Grand Exits That Never Earn Applause

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"I QUIT!"

What put-upon worker hasn't fantasized about saying those words and walking out the door? Wisely, most don't go that far, at least not then and there.

It's fairly common to feel a passing urge to quit your job when you've hit a rough patch, says Nancy S. Molitor, a clinical psychologist in Wilmette, Ill., and a public education coordinator for the American Psychological Association. But the idea is surfacing in more employees' minds these days, she said.

Many of her clients have hunkered down at the same company over the last five or six years, just grateful to have a job in an uncertain economy, Dr. Molitor said. Some were promised raises, bonuses or stock once the recession ended, but now that better times have arrived, companies are hanging onto their cash and withholding those promised rewards, she said. One result is employee resentment.

Sometimes an employee wants to quit because of an untenable working situation: an overbearing boss, a difficult co-worker, a crushing workload. Often, the reasons for feeling upset and wanting to quit are legitimate, Dr. Molitor said.

But because resigning has huge consequences, you never want to make that decision while in the grip of intense emotion, she said. Wait at least a week, and in the meantime discuss your feelings with a close friend, family member or therapist. Colleagues are another option -- they may have a much better grasp of office politics -- but make sure you trust them completely to keep your confidence, she added.

Anytime you cannot concentrate, or find yourself thinking the same thoughts about your job over and over again, "that's a huge red flag," she said. You are reacting to pure adrenaline and emotion. So take some time to calm down, and if necessary seek professional help. If you feel you are in danger of quitting suddenly, take a day off to clear your head, she advised.

Sometimes when we feel unhappy or helpless in our personal lives, we project that onto our jobs -- and onto the boss, who has power over us, Dr. Molitor said.

Personal problems might be at least part of the reason for job dissatisfaction. Consider the 1977 country hit "Take This Job and Shove It," in which Johnny Paycheck sings that the boss is a fool who "thinks he's cool," but also that his "woman done left" and took away all his reasons for working.

The song's title still resonates, and for good reason. "I've been there. We've all been there," said Robert I. Sutton, a professor and organizational psychologist at Stanford. In his heart, he's a "take this job and shove it kind of guy," he said, "but I have people around me who will save me from myself."

Once you have cleared your head and separated emotion from reality, you may be able to find a way to change your work situation so that it's no longer intolerable, Dr. Molitor said.

Many employees need to work harder at advocating for themselves, she said. If you felt that you deserved a raise and didn't get one, try asking for one and you might succeed, she said. When preparing to talk to your boss about your concerns, it's wise to write down your points in advance, she added: "That forces you to be coherent."

After careful consideration, you may determine that your only option is to resign, but do so politely, and with plenty of notice. If you quit in a huff and make a dramatic exit, you can probably forget about using your employer as a reference, and word will most likely get out that you left your company in the lurch.

SUZANNE LUCAS, who writes a blog called the Evil HR Lady, says in a column for CBS News that it's generally a bad idea and "just darn rude" to quit a job on the spot. But she notes exceptions that would justify a quick departure -- for example, if staying in a job would put you in some kind of danger (a violent co-worker, say, or a safety violation), or would make you break the law or violate your ethical or religious standards.

In most cases, though, you can give notice. Try to be gracious when resigning, because "how you end things is incredibly important," Professor Sutton said.

According to the "peak end rule," as articulated by the psychologist Daniel Kahneman, the final memory that your co-workers have of you is likely to be much more vivid than most others, Professor Sutton said. If possible, you want that memory to be positive. He said that you, too, would feel better about the experience in retrospect if you quit in a graceful way.

"I'm a big fan of quitting," he said, so long as it's done for the right reasons and in the right way.

employment

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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