A Definitive Guide to Deciding When and How to Leave a Job
It’s often difficult to know how to quit your job, let alone IF you should quit at all. Sometimes a new job is more than you expected. It doesn’t align with your interests or the environment is unbearable, whether because of your new boss or coworkers.
Whatever the case, you want out. The trouble is, you’re still fairly new—less than six months or so—which begs the important question: when can you quit?
Quitting a new job comes with several major concerns, namely:
- Upsetting your manager and coworkers
- Facing negative professional consequences down the line, like future employers considering you less reliable for a job
- Being judged by your friends, family, and even current coworkers
And, as a result, you may find yourself feeling obligated to stay, lest you become labeled as a flaky job-hopper.
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But don’t let these concerns force you into sticking it out at a job you’re ill-suited for or that falls short of your expectations. Quitting a new job happens—and though not ideal, it’s also not the end of your career or reputation.
When it’s OK to quit a new job
If you look up job-hopping, you’ll find that there are varying interpretations of what it means to job hop. Some suggest it’s holding two or more consecutive short-term positions; others say it’s staying in a role for less than two years.
Regardless of the exact definition, job-hopping is often perceived negatively—and fear of being labeled as a job hopper makes us stay in roles that simply aren’t good for us in some big way.
But this can be detrimental for several reasons. For one, you’re essentially trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, and secondly, you may be missing out on better career opportunities out there.
Not to mention, there’s no set frame of time for when it’s OK to leave a role. It’s not unheard of for someone to leave after three months, or even two weeks—in fact, some people have even quit after one day.
But in deciding whether or not to quit a new job, you should have a solid justification, rather than pure whim or a casual dislike. Though not an exhaustive list, here are some good reasons for leaving a position.
Your job does not fulfill you
When considering whether or not to stay in a role, Dawn Carter, Director of Early Careers at Intuit, suggests asking yourself, “Does your job bring you joy?”
“You don’t have to love every part of your job, or even every day of your job, but you should find joy and fulfillment in what you’re doing. Sometimes this joy can come from actual tasks or results, or by being part of a company mission bigger than yourself, or by being on a team that accepts you for who you are.”
The job isn’t quite what you applied for
For some people, the excitement of starting a new job is quickly lost due to the realization that it’s not at all what you thought you applied for.
This could be because the job description was poorly written, or a recruiter or hiring manager misled you in the scope of its responsibilities. Regardless, somewhere along the way, poor communication led to a misunderstanding of the actual job—setting you with a false idea of what to expect.
“To me, if you aren’t happy at a job or it was missold to you, leave as soon as possible,” Brett Holzhauer, freelance writer and digital community manager, advises. “There is no point in making yourself miserable or unhappy for a paycheck.”
There’s a poor culture fit and/or work environment
Work culture matters—that includes your workplace environment, and the way your coworkers and upper management treat you.
In fact, 38% of workers report wanting to leave their jobs because of a toxic work culture or feeling that they don’t fit in.
Can you blame them? Whether it’s mismanagement or office politics, a poor company culture decreases employee morale and makes people feel undervalued.
While some might say “poor culture fit” is a matter of giving an organization more time, it can be easy to sniff out large work environment issues right away. In some cases, you might even observe outright harassment or discrimination in your new workplace. If that’s the case, you have every reason to abort.
Your mental or physical health is affected
Finally, you’re more than justified to leave if a role is taking a physical or mental toll on your health.
“When I knew I had to leave was when my mental health started to suffer,” Bob Haegele, blogger at The Frugal Fellow, shares. “I was extremely stressed out, and let’s just say that I was starting to wonder if I could even keep going. Why even get out of bed in the morning? That sort of thing. I had to take a step back and reevaluate.”
Examples of how your health might be impacted include:
- Sleeping difficulties
- Muscular tension
- Heart palpitations
- Overwhelming stress and anxiety
- Cognitive problems, e.g., trouble concentrating or making decisions
When to consider staying a little longer
Prolonging your stay at your job may not be your first choice, and it’s by no means necessary. However, it’s worth weighing your current role with the alternative, and considering whether you should leave right away or stay just a little longer.
It might be appropriate to stay at your new job for a little longer if either of these situations apply to you.
Your finances could use a boost
If leaving your current role puts you in a financial struggle, it may be worth staying in your current job.
Do a quick audit of your finances to get an idea of where you stand. Ask yourself:
- What are my regular monthly expenses?
