Thursday, September 25, 2008

Quitting One's Job

“I hate my job but I have to feed my family!”
“Why should I keep doing this crummy job when there is another better paying position elsewhere?”
“I am not happy with my job.”

There are many reasons why people quit what they are doing. Some do so for medical reasons, some due to retirement age, and others due to the end of a contractual agreement. Others want to quit but couldn’t due to financial reasons, relationship or other legitimate concerns. Scandals are one of the worst reasons to quit. Sometimes they are necessary but should not be the case if due diligence has been exercised. Some of the top reasons for quitting one’s job

  • No prospect of any career advancement;
  • Lousy boss;
  • Unhappy about it;
  • Better pay elsewhere;
  • Location;
  • & many others

More popular reasons to quit can be found here. I remember a time when I used to answer queries about my ideal job. I would jokingly reply: “It should be one that is conveniently near, work short hours, relaxing and pays very well.” Well, I learned it the hard way. My first job was nearly 2 hours of travel each way, not relaxing and pay was peanuts. That gives my idealism a rude jolt of reality. In this article, I want to look at the aspect of quitting one’s job at the early stages, the middle and the end stages. Regardless of the timing, I want to argue that wisdom and discernment has to be in place. It does not simply mean a higher pay or position elsewhere, nor a significant level of personal satisfaction or perceived happiness. It has got to do with a constant exercise of discernment and wisdom together with a community.

Money is one of the worst measurements of happiness at work. Having a high paying job often means high sacrifices. Huge monetary gains can often mean significant sacrifices for personal, family and social relationships. Stress and strain goes up. Meaningful quality time with people comes down. Nothing is for free. Another inadequate measuring instrument is one’s perceived happiness or self-satisfaction. The job can remain the same but the worker’s mood varies considerably. The job scope does not change, but one’s emotional level and experiences undergo changes in time. What seems absolutely awesome today may become the most boring job tomorrow. Expectations from people, especially one’s superiors also change. The most vulnerable time for anyone is the day after a peak performance, a successful sale or a promotion. In one moment, the potential for a fall gets elevated many times. Expectations from others become sky high. Self-belief becomes exaggerated over one’s actual ability to perform. I know of people who simply could not cope with their increased role, whose job performance deteriorated after a high-profile promotion. During such times, they get special treatment just because management simply cannot afford to let them fail. They get pampered, protected and preserved from external scrutiny, even putting up a façade to show that not only the man deserves to be promoted, management has made an excellent choice too. Thus begins the new era of the charade. Another lousy measurement factor is desperation. Sometimes it is plain and necessary. We need to feed the family. We need to pay our bills. We need to do something useful with our time. It is easy to relax and take our own time when one has huge reserves in the bank. It is yet another situation when we are running out of cash for our basic needs. Having said that, the question remains: When do we quit? My quick reply will be, When you begin to sense that what you are building is a golden calf for self rather than God, it is time you either change direction or start the quitting process.

There is a famous poem about not quitting. It is readily available on the internet. There is even a nice slideshow with music on a dedicated ‘Don’t Quit’ poem website.
Don’t Quit!

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
when the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must, but do not quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about,
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow—
You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than,
It seems to a faint and faltering man,
Often the struggler has given up,
When he might have captured the victor’s cup,
And he learned too late when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out—
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far,
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit—
It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.

While this poem is inspirational and should help people press on and persevere to succeed in their respective roles, that is not the case for everyone. For many of us who are honest believers in Christ, we know that there are times in which wisdom demands we recognize when to stop and make a change. Our goal is Christ-likeness, not mere self-fulfillment, or simply because the world needs it. The need does not determine the call. The call however can create a need.

“What matters most in the Christian’s work life is not what matters to the world. It’s not the size of the paycheck, the impressiveness of the business card, the prestige, or the number of battles won. It’s not even your productivity or the quality of your work, although hard work is certainly a worthy pursuit. Instead, when it comes to your job, what matters most to the Man with the microphone is the extent to which you were Christlike from 9 to 5.
” (Michael A Zigarelli, Faith At Work, p11-12)

When should a Christian consider quitting?
- When he realizes that what he doing is making a golden calf after one’s image.

All of us will quit one day. Nothing on earth is ever permanent. Everyone has an expiry date. The common question is when? I tend to agree that one’s level of spirituality plays an important role in answering this question. In a study of ‘Spirituality and Job Satisfaction among Hospice Workers,’ researchers found out that there is a tight connection between self-actualization and spirituality. Those who have a deep spiritual view of their role in life performs better. Those who performs better grows in their spirituality. Like pairs of metallic plates spinning within an electromagnetic field, the momentum of each propels the other to spin faster.

