Exit Strategy: Don’t Get Mad, Get Motivated

Everyone experiences burn out on a job at some point in their lives. Whether it is an unappreciative boss, an unchallenging workload, difficult co-workers — whatever the reason, no matter how much you want to quit or, even worse, stay and make sure everyone knows how unhappy you are, the trick to not letting your current situation derail your career is staying low-key and making strategic moves.

Make sure the situation is truly unsalvageable

Most circumstances have at least a possibility of improvement. If you have a long freeway commute and all the books-on-tape in the world still couldn’t make it tolerable (but you otherwise like your job), perhaps you may be able to move closer to work, shift your hours so you are on the road during less busy times (with your boss’s approval, of course) or even find someone to carpool with so you can drive in the HOV lane (if your state has one).

If obnoxious co-workers are bringing you down, there are also ways to handle this so they are more tolerable to be around them. Many books have been written on the topic. One of my favorites, “Since Strangling Isn’t An Option” by Sandra A. Crowe, breaks down personality types and gives each animal names, such as Hostile Apes or Rambling Hyenas, with strategies to deal with them. Crowe also provides methods to help you change your attitude so you are less bothered, as well as tips on how to behave so as not to exacerbate a sticky office situation.

If you feel your boss is making unreasonable demands on you, you lose nothing by having a conversation with her to express the issues and try to work out a solution. Go in with the attitude there is a misunderstanding to be resolved, even if you think your boss is the modern-day reincarnation of Attila the Hun. This way, you are less likely to be confrontational and create a hostile situation. Also, spell out what you’d like the solution to be and why it would be mutually beneficial. For instance, “I am getting burned out by working twelve hours a day. I don’t mind working overtime, but can we limit it to ten hours a day? I would be more productive if I was better rested.”

Talking to your boss is also the best way to go if you feel you are being underpaid for what you do, even if you know there’s no way you’re going to get a raise — if for no other reason than to be able to say you tried when you quit for a better paying job. Just make sure you have some concrete figures to present to your boss of what your job is paying elsewhere. A good place to start is www.payscale.com, which gives you salary information by job title, location, education, skills and experience. Also, scan jobsites for better paying positions comparable to your own. One caveat: If you are over-skilled for your particular position, showing them higher-level jobs that pay more won’t help you with the salary discussion, unless you can get a promotion, too.

Have a plan

Once you have determined you can no longer stay at your current workplace, you need to take action.

Get your finances in order. Though you are not going to leave this job until you have a new one lined up, you want to sock away as much money as possible because if the job you move to doesn’t work out, you’ll want a cushion while you find another job.

Know where you want to go. Same position, just somewhere else? New field? Start your own company? You can’t make a good move unless you have a defined direction.

Start looking, which in this day and age means network, network, network. There is an inevitable question here about whether one should tell her boss she is looking. In general, if you are looking in the same industry you currently work in, you may need to give her the heads up in case she gets wind of your search. But this really is a case-by-case question. If you think your boss will want to hurry you out once she knows you are looking, you might want to start some discrete pre-looking and see if you can line up a few concrete leads before you tell her. Should you choose not to tell her, be sure to let the prospective companies know not to contact your current employer.

Focus on the future

While you look for your fabulous new job, where you will be highly-paid, cherished and surrounded by like-minded geniuses, keep your mind on what you can take from, not how much you dislike, your current job. Don’t be the lone wolf circling the office telling everyone how much smarter you are than senior management. This will do nothing other than make the rest of your tenure seem longer than it is and cement a reputation for unprofessional behavior.

A key for moving forward, especially if your relationship with your boss is such that you cannot count on her for a recommendation, is to gather your allies. These are people at the executive level who you can count on for a good reference. You want to make sure they know what a good worker you are, how diligent and professional your behavior is. However, don’t go too high up looking for an ally. Those at the most senior level will usually only return a call about someone who works directly for them.

Lastly, like a U.S. president in his second term of office, think about what you will be remembered for. The good news is most people have short memories — so even if your work and reputation aren’t sterling, unless, of course, you were caught stealing other people’s frozen meals out of the company freezer for your lunch, you can spend your last month at a company being a model employee with good ideas and always willing to lend a hand and your boss and most of your co-workers, when asked about you in the years to come, will most likely say, “Oh, she was a model employee with good ideas and always willing to lend a hand.” (I am serious about this. Trust me.)

The bottom line for smooth career transitions, especially in this ultra-wired, information-on-demand culture we live in, is you need to preserve your reputation at all costs. Unless you move across the country and into a different career field altogether, you will be bumping into the same people frequently throughout your professional life. Take the long view when faced with an unsatisfying time in your career. In the years to come, as you find a better situation, you will be glad you did.

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