- Do I have any outstanding debt?
- Do I have an emergency fund to tide me over? If so, how long would it last?
Although you may not be in a good place to leave your job immediately, that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to stay in it forever, of course. Consider staying for only as long you need to—until you find a better job opportunity or you develop a nice financial cushion.
But again, if your new job is taking an unhealthy physical or emotional toll on you, that’s a completely different story. A paycheck is not worth staying in a negative work environment with deleterious consequences.
The next opportunity you find doesn’t seem to be much better
The first job offer you receive may feel like an easy escape route, but be certain that it aligns with your larger career interests. Otherwise, you’ll put yourself at greater risk of developing a job-hopping reputation.
Jonathan Valdez* describes discovering a poor cultural fit in his current role that was not apparent in his initial job interview.
As a result, he began seeking out other jobs and even received an offer after four months. However, after weighing the offer, Valdez opted not to take the new job. He reasoned:
“I declined the offer as it was not my bringing me closer to the dream job anyway, and instead, I decided to try to improve the situation at my current job… This has worked well, is still in progress, and in the long run, will be a much better experience for myself. It has also helped me build new skills and demonstrate even more value to the company.”
Your current role may not be a great fit, but that doesn’t mean you should drop it the first chance you get. As Valdez suggests, “Either try to work on it or move to something better for you… Do not make a habit of having less than six months or one year at companies.”
How to Quit a New Job
Sometimes all signs point to the necessity of leaving your position. If that’s the case, take these next steps to quit your job.
Consider your options
Give yourself some time to think through the logistics of quitting. Specifically, consider:
- Is it possible to make an internal move? If it’s the role itself that you find issue with, perhaps a departmental move may be a better choice than leaving a company altogether.
- How urgent is your departure? That is, can you afford to wait until you find a new job first? Consider your financial circumstances and whether you can feasibly job hunt on the side rather than quitting immediately.
- Can you switch to part-time or remote work? No, this isn’t a complete fix for a bad job, but negotiating to become part-time or work remotely may help mitigate some of your least favorite aspects of work.
- What does the fine print say? If you’ve signed an employment contract, make sure you fully understand its terms and the consequences of an early departure. Resigning earlier than anticipated might mean giving up any bonuses, commissions, profit-sharing, or other benefits—and it’s best to educate yourself so that you aren’t caught off-guard by a notice from HR.
Avoid burning bridges. Your departure doesn’t come without a cost to others—the time and resources spent onboarding you, for instance—so it’s best to be professional and courteous about leaving.
To make your exit as smooth as possible, try the following:
- Be honest with your manager. Kelan Kline, co-founder of The Savvy Couple, left his first job out of college, a role in insurance sales, after just two weeks. Describing the experience, Kline said, “I found that the best way to communicate was by being open and honest. For me, to stay any longer was a disservice to my manager and everyone else training me. I think many people like to beat around the bush when it comes to communicating, and that just doesn’t work well.”
- Give appropriate notice. Giving your employer two-week notice is the norm when leaving a job, but it’s not legally required. That said, although it may be tempting to make your exit as quick as possible, providing your manager with an appropriate amount of notice is a courteous and respectful gesture.
Don’t beat yourself up
“I think quitting carries some serious shame with it,” Bethany McCamish, a freelance writer and graphic designer, shares, “especially when working in public service of any kind.”
McCamish, a former teacher, describes feeling a “need to stay for others” rather than acknowledging what was best for her: “There is a serious feeling of obligation rooted in guilt of not helping those around you. The fact is, when your life is about serving others, you can forget about yourself and that’s not healthy at all.”
But this guilt doesn’t only affect those leaving a role in public service — you may find yourself feeling guilty for how your departure affects your manager, coworkers, or even its financial consequences for your partner or family.
Of course, there’s no real benefit to getting hung up in your departure. Instead, take it as a learning experience and an opportunity for introspection about your career goals and personal values.
Quitting a new job isn’t ideal—but that doesn’t mean it’s avoidable. Sometimes, it’s for the better.
As you navigate this situation, remember to keep the bigger picture in mind. That is, whether professionally or personally, this job is simply not working out for you. You’d benefit from a different position, and even your employer would be better off with another candidate.
While leaving early runs the risk of upsetting your manager and receiving negative social judgment, these consequences won’t last forever. With a well-executed departure, you’ll be on the road to a new role soon enough.
*Name has been changed to maintain confidentiality.