1. When your misery of staying outweighs the benefits
Some people come to me for coaching and they incessantly complain about their company - the lack of integrity, their boss, their situation, their disdain for the meaninglessness in what they do. BUT, they stay and often, they are miserable. They stay because they have a kid in college, or another one headed there. They don’t want to leave for fear of not finding another job soon enough. So I ask them: does the benefit of staying outweigh the misery they are feeling? If the answer is no, it is time to move on.
You do not do yourself any favors by staying, nor do you do your company any favors by staying either. The move may take a thorough assessment and some coaching, challenging you to look at your limiting beliefs, doing financial projections for your transition (cash flow, monthly expenses) and the like. But once you have come to terms with the feelings and start to see a logical path of how you can move forward, it is much easier to move on. Think about whether your misery in staying outweighs your benefits. If it does, what is your next step?
2. When you are flat lining
If you are no longer being challenged in what you do at work or on a project, you are flat lining. We all need to feel like we are growing or are being developed and exposed to new thoughts, ideas and ways of doing something. Flat lining is the feeling that you’ve hit your own glass ceiling, that you really don’t feel like there is a place for you to move up and to develop further.
I remember speaking to one woman who was completely flat lining. She just didn’t have enough work or challenge in her day, so much so that she’d take off in the middle of the day and go to yoga and have a nice leisurely lunch. She was making a good salary and things weren’t horrible. So her choice was either to figure out a way to feel more challenged or to figure out what could be next. She actually felt GUILTY for taking a paycheck from her work because it didn’t really feel like she was earning it, though she was gainfully employed. In her case, she chose to stay and was eventually put on more challenging projects. However, if there were no change, she would have left.
If you are flat lining and the place where you are isn’t terrible, think about what you would need to do to feel more challenged in your work first. Oftentimes, a frank conversation with your boss can equip her with the information she needs to help you on your growth path to build new skills and gain new experiences.
3. When you know you are just not happy
I had the experience of having a very deeply unhappy employee at the organization I ran. What did it do? First, it caused a ripple effect. It drove one of the other key directors out of her position. (The #2 reason this director gave for leaving was due to the unhappiness of her co-director, which rubbed off on her in a negative way.) Just as happiness is contagious, so is unhappiness. If you are not happy, you risk making others around you unhappy. (Remember the mirror neuron effect?) You do both yourself and your company a favor when you choose to leave and go to a place where you will inevitably be happier. You win because you’ll be closer to what will feel fulfilling, and the organization will win because it will be free of your unhappy energy, which can seriously weigh down innovation and engagement needed to really drive results.
It’s true that some people will be perpetually unhappy. Sometimes it’s less of a function of your environment and more a function of the own internal work you need to do so you can be happy. So when assessing this, ask yourself – am I unhappy because of something in my life, or some unresolved childhood issue I’m having that this situation keeps bringing up (feeling-wise)? Or am I happy when I am out of this space but become unhappy only when I step into this space? Pay attention mostly to what your body feels and you will get the best data to help guide you forward.
4. When your body starts to manifest chronic symptoms
They body never lies. Period. If you tune into what you are feeling in your body at any given time, you can tap into immense data of what a person, situation or organization gives you. We have a physiological response to stress all the time – from hair loss, heart palpitations, chronic colds, and yes, even cancer. When you are getting chronically ill and stressed out, take that as a sign that it is time to shift and change things up. There are numerous studies now connecting our physiology to stress and our mental well-being.
One of the biggest developments in coaching has been using embodiment to work with people. When we are communicating, 96% of what we are saying is communicated through our body. Some neuroscientist believe that the heart knows first and knows best, sends information to the brain, where it gets interpreted, put into words, and where it often gets denied. The brain often interprets the information incorrectly and shuts it down. Research says the brain just justifies what the gut and heart want to do. So, tuning into how your body is feeling may reveal more about a situation and it’s impact on you than cerebrally processing it.
I remember my last few years of being an executive and I was sick almost monthly. It was embarrassing sometimes to be at a graduation ceremony for our students and be blowing my nose incessantly due to a sinus infection. However, the financial anxiety of money, cash flow and managing so many different strands of the organization weighed on me over time. What I didn’t realize was that my body was speaking to me. It was begging me to take a break. I took a 4-month sabbatical during which time I never got sick and upon my return did not get sick for an entire year. I did come down with a cold the last day we closed down the organization. Go figure. It’s important to start to understand and map how your body responds to stress, and to figure out what it is saying about where you really thrive. Then you have an indicator for making healthy decisions for you. We all react to stress differently and some people are more sensitive than others. But make no mistake tuning into your body will give you a wellness of information on what to do in a situation.
5. When you realize your values are at odds with where you are
This is a big one for folks. Oftentimes when we feel dissonance in our relationship to something or someone, it is because there is a values clash. What one party values is not what the other values. It’s not to say one is right or wrong, but differing value systems can often be cause for a break. The problem is when you do not realize there is a difference in value systems and you just resort to blaming and pointing fingers. It’s important to say that this is what I value – integrity, honesty, small-scale operations, putting the client first – or whatever the value is. Then see where the dissonance is and where you feel you are out of integrity with a value. Perhaps there is a conversation that could be had in terms of how you could assist with bringing this value more into your work place or perhaps it’s just not possible as your value systems are just too at odds with your organization. If this is the case, it is a good time to consider a move. Again, if you are in dissonance and are unhappy with the structure, you either can make efforts to change it from within or leave if you feel like you cannot make a difference.
So those are a few ways to tell when it’s time to leave. How and when to leave is a totally different question, and one that needs to be dealt with on a case by case basis depending on the situation of your team or company. Those aspects are just as important, if not more, than identifying when you should leave. This will have to be a topic of another blog post to come.
What were some of the signs that told you it was time to leave?