this is a collaborative post: concepts and words by Christina Chan and josh martinez.
My friend Christina and I are no stranger to complicated workplaces. We worked together for a while before we both moved on to better pastures. We collaborated on this post, as people who’ve been there, for people who are there.
Anyone who’s ever quit a job has felt a moment when they know it’s time to leave. It’s almost never a single moment; instead, it’s a series of events that add up to an eventual departure. Most of us have a vested interest in staying in the place we’re at. People who are desperate to get free may choose not to go. They need the steady paycheck or health insurance they receive as compensation. They might not have anywhere else to go. Some folks want to earn experience or reach a personal goal before they can leave for something else. Even at a time when the power of workers feels a bit less unbalanced, some people can’t quit right now.
We’re very aware of these tensions. It’s something I’ve (josh) written about here before. In one of my first posts on be the future, I suggested why it might be time for you to find something else before you need to. I implored my colleagues of color to do whatever they need to do to stay safe at their workplaces. And I’ve offered tips about how to hold out for a bit longer.
So how exactly would a person know when it’s time to leave? What can they do to prepare for whatever comes next?
when it might be time to leave
When the workplace doesn’t feel good. Focusing on survival is hard on the body and mind. In recent years, we’ve learned that stress is not only hard on the person who carries it. It can actually leave a mark on their future offspring. It can harm families and relationships. In the long run, no job is worth that.
When you’re getting frustrated. White supremacy loves outbursts. For most people, it’s unhealthy to bottle up their stress until it bursts out like a release valve. It can damage relationships, get you fired before you wanted to leave, or worse. Nobody wants to work in an unsafe environment. Unresolved frustration can lead to you creating that unsafe environment for your colleagues.
When the workplace is dysfunctional. People react to stress in different ways. Some people bottle it up. Some people get numb to it or accept that that’s the way it is. Some people feel exhausted. This combination of reactions contributes to a workplace that can feel off. It can lead to overworking, staff exhaustion, mass resignations, and more.
When you no longer realize the workplace is dysfunctional. This one is the worst! You don’t want negative coping mechanisms to feel natural. Exposure to these behaviors can change the instincts you carry with you. Long-term exposure can make it harder to spot the red flags in your next job.
There are times when an organization can’t live up to the ideals of its mission. Jobs in the non-profit sector often take a lot of emotional labor. This is even more true for women of color, who often take on work beyond the job duties they agreed to when hired.
Low support for staff. Many workplaces have not yet caught up to the need for mental health support for their employees. They often work them to exhaustion or burnout. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the person burning out or their supervisor. It isn’t right to force people to feel miserable as a condition of their employment.
Few opportunities for growth. Companies should invest in the professional growth of their employees. Too many will move a person into management without giving them the skills needed to do that job. Feeling like you’re stuck in place, or that your boss is stuck in place, can be miserable.
Lots of talk, little action. Some nonprofits create lofty mission statements but fail to deliver on those promises. They use an important mission to justify low wages or exploitative fundraising practices. If you’ve been in a workplace like this, you know how demoralizing it can feel.
in your bones
A feature/bug of settler-colonial capitalism is disassociation. Settlers and white supremacists committed horrific acts of violence on Native and Black people in america. Their descendants want those horrors to stay in the past, divorced from the lasting impacts they have had throughout the world. Working long, difficult hours encourages us to disconnect our brains from our bodies.
Be mindful of how you feel when you’re in the workplace. Sometimes knowing when to go begins with a feeling. Sometimes feeling exhausted, drained, or exploited is the last straw. Knowing how a workplace makes you feel might be the sign you need to get out. Know that people who work from home might have a harder time detecting how they feel if their work and home life are too blended.
Sometimes other grass will start looking greener. Maybe you’ve run out of room to grow at the organization. Think about what you need and where you want to go. What do you need to do before you make your exit? Start by standing up for yourself and your needs! When you leave an organization, the best plan is to be able to leave on your terms. Prepare for a smooth exit before you have a messy one.
preparing for departure
Protect your energy. It’s easy to internalize workplace problems as your problems. As you plan your exit, allow yourself to disengage from the drama. Think, “will this problem feel so big when I leave?” If the answer is no, focus your energy on other things.
Revisit your boundaries. Pull up your most recent job description. Have you and your supervisor reviewed it since they hired you? Jobs can change over time, often becoming more complex as you take on more responsibility. What are your “other duties as assigned?” How much time do you spend on those? Asking for help now could delay your departure or make your exit less of a surprise.
Pack your bags. Lots of people don’t have a safety net if they’re suddenly jobless. Start saving money if you can. Many people are working on survival wages, so this might not be possible. What is possible? Some people reduce their housing costs by living in a family member’s home or taking on a roommate. Preserve any contacts or leads that you want to keep beyond the job.
Create a portfolio. They’re not just for architects and artists anymore. What have you done at your job that you’re proud of? What products or relationships can you take with you? Some items, like templates, may be company property if you worked on them there. It’s important to create a body of work that reminds you of your own abilities.
Be well resourced. In this case, that means giving your body what it needs to stay aware. Drink water. Get enough sleep. When you have to make a huge life decision like leaving a job, it pays to do so with a clear head. Being aware of your situation and the things around you can help you feel more centered.
Make money how you can. Living under capitalism, we always have to think about our own survival. We have lots of respect for people who have to work nonstop to stay alive. But we’re also all human. We need to rest. Side hustles and hobbies can be energizing! But they can also add a new set of tasks to your day.
Find a new direction. If what you do makes you unhappy, think about what makes you happy. What did you learn from your current work? What would you avoid next time? What about your work do you look forward to doing? Can you do more than that?
Grow something new. Sometimes you can use a stable job to create a new job in the margins. It isn’t easy to start a business, but it’s possible. For many people, it affords a freedom to approach their work from a different angle. Take business classes or other trainings to sharpen your skills. Search for incubators that can help you grow your business. In the Seattle area, Business Impact NW and Ventures are two great options. Remember that there’s no one right way to do this: find one that works for you, and do it.
we weren’t built for capitalism
Workplaces are artificial. There’s no natural order that comes from filling out spreadsheets or packing boxes. We weren’t born to labor, we were born to live. Sometimes what your body wants is to chill. Resting is okay. Survival is okay, but don’t forget that you deserve more than survival.
Do what you can for now. Launch yourself when the time is right.