Sometimes moving on from a job is clearly the right decision. But if you’re generally happy except for one particular issue, it’s worth talking to your boss about it before you quit. The author offers recommendations for how to handle conversations around four common issues: 1) The logistics of work. Even if your company has announced a “universal” new policy governing how and where employees are required to work, don’t necessarily accept it as definitive; 2) Your projects and skill development. Before you bow out, speak up for what you want; 3) The colleagues you work with. If toxic team members are driving you away, it’s worth asking whether you could be reassigned to a new project or team; 4) Money. If you feel you’re being underpaid, or you’ve gained new skills or experiences that make you especially marketable, or if there’s a particular life goal that feels pressing (such as earning enough to buy a home), a raise may obviate the need to leave your job. By raising these conversations strategically, you’re giving yourself the best chance possible to make your current job work for you, without the stress and hassle of having to leave if you don’t really want to.
If you’ve been thinking about quitting your job, you’re not alone. Surveys show that anywhere from a quarter to more than half of employees are planning to look for a new job post-pandemic. Some of that is normal churn — professionals simply looking for new career challenges — that is unusually clustered because of employees’ reluctance to leave a “safe” position during last year’s uncertainty. But others are searching for different reasons, such as concerns about their company’s post-pandemic policies, or changes in workplace dynamics over the past year of remote work (and the transition back to in-person or hybrid arrangements).
If you’re uncertain that leaving your company is the right move, or if you’d stay provided certain of your concerns could be addressed, it’s worth speaking with your manager before giving notice.
The return to the office post-pandemic is a liminal period in which norms are in flux and routines are being re-established. Coupled with companies’ keen awareness that many employees are eyeing other opportunities, if you have a strong reputation within your organization, this may give you unique leverage in negotiating for the arrangements that work best for you. Here are four things to discuss with your manager before you decide to leave.
The logistics of work
This past year, knowledge workers dove headlong into remote work, and they generally liked it. One study revealed that a stunning 87% of professionals who worked remotely during the pandemic would like to continue the practice at least one day per week — and if their companies don’t let them, 42% are willing to leave their jobs. Many employees may also be reluctant to return to the intensive travel schedules that were sometimes required pre-pandemic (one colleague I know hastened her plan to resign when her consulting firm announced its intention, after a year of remote work, to send its employees back “on the road” 3-5 days per week).
But even if your company has announced a “universal” new policy governing how and where employees are required to work, don’t necessarily accept it as definitive. If you’re planning to leave otherwise, it’s worth it to ask if exceptions can be made. The answer may be no, but especially if you’re in a critical position (a salesperson who brings in substantial revenue), in a field experiencing shortages (such as a data analyst), or have built up substantial political capital within your company, they may well decide it’s worth it to accommodate your preferences.
Your projects and skill development
Many professionals start looking for new opportunities because they feel like their work has become routine, or that they’ve stagnated. (This may be particularly acute post-pandemic, given that for a year we eschewed new experiences and barely left our houses.) Excellent managers scan the horizon for new development opportunities for their employees, and think proactively about how to help them develop new skills. But even the best managers have, in many cases, spent the past year focused on how to keep their heads above water during straitened circumstances: Their ability to be “cognitively magnanimous” and focus on your needs has likely been diminished. That’s why it’s important, before you bow out, to speak up for what you want. It’s certainly easier for leaders adjusting to the post-pandemic landscape to keep you in the same job, doing the same thing; they may not be eager for any changes. But odds are, they’re even less eager for you to leave the company entirely, so if you request (for instance) that the company fund your participation in a particular executive development program, or allow you to chair an initiative investigating a new business opportunity, they may well be amenable.
The colleagues you work with
One of the most typical reasons employees leave their jobs — pandemic or no — is dissatisfaction with interpersonal relationships at work. If there’s a team member (or boss) who’s been making your life miserable, a year of limited contact through video screens may have felt like a blessing. With the return of in-person work, and a greater likelihood of conflict, it may seem like an auspicious time to leave. But before you make the unilateral decision to quit, it’s worth asking whether you might be reassigned to a new project or team (perhaps you might even suggest one, if you see a need or an opportunity emerging). According to the journalist Brad Stone, Amazon has adopted the policy of allowing employees, even newly hired ones, to change jobs within the company at any time, “so that they could always escape a bad manager.” Other companies may begin to feel competitive pressure to adopt similar policies.
Money isn’t a panacea. If you’re experiencing a particular pain point that’s making you want to leave your job — such as working with an abusive colleague — you have to address that directly. After all, a pay increase doesn’t matter much if you’re miserable every day. (And studies show many professionals would even be willing to sacrifice income for more flexibility in other areas, such as remote work.)
But sometimes, money is the issue. If you feel you’re being underpaid, or you’ve gained new skills or experiences that make you especially marketable, or if there’s a particular life goal that feels pressing (such as earning enough to buy a home), a raise may obviate the need to leave your job. As is always the case, it’s important to pose your ask thoughtfully, making a reasoned argument about the value you add to the company and why a salary increase is merited.
Generally, it’s advisable to avoid ultimatums, which can come across as bullying or manipulative. But if you truly are planning to leave otherwise, it’s helpful to be transparent with your employer. “I’d love to stay with the company,” you could say, “but I’ve decided it’s the right time to buy a house, and in order to make the numbers work, I know I need to earn an additional X per year. I don’t know if that’s possible here, but I at least wanted to check in because I really hope we might be able to make it happen.”
Sometimes moving on from a job is clearly the right decision. But if you’re generally happy except for a particular issue, it’s worth reaching out to your manager before taking action to leave. We’re in the midst of a post-pandemic realignment, and employers — hungry to retain talent — are far more likely than usual to make exceptions and partner with you to think creatively about options. By raising these questions strategically, you’re giving yourself the best chance possible to make your current job work for you, without the stress and hassle of having to leave if you don’t really want to.
Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist and professional speaker who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of Entrepreneurial You, Reinventing You, and Stand Out.
Copyright 2021 Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.