In a time of economic uncertainty, it can be hard to quit a well-paying job.
But with Canadian women reporting high levels of burnout and stress and women’s representation in leadership roles declining, could the answer to career advancement be leaping into the unknown?
As vice-president of marketing for Procore Technologies, Aleya Chattopadhyay navigated her team through the tripling of its workforce, global expansion and the construction management software company’s IPO. She was also named interim chief marketing officer for nine months in 2021, at the height of the pandemic.
By mid 2022, the realization hit that she was all work and no play. “I had lost my joie de vivre,” says Ms. Chattopadhyay. “I wasn’t socializing with family or friends and I wasn’t feeling healthy.”
Having worked in a number of industries in the past three decades, Ms. Chattopadhyay had a broad knowledge base to leverage in a new role. Although she would miss her team, the possibilities of a new opportunity were a strong lure.
“Employees have more choice now when searching for a job,” she says. “Borders are no longer a barrier.”
To exit or not to exit
According to Halifax-based entrepreneur coach Eleanor Beaton, when assessing your current career situation, you should focus on your personal narrative.
“Is your current job helping to deepen your overall body of work?” says Ms. Beaton. “If a future employer asked you to point to specific outcomes you’d helped drive in your current job, would you have a clear story to tell?”
It’s also important to take a critical look at oneself, says Ms. Beaton. “If the idea of showing up for work drains you, and there’s no change for a couple of months, it’s a sign you may need to make a change.”
Ms. Beaton suggests outlining the things you like and don’t like in your current work situation, which can help determine if it’s time to go. It’s an activity that can also give you insights into the kind of position you may want next.
“What are the things you would never want to give up? What are things you wish you could add or change?” she says.
Rebecca Paluch, assistant professor of organizational behaviour and human resource at UBC’s Sauder School of Business, says there are three things to avoid when considering quitting, especially considering the unpredictability of the labour market.
“Don’t leave a job only for a pay raise,” she says. “Don’t burn bridges on the way out, and don’t quit without securing another offer.”
Your company may even give you a leg up as you’re walking out the door, says Dr. Paluch. Organizations are increasingly recognizing the inevitability of employee turnover, she says, and many are now offering outplacement services.
“This may include career counsellors, resume screening advice, recruiters or outskilling, [which is] training to help outgoing employees find a job in a different organization,” she says.
While the idea of quitting might seem scary, Dr. Paluch suggests thinking about your long-term career as a series of “tours of duty,” usually about 2-5 years in length with each block a different project, job or employer.
“As you move from block to block, you might move up, laterally, or even down if you’re trying something new or changing careers,” she says. “While you may not be making an immediate career move, this kind of planning can help you envision the next steps in your career both in the near future and in the long run.”
When a career shift is in order
Adrienne Lee can relate to feeling the need for a change. She was immersed in sustainability and social change projects as director of global impact for non-profit organization Tourism Cares. With a role that included making connections in the tourism industry through public speaking and partnerships, Ms. Lee was in regular contact with the organization’s 160 partners. That all came to a halt in March 2020.
“I realized burnout can happen when [someone is] overworked or underworked,” says Ms. Lee.
When the organization switched to survival mode as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, her role was reduced to a four-day work week, with budgets slashed and projects delayed or cancelled. For Ms. Lee, work wasn’t rewarding anymore.
“With so much uncertainty, we could never meet everyone’s expectations,” she says.
Ms. Lee sought the advice of a good friend, who asked her, “How unhappy will you be in six months if you stay in this job? If you take a new job, how happy will you be?”
Meaningful conversations like this, with her partner and inner circle (and a Peloton habit acquired during the pandemic), helped Ms. Lee flip the switch to leave her job and switch careers entirely. “My CEO was very empathetic and understood,” she says.
Ms. Lee enrolled at Toronto’s Juno College of Technology, plunging into a web development program and trading travel talk for tech stacks. During the 12-week program, she had weekly meetings with a career services specialist, which continued after the program until she was hired.
“It was great to share the struggle of [searching for a new job] and celebrate the small victories,” says Ms. Lee of the meetings.
Onward and upward
Both Ms. Chattodpadhyay and Ms. Lee ultimately ended up benefitting from their decisions to leave their jobs. Ms. Chattodpadhyay recently accepted a position as iCMO of fractional growth & marketing leadership for B2B Tech at marketing company GROW Powerful, as well as being a limited partner at Stage 2 Capital. Meanwhile, Ms. Lee celebrated her first year working as a web developer for Point Blank Creative in January.
If you do decide to quit your job, Ms. Beaton says it’s crucial to “leave well.” That includes doing your best even in those last few days and keeping relationships positive and cordial.
“How you exit has an impact on your personal brand and your network,” she says. “When you are leaving a role or organization better than you found it, you equip your former bosses and colleagues to be your career ambassadors.”
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