Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Why To Leave A Job

Tomorrow is my last day at a company that I've worked at for seven years. Monday I start a new job at a new company.

I don't tend to do work blogging, but this struck me as a very perceptive post about why people leave jobs, in particular noting that the rational reasons we come up with for why we decide to move on are different for those triggering factors which cause one to first answer a recruiting call.

Resignations happen in a moment, and it’s not when you declare, “I’m resigning.” The moment happened a long time ago when you received a random email from a good friend who asked, “I know you’re really happy with your current gig because you’ve been raving about it for a year, but would you like to come visit Our Company? No commitment. Just coffee.”

Now, everyone involved in this conversation transaction is aware of what is going down. While there is certainly no commitment, there is a definitely an agenda. The reason they want you to visit The Company is because, of course, they want you there in the building because seeing a potential future is far more compelling than describing it.

Still, seeing it isn’t the moment of resignation. The moment happened the instant you decided, “What the hell? I haven’t seen Don in months and it’d be good to see him.”

Your shields are officially down.

Your shields drop the moment you let a glimpse of a potential different future into your mind. It seems like a unconsidered off-the-cuff thought sans consequence, but the thought opens you to possibilities that did not exist the moment before the thought existed.
As a leader of humans, I’ve watched sadly as valued co-workers have resigned. Each time I work to understand two things:

  • Why are they leaving?
  • When did their shields go down?

In most cases, the answers to Question #1 are rehearsed and clear. It’s the question they’ve been considering and asking themselves, so their answers are smooth.

  • I’m looking for a smaller company where I can have more impact.
  • I’ve been here for three years and I’m looking for a change of scenery. It happens.
  • I want to work somewhere more established where I can dig my teeth into one hard problem.

These answers are fine, but they aren’t the complete reason why they are leaving. It’s the politically correct answer that is designed to easily answer the most obvious question. The real question, the real insight, comes from the answer to Question #2: When did their shields go down?

Their shields drop when, in the moment they are presented with the offer of potential future opportunity, they quickly evaluate their rubric and make an instant call: Is this job meeting my bar?

To find and understand this shields-down moment, I ask, “When did you start looking?” Often the answers are a vague, “It kind’a just happened. I wasn’t really looking. I’m really happy here.”


If I’m sitting here talking with you it means two things: I don’t want you to leave and, to the best of my knowledge, you didn’t want to leave either but here you are leaving. It didn’t just happen. You chose. Maybe you weren’t looking, but once your shields dropped, you started looking. Happy people don’t leave jobs they love.

The reason this reads cranky is because I, the leader of the humans, screwed up. Something in the construction of the team or the company nudged you at a critical moment. When that mail arrived gently asking you about coffee, you didn’t answer the way you answered the prior five similar mails with a brief, “Really happy here. Let’s get a drink some time!” You think you thought Hmmm… what the hell. It can’t hurt. What you actually thought or realized was:

  • You know, I have no idea when I’m going to be a tech lead here.
  • Getting yelled at two days ago still stings.
  • I don’t believe a single thing senior leadership says.

Often you’ve forgotten this original thought in your subsequent intense job deliberations, but when I ask, when I dig, I usually find a basic values violation that dug in, stuck, and festered. Sometimes it’s a major values violation from months ago. Sometimes it’s a small violation that occurred at the worst possible time. In either case, your expectations of your company and your job were not met and when faced with opportunity elsewhere, you engaged.
Thinking back over the last few months during which I explored and decided to take another opportunity despite having a team I liked at a company I mostly enjoyed, I can definitely identify with the experience of having got a call at a time when I was frustrated by a particular set of factors. Those factors were temporary, but they caused me to pick up the phone. As the interview process at the new company continued, the interest of finding out more (and my own personal tendency to need to 'win' at anything I try) impelled me to push on with the process. And when it seemed like there was a break in the factors that had caused my frustration, and even a chance to move on to some new and interesting challenges internally, I'd already got so far down the interview process that it seemed like I would be giving up too much and had already committed to the new job.

To be clear, it's not that I don't, in the end, think the new job is a good move, that I was impelled to take it as a process started out of temporary frustration gained momentum and became unstoppable. But eventually things came along which would have mitigated my frustrations at my old job and given me reasons to keep going. The process was: temporary frustrations -> listening to new opportunities -> finding one that really appealed -> making a measured examination of old versus new and decided to move on. But I never would have got to those stages of looking at outside opportunities and sitting down to decide if it was really better to go or stay if I hadn't been driven to it by a fairly momentary urge, a frustration springing from comparatively insignificant conversations and disappointments. I might have put in more years here if I hadn't been riled up by those couple things, and if an opportunity hadn't happened to seek me out just as I was riled. And while I think I'm better off leaving, I would doubtless have been mostly happy during those additional years, just as I've been mostly happy during the years that I've spent here.

I think this tendency holds true in other areas of life as well. It is not always big events that cause us to make big decisions. Even if we, in the end, identify big reasons why we should make some change (in a job, a relationship, where we live, our religion, our philosophy, our political alignment) the reason why we first start looking into those big reasons may be small, even petty. And this in turn means that it's important to remember that the ways we treat people in small matters may have very big results, for us and for them. Small pebbles can start an avalanche, and it can be seemingly minor acts of ours that turn out to have very large consequences.


Catholic Bibliophagist said...

Very sobering food for thought at the end there.

Foxfier said...

The-- k, humor me here, I know it's excessive but I don't know the little words for it that would be useful-- focus of my personal ministry is exactly this, though I never would've connected it.

I try to help geeks get to know the actual Catholic Church, rather than bad made for TV movie versions of it. My #1 enemy is variations of "God hates D&D." My #2 enemy is "you chose D&D over God?"

What's that bumpersticker... be gentle with people, they may be in the middle of a battle you don't understand.

(and good luck!)

JHB said...

Great post and wonderful observation about the minor contingencies inherent in human decision-making, for better or worse. One thing that jumped out at me about the quoted passage is that the guy has a really weird view of work/life/human psychology. The idea that any job/boss would be perfectly curated to one's taste indefinitely, such that no one would ever consider leaving....does that line up with anyone's experience of work?

Anonymous said...

Good luck with the new job!!!