If you’re looking for inspiration to quit your job and finally pursue your dream, you won’t find it here. (Try here instead.)
Instead, in this article I explore some reasons to stay, even when you feel like leaving. And if you lead an organization struggling to keep the talent you have now, this is for you, too.
This story is a fictional one, but based on an amalgam of such stories I’ve heard over the last decade as I interviewed hundreds of people about their lives and careers.
Imagine a woman we’ll call Yolanda...
She’s a year into a new role and just came out of her annual performance review — in tears. Her boss, who she had a great relationship with, told her quite bluntly, “You’re not meeting expectations.” It was the first time in her 8 years with the company she’d gotten anything but stellar reviews. She was embarrassed, insulted, and angry.
Now, she didn’t quit on the spot, but on the way back to her office, wished she had. She was that upset.
Well, after she calmed down, she called a girlfriend of hers who used to work there and who’d recently quit to go to another company. She asked her if they could have lunch and talk about why she quit and if she was happy with that decision.
Over lunch the next day, her friend told her that she’d quit for a reason not too dissimilar to what was bothering Yolanda. She’d gotten poor performance reviews (except she did for several years in a row), plus she really didn’t get along with her boss.
She went on to say that when she got to the new company, she was much happier and knew immediately that leaving was a good idea. She got along with her boss much better, and she felt like she was performing much better in the new job (at least nobody told her any differently).
But about six months later…
…she had her first performance review. And while there were definitely some positive things in it, the negative parts of the feedback were the exact same ones that she was criticized for at the last company. Then a few months after that, her boss got promoted and she got a new boss. Only this one, she didn’t like nearly as much. In fact, she liked him even less than her hold boss back at Yolanda’s company.
And by the end of her first year, she’d started to realize that there was an underlying culture of mistrust that seemed to permeate the whole organization, and that certainly wasn’t in the marketing brochure.
So, in hind sight, she said,
“I think I would have been better off staying instead of quitting.”
And she went on to summarize three key lessons she learned about quitting.
- First, she said, I shouldn’t have run away from constructive feedback. I was bound to get that same feedback wherever I went until I addressed it.
- Second, I shouldn’t have left the company just because I didn’t get along with my boss. Bosses come and go. Now, if all of them are terrible, you should definitely leave. But if it’s just one bad apple, maybe I should have found a new role or ask for a transfer. I shouldn’t have given up on the whole company so quickly.
- Third, the grass isn’t always greener. I knew the company I worked for, warts and all. But that trust issue I found here, wasn’t in the brochure. And it’s never going to be. Anyway, I think my decision to leave was a bit premature.
After hearing her friends story over lunch, Yolanda decided to stay instead of quit, and honestly work on her job performance so that she’d never get that kind of performance review again.
If you’d like to help some of the people you work with to see the wisdom in staying instead of leaving, you can obviously just use this story if it suits you. But you may want to try to find some real stories from your own company. And you can do so by asking people these two questions:
- One, “What makes you stay here instead of leaving?”
- And two, my favorite, “Have you ever thought about leaving but decided to stay? Tell me about that.”
Not everyone is going to have a great answer to these questions. But someone will. And that will be your “why I don’t leave” story.
Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling, a keynote speaker, and bestselling author.