Five Signs That It’s Time to Quit Your Job

If you're thinking about making a career move, read this first
(illustration: iStock)

New year, new job? In 2022, we saw trends like “The Great Resignation,” “Quiet Quitting” and “The Great Breakup” dominate headlines, but the job landscape has since changed thanks to widespread layoffs in sectors like tech and the looming possible recession. Still, many workers are considering making a career move right now and want to quit their job.

A December 2022 survey from employment agency Robert Half found that 50 per cent of employees planned to look for a new job within the first six months of 2023. Motivators for leaving include a higher salary (62 per cent of respondents), better perks and benefits (39 per cent) and greater opportunities for advancement (30 per cent).

But how do you know it’s truly time to quit a job? We asked two career experts: Candy Ho, a B.C.-based career coach and assistant professor at the University of the Fraser Valley, and Bill Howatt, an Ottawa-based workplace-mental-health expert.

Sign #1: You’ve learned and accomplished everything you can in your role and are ready for a bigger challenge

Ho says that after an initial “honeymoon stage” of excitement about a new job, employees typically enter a “coasting” stage after they learn the ropes and feel like they can do the job with their eyes closed. This is often followed by a phase of disengagement, where workers are no longer as interested in their work. The coasting or disengagement stages are when Ho says people start contemplating a departure.

“You have a keen knowledge of your work tasks, have built strong relationships with your colleagues and likely automated processes to make your work more efficient,” says Ho, who is also the board chair of career development non-profit, CERIC. “But at the same time, you’re feeling a bit bored and wondering, ‘What else might be out there for me?’”

Some people may happily remain at the coasting stage if they want or need stability. However, if you’re itching for a higher title or more responsibility, it could be a sign that it’s time to quit. 

Sign #2: There are better offers available from other organizations

It’s easy to be lured away from your job by a higher-salary offer—which is a worthwhile reason to take a new role, especially if you’re currently underpaid. But before you send in your resignation, think about the entirety of the new offer and what working at that organization might be truly like.

“Salary is not everything,” Ho says, adding that it’s important to consider whether a new job is an “apples-to-apples” comparison. Consider factors such as the culture, scope of work or career-advancement opportunities. Does that higher salary come with the same mental-health coverage as your previous job? Are you expected to be in the office five days a week? The ability to work remotely, have flexible hours and better health benefits are often swaying factors—especially for Gen Z workers who prioritize work-life balance. 

Sign #3: You’re losing sleep because of anxiety about going to work

Howatt describes this as a symptom instead of a sign; work stress and anxiety can cause difficulty sleeping or disrupt your personal life. Worrying about the next day at work, or how your boss might react in a meeting, could be keeping you up at night—especially if you have a toxic manager who might micromanage, put you down or gaslight you.

This, however, is different from periodic stress or anxiety that you might feel ahead of an important meeting or in the middle of a tough project. The type of stress and sleep loss that concerns Howatt is when you feel there’s no end in sight. “You feel that you will never be able to figure out how to solve the root cause of your stress,” explains Howatt. This anguish can be a result of an unmanageable work schedule, poor leadership or unhealthy work environments, and might be a sign it’s time to move on.

Sign #4: Your work doesn’t give you a sense of purpose

According to Howatt, an ideal work situation is rewarding both personally and professionally. “People might feel a sense of connection with the organization’s mission, values and team,” he says. He describes having a sense of purpose as “being a part of something bigger that generates a sense of fulfillment.” For example, gruelling hours may be easier to tolerate if you believe the work you are doing helps a community or contributes to a cause that you feel connected to.

While you don’t have to like your job all the time, a feeling of “emptiness” in the work that you’re doing could signify it’s time to think about finding a new role, or perhaps a new career altogether. This is especially important if you’re someone who does want to feel personally connected to their work.

Sign #5: You’ve done everything you can to enhance your circumstances, but you’re still unable to be your best at work

Ho says it’s important not to jump ship when you’re first having doubts, but rather take time to really feel it out. “I’ve worked with clients who have regretted leaving a job if they left too soon,” she says. “I always ask if you feel like you’ve done everything you could before you throw in the towel.”

That might look like asking for more work-from-home opportunities if your current schedule is unmanageable. Or asking to step into a role where you’d feel challenged in your work. A good employer may support growth into a role that gives you a greater sense of purpose, Howatt says, which can help employees feel more fulfilled. 

How long you “stick it out” in a role can depend on a few factors, like your potential work prospects and financial situation. Ho says there’s no specific timeline to follow before quitting. “But if you’ve done everything you could and it’s still not making a difference,” Ho says, “That’s when you’re thinking, ‘Maybe I need a change, a new role or company in a different environment.”

Andrea Yu
Andrea Yu
Andrea Yu is a freelance journalist based in Toronto. She writes about life, culture, real estate, business and health with a focus on human-interest stories.