Ask a Recruiter: How Can I Tell When It’s Time to Quit My Job?

Is your job no longer serving you—or are you just exhausted? Here's how to tell when it's time to move on.
Emily Durham (Photography: Mango Studios)

If you are feeling unmotivated, burnt out or just counting down the minutes until the holiday break, you aren’t alone. This is the most common time of year to feel like you aren’t loving your job. As the year winds down, we tend to feel the weight of the past twelve months having piled up into a big old load of exhaustion. For many, the start of the new year also inspires us to think about our professional goals and take stock of what is no longer serving us. So it isn’t surprising that December is when attrition tends to spike as folks collect their year-end bonuses and peace out. 

But the decision to walk away from your employer isn’t one to be made lightly or under duress. Especially when we consider the challenging talent market and economic climate we’re facing. Like most relationships, your relationship with work will evolve over time. There will be periods of content, excitement and fulfillment, and just as many filled with discontentment and frustration. So, if you are in a period of feeling unhappy in your job, how can you know when to quit?

The most important thing to note is that there is no perfect science to finding an answer. The first core factor is recognizing how long you have  been feeling this way. As a general rule, waiting at least three months before jumping ship can help you determine if this feeling may go away as the situation naturally resolves itself. Pushing through for three months can help you develop coping mechanisms, gain new perspective and potentially put measures in place to help you save the situation. 

Related: What Can I Do About a Co-worker Who Takes Credit for My Work?

The first thing I advise doing is determining if the situation is worth saving. This element boils down to your psychological safety at work. This is defined as “the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. In teams, it refers to team members believing that they can take risks without being shamed by other team members.” A corporate culture, team or boss that does not actively promote your psychological safety usually is not a salvageable situation. 

The saying that people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses is common because it’s true. Although in some cases you can influence the corporate culture or set boundaries to protect your wellness, if your corporate culture or leader lacks empathy there is usually very little you can do to salvage that. Still, before making the decision to quit, try speaking with your boss about your concerns in an honest way. 

The best way to do this is by  booking an in-person one-on-one with them to talk about how the situation is impacting your ability to perform at your best. A good leader will hear your feedback and make adjustments. A leader who doesn’t care, won’t. As always, assume the best in your peers, and give them an opportunity to improve their way of working, communication style or management capacity. In the event you express your concerns without seeing significant change, you’ll be in a position where you know you did everything in your power to maintain the working relationship. If your desire to leave and look for a new opportunity is rooted in a workplace culture that is toxic and unhealthy, it’s time to resign. 

The same principles apply to workplaces that aren’t necessarily toxic or unhealthy, but that maybe just aren’t the right fit for you anymore. If you’re feeling the itch to move on, it’s a best practice to communicate openly with your manager about how you are feeling in your role. This gives your manager an opportunity to support you in feeling more satisfied with your career path within the company. This may look like setting boundaries that protect your work-life balance, adjusting your responsibilities so you can work on projects that spark excitement or looking at new roles internally. Organizations want to retain strong talent, so by giving your team insight into your job dissatisfaction, they may be able to offer mutually beneficial solutions. 

Related: How to Navigate Conflict at Work

However, if you have tried to get your needs met with your current employer and are still feeling the deep desire to change jobs, give yourself permission to do that. Ultimately, your mental health and happiness are more important than the length of service you place on your resume or LinkedIn profile. 

So, when do you know it’s the right time to quit? Although there may never be a perfect time, you’re likely ready to take the plunge when you’ve:

  • Made a conscious effort to communicate your needs to your boss
  • Given yourself time to see if those changes (or lack thereof) shift your perspective
  • You feel your job significantly negatively impacts your wellness and quality of life

If these three points resonate with you, do you best to start looking for your next opportunity before you quit your current position. It tends to be easier to land a job while you currently have one because you can leverage your employment to negotiate offers. If this isn’t an option, don’t panic. The job market is changing and gone are the days of recruiters looking for you to stay with the same company for years and years. Prepare yourself financially, and take the plunge when it feels right and when you know you’ve given it your all.

Emily Durham
Emily Durham
Emily Durham is a Toronto-based coach, public speaker and content creator known for her funny and relatable TikToks about all things work. Follow her on TikTok and Instagram at @emily.the.recruiter.