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Knowing When it's Time to Go

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say:

  • ‘If I just do this, it will get better’

  • ‘If I just stick it out till [date], it’ll all work out’

  • ‘I don’t know what is wrong, but I’ll just work harder and people will begin to treat me better’.

  • ‘I’ve just got to hang in till I get my long service leave. It can’t get worse than it is’.

But sometimes it doesn’t get better, it doesn’t work out, working harder doesn’t make any difference to how people treat you and hanging on till you qualify for long service leave can have a serious impact on your mental and physical health.

Sometimes, you just have to know when it’s time to go. For your health, for your sanity and for the people around you who are witnessing you slowly become a lesser person due to the stress of hanging in there. Every now and then, you just have to admit that the job, the boss or the work environment is just not right for you and leave.

During my time as an employee I’ve chosen to walk away from toxic bosses or workplaces. Sometimes it was a ‘save my sanity’ dash for the door. Sometimes it was the inevitable decision after a long period of trying really hard to make it work, or to make myself into a square peg to fit into the organisations round hole.

And in times like these I’ve always wondered, “why didn’t it work out?” “Why did this person hire me if they actually think so little of my capabilities?” “What is it that I am doing wrong that is making this person behave so awfully towards me?” It’s safe to say that like many people who’ve been in similar situations, such experiences lead me to question my abilities, my capabilities, my judgement of character, and at times my sanity (Maybe this is all in my head?).

I frequently have friends and family talk to me about the problems they are having at work, usually on a quest to find that one magic solution to their workplace problems. Unfortunately even with all the legislation, rules and policies available to workplaces, sometimes it’s not worth it for you to stay and try to fix the problem. Sometimes you have to know when to cut your losses and go.

In my capacity as an HR Manager, an employee and as confidant to those close to me, I’ve seen and heard it all. The male manager who hires women not for their capability, but because he see’s it as a way in (pun unintended) to sleeping with them. Supervisors who hire people so they can belittle and ridicule their employees work, to make themselves look strong, authoritative and powerful. The co-worker bully who ignores, makes fun of and intimidates others for sport, to let others know that this is their stomping ground, and the managers who turn a blind eye because it’s just too hard to stop the negative behaviour. The HR Manager who knows that bullying, discriminatory, harassing and victimising practices are occurring in their organisations, but lack the skills and courage to do what they are legally obliged to do, to bring the negative behaviour to a halt – because god forbid they may be asked why this hadn’t been brought to the Executive teams attention earlier!

Not everyone has the resilience and support network to see through a formal complaint process to rectify negative behaviour. It takes guts and courage to formally complain to Management about a person’s negative behaviour or conduct or to register a complaint with an external party such as the Fair Work Commission. That doesn’t make what you are going through right. It’s just a statement of fact that it can be a hard road to make formal complaint.

And sometimes, the problem isn’t one of bulling, discrimination, harassment or victimisation. Sometimes you just don’t fit within the culture of the organisation, and that makes it really hard to find satisfaction in the job you do.

So if you find yourself in a situation where you think you have to leave to save your sanity, ask yourself these questions before going any further:

  • What will you be giving up if you resign, and how easy is it to get another job so you can meet your financial obligations?

  • If you’re experiencing a clash of personalities or willpower, why is it happening? Is your team or your manager not demonstrating the organisations values, or do the organisations values simply conflict with yours?

  • Is it just you or are others having difficulties too?

  • Have you communicated your difficulties to someone who can actually help you to resolve the problem (such as HR in most instances)? Talking with a colleague wont help unless that person is willing to act as a formal advocate for you in discussions to mediate & resolve the issues

  • Is it bullying, discrimination, harassment or victimisation? Do the legal definitions match the behaviour you are experiencing?

  • Are the demands of the job unachievable or do you need more training/support to be able to do your job?

  • Do you just need some time off to unwind and some coaching to help you learn how cope with challenging or high-pressure situations?

There is never any magic solution to any of the situations that I’ve described in this article. Most often, the resolution to unhappiness within the workplace is challenging, requires searching for understanding and compromise from others - but also and importantly yourself - and at times can feel like it causes more heartache that it resolves.

Sometimes you just have to know when to go. If that is the case, always remember:

  • Be clear about your career goals and ask yourself if the job is 1) still contributing to those goals or 2) preventing you from achieving your goals. If the answer is 2, then plan your escape. Its far better to leave on your terms than stay till it damages you professionally and emotionally.

  • Always be the better person and try to leave on a positive note, or at least a pleasant one. People have long memories and it can be surprising how small an industry can be if you get a bad reputation (even if you’ve done nothing to deserve it).

  • Don’t burn your bridges: while it can be so tempting to say “screw you guys, I’m going home!” you often live to regret flipping your boss the figurative bird once you’ve calmed down. While you might never need that person as a referee, you never know when you may cross paths again.

  • Reputations are very powerful. Don’t talk negatively about an individual or an organisation unless you can back it up and are prepared to. Allegations aren’t a laughing matter.

On a final note, if you are having serious trouble at work, are getting no joy in resolving the issue internally but do not want to go then you need to:

  • Seek external, professional help from your union or industry association if you are a member, a specialist conflict resolution consultant or an industrial relations lawyer.

  • Register a complaint with the Fair Work Commission if what you are experiencing is a violation of the Fair Work Act.

  • Register a complaint with your state or territory Workplace Health & Safety Organisation (i.e. WorkSafe Victoria) if what you are experiencing is a violation of your health and safety

  • Go to the police if what you are experiencing is a criminal offence.


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