“…members who integrate their spiritual beliefs into their work are more likely to self-actualize and those who self-actualize are more likely to integrate their spiritual beliefs into their work as well.” (Leah Clark et al, Journal of Palliative Medicine Vol 10, No.6, 2007, 1328)

First, there is an ethical reason. When we know for sure that the organizational values do not match ours, we should make plans to quit. Ethical considerations are one of the most common factors for people to terminate their employment relationship. It could be the boss using you to exploit others. There is a time to fight against injustice. There is a time to work toward an improved just environment. However, there is also a time to realize that one’s effectiveness in that role will end. That is when it is time to quit.

Second, there is a relationship factor. People often claim that family comes first. When the job takes one away from the family at ridiculously long periods of time, it is time to consider quitting. Given the financial loss and prestige, it can sometimes be very difficult to throw in the towel. It will require courage to terminate the work relationship on this factor. Once I had to advise a friend to consider talking about his family situation with his boss. If his boss does not agree or does not seem to bother about the employee family situation, it is a fair estimate that the boss is not someone worth working for in the long run.

Third, there is an economic factor. As much as money is not everything, we need to realize that money is still necessary. A job with a higher pay may be necessary in order to sustain foreseeable increase in expenditure. It could be due to the need to finance our children toward their college education. It could be the need to earn more money so that one parent can afford to stay at home to care for the children. Single income families do go through certain levels of stress.

Fourth, there is the productivity factor. When one’s level of energy comes down due to the loss of focus and distraction toward other things, it could be a time to re-adjust the sails. While there are people who hold on to life-long jobs that does not change, many of us will have changing interests over time. Coupled with a desire to take on greater challenges, it is far better to move on and let other people more enthusiastic and capable to do the job. I know of a professor who willingly resign from his post so that he can take on more speaking engagements. At the same time, he makes room for younger talent to come in and earn the experience. In a world of limited budgets and opportunities, it is often a zero-sum game. If one does not leave the cubicle, he denies others the opportunity to enter. I admire this professor for the self-sacrifice and willingness to think for the organization.

Fifth, there is the greater awareness of one’s vocation. Not many of us can claim to hit our perfect job first time. In fact, for many, we will never ever get a perfect job. However, there are times in which we sense that God is calling us to change roles and take on newer challenges. This is an act of faith. Henri Nouwen is one such person. A successful and highly sought-after speaker, and a Yale & Harvard professor for many years, he willingly surrender his academic prestige in order to give his time and talent to the L’Arche Daybreak organization in order to work with people with developmental disabilities. It was a sacrifice of academic glamour and prestige. It comes with a much lower pay, and calls for lots of humility and patience. Imagine a highly qualified intellectual working with people who struggles with their mental thoughts. Such an action requires a tremendous sense of vocation as discerned in the Lord. It also demanded humility which Nouwen earnestly sought. Nouwen’s sense of vocation is not tied to a tenure at a University despite his solid qualifications. It is tied to the need to be humble before God and men. He allows his faith in God to become grace with people.

Sixth, there is a health or physical aspect. When one’s job becomes more hazardous to health, it is also time to reconsider one’s level of involvement, tone down and if necessary quit. We have heard of karoshi (death through overwork) and the negative effects of overwork. There are other aspects like lack of needed exercise, or the increase in stress that the poor heart cannot take. For example, if one already had a history of stroke, no matter how minor, one ought to take that as an initial warning sign to change his current lifestyle. If one works until there is hardly anytime to eat, the problem is due more to the lack of control over one’s work rather than the work itself. Take control. Take charge and make changes.

Seventh, there is the spiritual factor. We are reminded of Jesus’s teaching of what good does it bring if one can gain the whole world and loses his soul (Mark 8:36). We can easily turn the work we are doing into a golden calf. It is all too easy to continue plodding away and erroneously thinking we are doing it for the worship of God. Sometimes, our overwhelming desire to build this calf looks more like a worship unto self rather than God.

I have a lot more to say on the spirituality of quitting, but I'll deal with it at a later article. At this time, allow me to present a dilemma of a human resource officer who faces the issue of truth-telling. Here goes......
Rita was asked to enter the CEO's office that morning. She was in charge of the company monthly newsletter. Knowing that the economy is at a sharp downtown, given the turmoil going on in the entire industry, she knows many employees are suspecting that they might be layoffs. The CEO does not want to leak out any information about the impending retrenchment, for fear of damaging staff morale. He instructed Rita specifically not to mention anything about it in her newsletter. 'Keep writing the safe stuff,' the CEO said. Rita left the office with a heavy heart.

What should Rita do? Should she speak up on behalf of the employees? Should she tell the whole truth? Should she go against the instructions of the CEO? Or should she quit?
Your turn.



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