How to know when it’s time to leave a job

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By Jared Oren

Vice President, Lingua Franca  

How do you know when it’s time to leave a job?

There is no algorithm that will tell you when it’s time to move on. There probably never will be. For some, it becomes obvious that the best course of action is to leave for another opportunity or at least be open to the possibility. However, very often, the emotions involved with considering such a drastic change supersede objective thinking.

Any emotional attachment you have to an organization is real and should be acknowledged. However, such feelings should be complemented by a more clinical assessment of whether it may be time to think about a job change.

So, how do you know when it’s time to leave a job? Is it when your career trajectory has flattened? Is it when you no longer feel intellectually stimulated or lack the same motivation you once had? These are important considerations that should play a role in any analysis, but the issue must be examined more holistically.

A Better Way to Frame the Question

A good question to ask is: What is my Return on Employment? This can be defined as net job fulfillment, which is job fulfillers minus job drainers. A job fulfiller is any aspect of your job (even if peripheral) that provides any level of satisfaction. Conversely, a job drainer is any aspect of your job that causes any level of dissatisfaction.

Each fulfiller or drainer can be considered a Job Factor, which are aspects associated with each job that add to or detract from job fulfillment.

Job Factors can include:

  • company culture
  • intellectual stimulation
  • job variety
  • work-life balance
  • advancement opportunities
  • relationship with supervisor
  • commute
  • organizational mission

  • ability to make an impact
  • appreciation of skills/contribution
  • company stability
  • executive leadership
  • office environment
  • company benefits
  • and more

A framework helps translate the emotional component of the analysis into something objective.

These factors can be either fulfillers or drainers, but not both. For example, company culture either provides fulfillment or it is draining, though the magnitude will vary.

This framework recognizes that everyone is different in how they evaluate what is important to them in a job. It is not for someone else to determine what is important to you. For example, someone may be in a job with minimal opportunity for advancement, but what they really value is supportive colleagues and flexible working hours.

How to Determine Return on Employment

You can use a numerical system to “grade” your Return on Employment. The overall process is to identify the most important factors, decide if they feel fulfilling or draining, weigh them, and then assign a number to your evaluation. Tally up the numbers and you have a more objective way to think about your job.

Step 1: Put together a list of 5-7 of your most important Job Factors. This list represents the most significant determinants of your job satisfaction. As stated above, this will be different for everyone.

Step 2: Once your list is compiled, determine whether the Job Factor is a fulfiller or drainer.

Step 3: Then group each Job Factor, whether a fulfiller or drainer, into one of three buckets: Significant, Moderate or Incremental, based on the criteria below.

As an example here, we will use “company culture” as our Job Factor.

Significant: The Job Factor is currently a significant driver of job satisfaction/dissatisfaction

  • Fulfiller = the company culture is amazing at this company
  • Drainer = the company culture is highly toxic at this company

Moderate: The Job Factor is currently a moderate driver of job satisfaction/dissatisfaction

  • Fulfiller = the company culture is strong at this company
  • Drainer = the company culture is political at this company

Incremental: The Job Factor is currently an incremental driver of job satisfaction/dissatisfaction

  • Fulfiller = the company culture is pleasant at this company
  • Drainer = the company culture is staid at this company

Step 4: Once you group each Job Factor into a bucket, please do the following:

  • For each Significant Job Factor:
    Assign +3 for a Fulfiller
    Assign -3 for a Drainer
  • For each Moderate Job Factor:
    Assign +2 for a Fulfiller
    Assign -2 for a Drainer
  • For each Incremental Job Factor:
    Assign +1 for a Fulfiller
    Assign -1 for a Drainer

Step 5: Add up all your numbers and you have your Return on Employment.

Here’s an example of how the framework looks:

Interpreting Your Job Satisfaction Results

Use a structured framework to get you where you want to go.

A higher number is better of course, but a negative number does not necessarily mean you should quit your job right away. The key indicator is the trend line. Return on Employment is a snapshot in time, and while it should not change daily, it can change every few months. If your negative number stays the same or declines over time, then it is likely time to start looking for your next opportunity. If the negative number is trending in a positive direction, then it could be better to wait and see how the trend line performs.

Conversely, a positive number on the decline could be a cause for concern. Using the example above, if the person goes through this exercise six months later, and they are less bullish on career prospects and the hours worked have increased, their Return on Employment could decline to 1. Still positive, but a worrying trend line.

Return on employment can also be used when assessing another employment opportunity. To the best of your ability, you can put together a “To-Be” Return on Employment based on what you know about the role, company, and culture. There are resources such as Glassdoor that can help. Additionally, if you have the chance to visit a prospective employer on-site, you can gain some insight into people and culture and make assumptions that are reasonably grounded.

In Part II, we will look at specific use cases that further explore Return on Employment.

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Jared Oren is Vice President at Lingua Franca. 

Jared is a seasoned professional with extensive executive search experience across various industries and functions. He joined Lingua Franca Search soon after its founding and leads the execution of engagements from start to finish. 

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