Is Your Work Compromising Your Health? How To Create An Exit Plan And When To Leave Without One
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More than 38 million people quit their jobs in 2021, spurring what has been called “The Great Resignation.” Everyone from healthcare workers and pastors to child care providers and restaurant employees have handed in resignation letters lately, with more than three and sometimes four million people per month walking away from their jobs since April 2021. For some, it hasn’t been hard to break ties with a gig that has brought more stress and overwhelm than opportunities for advancement. For others though, it may not be so simple. Trying to figure out if your dissatisfaction is something worth jumping ship over depends on how it’s impacting you and if you’ll be able to keep afloat when you make the leap. For many though, the impact of unpleasant work environments (whether in-person or virtual) is too hard to just keeping push through. It can be so negative that it affects everything — your work, mental, physical health, drive, confidence, and even your life away from work.

“When you’re dissatisfied, you’re checked out,” says Tega Edwin, Ph.D., career coach and counselor. “You’re not going to show up in excellence.⁠ You no longer feel valued.⁠ You’re no longer engaged or motivated.⁠ You’re no longer enjoying the work and the lack of challenge or engagement will eventually lead to self-doubt. Sticking it out is only going to make you more miserable.⁠”

She says continuing to make it work can diminish the quality of your work and your presence.

“Regardless of how long you’ve been at the job, once you feel dissatisfied and ask yourself questions like How long should I wait before I can leave this job?, it’s time to go.”

We chatted with Edwin to get some understanding on the ways our peace can be altered by our work situations. She dished on the signs you should go (or perhaps, change your role within a company), the best course of action to take when you’re ready to create an exit plan, and when it is absolutely necessary to leave without one.

ESSENCE: How does professional unhappiness also impact you personally?

Tega Edwin: In a lot of ways. The fact is your body can only take being in an unfulfilling career for so long. You might think that your job is just where you spend most of your days, and it provides money to let you do all the other things you love.⁠ But you will spend over 90,000 hours at work during your adult life and being miserable for that long has consequences.⁠⁠

Being in an unfulfilling career for an extended period leads to burnout and work-related stress that affects your physical and mental health. When you’re in an unfulfilling career, you might see physical symptoms like fatigue, headaches⁠, heart palpitations, ulcers, weight gain, weight loss, hair loss, migraines, insomnia⁠ and other sleep issues, diarrhea or constipation⁠, and skin issues⁠.

Mentally, when you’re in an unfulfilling career you might see symptoms like depression⁠, anxiety⁠, irritability⁠, pessimism⁠, aggression⁠, diminished creativity, low motivation⁠, issues in your relationships⁠, mood swings, irritability⁠, disengagement⁠, isolation⁠, and more.⁠

Research has even shown that people who have high levels of work stress experience higher rates of divorce, relationship issues, and lower sexual drive.

What would you say are signs it’s time to move on? 

There are generally five easy signs to know if it’s time to move on:

  1. You dread the work you do – Dreading the actual tasks, methods, tools used, etc. in your job. Dreading what you spend most of your time doing – your work tasks – is a red flag that those work tasks might not be in alignment with who you are as a person.
  2. Your energy is drained – You struggle to get out of bed in the morning, you’re not excited about any part of your job, and in fact, the most exciting part is the end of the day.
  3. Your physical and mental health are being impacted – Another sign that it’s time to move on in your career is when the unfulfillment that you’ve been holding in begins to manifest itself in your body.
  4. You’re not growing professionally – You aren’t getting access to professional development opportunities that will help you build your network and skill set. The lack of growth opportunities is a sign that a ceiling has been put on your growth potential and it’s also unhealthy for you personally as the constant barrier towards growth can begin to eat at your motivation and drive.
  5. You make “enough” money and you’re still unhappy at work – You know it’s bad when you make enough money to comfortably support your lifestyle and you’re still regularly complaining about the work you do because you don’t enjoy it.
Courtesy of Dr. Tega Edwin

What is the best way to go about strategizing an exit plan? 

Getting clarity. Trying to create an exit plan without being clear about what you do and don’t like about the current job will easily lead to you being stuck in cycles of bad job after bad job. Without clarity, you’ll find that you’re jumping out of desperation (or depending on your situation, you’re trauma jumping) and before you know it, you’re in your fourth job in three years because every place you’ve ended up in has been misaligned with who you are, which leads to dissatisfaction.

Take time to get clear about your non-negotiable values, your zone of genius interest areas, and your high-power skills. There are resources that can guide you to getting that clarity.

With so many people quitting jobs since the pandemic started, where do you stand these days on leaving without a new role? Is there a smart way to leave without a Plan B in place?

There’s definitely a smart way to leave without a plan B in place. The first thing I’ll say is, the only time I talk to my clients about leaving without a plan B is when their mental and physical health is being jeopardized. When the workplace is no longer psychologically or physically safe? It’s time to go. Because as I said earlier, there are long-term health consequences.

That being said, I also know that finances can be a major source of stress for a lot of people. So, if your health can afford for you to stay a little longer while you get your finances in order, or at least create a temporary financial growth plan, then I would say hang on a bit. Hang on, get your money right, and then leave.

But I must reiterate – if your health is in jeopardy, it’s time to go. Sticking it out is only going wear you down and make it even more difficult to find a career path you genuinely enjoy down the line.

Lastly, when should one consider a change in career? I often think, if one is unhappy no matter where they land, does that mean they actually need a change in occupation

Not necessarily. Sometimes some people just need a new role in the same organization. Sometimes they need the same role in a different organization. The key here is differentiating between a job and a career – they’re not the same. You can hold multiple jobs in the same career; this is natural when you’re growing in your career.

I would say entire career changes are needed when the career is no longer aligned with who you are. When you’re not motivated or engaged by the work, when you feel like you’re no longer making a meaningful contribution to the world. When you don’t like the skills you’re using daily. Those are all potentially signs that something has to change. But without clarity, it’s impossible to know if what’s needed is a minor shift or a major change.

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