a company (he calls it PADD or ‘Process Attention Deficit Disorder’), in favour of the things often associated with the fastest path to the top: “People are recognized for growing new markets, launching new products, or doing deals. The best and brightest go into marketing, sales, or finance, or they run a profit center. They don’t go into process improvement.”

I have previously provided cautionary tales about hiring smart creative people and subjecting them to too much process, but the ‘process’ that Mr. Power is talking about here is the continuous re-evaluation of how the customer is impacted by the company’s products, services and direct-touch employees. This is in contrast to what becomes a static blind process that sucks the life out of your smartest most creative talent when left to fester; this festering is actually a byproduct of PADD:

In my research, I have found that one of the main causes of Process Attention Deficit Disorder is that the topic of “process” — how work is organized — is not part of the background, education, or career advancement of most executives. Senior managers don’t know what process improvement is or don’t believe it matters. Senior executives believe they are responsible for strategy and achieving quarterly (or monthly or weekly) financial results and growth. Middle managers, supervisors, and staff manage how work gets done.

In a magnified culture of personality, where senior leaders draw 500 times what front line workers earn, too many leaders see themselves, implicitly or explicitly, as superheroes. In the tension between the personal and the institutional, many leaders see themselves as personifying the organization, rather than serving as stewards. In this guise, they often don’t see the value of investing in strengthening core capabilities, institutionalizing process competence, or building innovative cultures. Their egos get in the way of them seeing this. They focus on themselves and their strategy, not their company’s operational capabilities. By thinking only of their results now, they pay less attention to their firm’s outcomes later.

So, what to do?

Process performance isn’t measured, tied to financial results, or tied to compensation. Most measures are tactical or transactional. They do not capture the full needs of the customer or the relative health of a process. Resources are managed by functions, or markets, or products — not by processes.

So in my glib summary: fix the problem by starting to count what counts…

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