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Question #123: Quitting your job the classy way.

Dear Captain Awkward, 

Quick background: I just graduated this June and moved to a new city in August to be with my lovely, lovely boyfriend. We’re not living together yet (but we’re discussing it and both of us want to move in together soon), but I am staying with an aunt and uncle who live in this new city. I applied like crazy for jobs when I moved out here and took the first one I was offered because the economy sucks and I was scared, etc., and I am incredibly grateful to have gotten work so quickly after moving, in spite of the job itself. I know that I am lucky in that regard.  I have some student loans to pay off, but those payments don’t have to start until January. I also bought a car, but my grandma helped me pay for it, so now I’m paying her back. That’s my financial situation right now. 

I’ve been working as a data entry operator at this job for about two months and from day one, I hated it. I cry on the way home from work at least once a week. I dread waking up to go to work every morning. I stare at a computer screen for forty hours a week in a windowless office in a warehouse with people I don’t like or have much respect for. The women I work with gossip about each other constantly and it makes me wonder what they’re saying about me when I’m not around. I don’t get up. I don’t do anything different at any point in the day, just shuffle papers from one pile to another. My commute is at least an hour in heavy traffic both ways. This job isn’t in my field of interest, there are no benefits, no networking opportunities, and no room for growth in the company. My boyfriend has been telling me to quit since week one and my parents quickly jumped on board because I am so unhappy working here. I’ve kept applying for other jobs (with non-profits, my field of interest) and keeping my head down at work in the meantime. 

Thankfully, something came through. It’s a job I’d applied for back when I was applying for anything and everything, so it isn’t in my field, but honestly, anything to get me out of this job sounds good right now and this job seems a little fun and at least different. It wasn’t clear to me in the interview whether this would be full or part-time (it’s a service position, so it would depend on how many shifts I said I was available to work), but they moved really quickly on the hiring process (I interviewed on Sunday, took a drug test today, and am filling out the final paperwork tomorrow). Full or part-time, I’d rather be doing this than my current job time any day. 

It all sounds good so far, right? Why am I writing to you if everything has worked out? I don’t know how to tell my boss that I’m leaving. I’m really worried that she’s going to try to guilt me into staying (and if not her, then one of the other women I work with will even though it is none of her business) and I’m already feeling guilty for leaving so quickly. I mean, they did give me my first job and I’ve only been there two months. Two miserable months, but still. I want to act quickly not just because I want to be out of there, but because I can feel my boss and my other coworker starting to rely on me more and more. Not to brag, but I’m pretty good at my job (which isn’t hard. A drunk monkey could do my job so it isn’t really a brag at all). I’ve heard them gossiping about the third woman in our office and they want to fire her soon (she wants to quit too and her work performance has fallen dramatically). They’ve already started putting some of her workload on me because they can’t rely on her; work that I don’t want and that isn’t part of my job description. Add to that, my other coworker wants to work less now because she’s studying for a major test to go back to school and because she feels she can pass her work off to me (and she has been). This environment is one of the main reasons I want to leave, but it is also one of my main areas of guilt. Who will do my job if I’m not there to do it? Will they say mean things about me once I’m gone? Why do I even care enough to ask these questions when I hate my job so much?

Anyway, I guess I’m looking for a script to tell my boss and my nosy co-worker I’m leaving and some phrases I can rely on when she tries to guilt me in to leaving or questions me about my new position. I feel it’s appropriate to give two weeks notice, so I need to be able to defend myself for two weeks. Also, on a side note, I need something to tell my aunt and uncle. I don’t think they care particularly, but they definitely believe in making money even if you’re unhappy, so I don’t know quite what to say. It’s not like I’m giving up a high paying, awesome career anyway, but I am living with them rent free, and I don’t want them to think I’m a slacker or something (which I am definitely, definitely not).

 Any advice you can give me would be great–I’ve never had to do this before. 

Thanks, 
Unhappy Employee

Dear Unhappy Employee:

Good work!  You had a job you didn’t like, so you found a new one that you thought you might like better, so you’re leaving.  That’s a reason for celebration, not worry!

Here is the script for quitting your job.  You need to do it in writing anyway, so send an email.

Dear Boss,

This note is to inform you that I will be leaving (company) after (date) to pursue a new opportunity. (Date) will be my last day.  I’ve greatly appreciated your training and mentorship during my time here.  I wish you and (company) all the best.

Sincerely,

Your name.”

After two weeks, you will likely never see these people again.  After four to six weeks, they will have pretty much forgotten you, so whatever “guilt” you’re feeling has a pretty short shelf life.  For those last two weeks, be gracious and polite to everyone. Do your work and leave your workspace and projects spotless and organized. Keep your negative feelings about the job to yourself – I mean, your coworkers still have to work there, and I guarantee that they do not want to hear any yapping about how you will soon be “free.”  They will ask about your new job, and you can keep things very vague.  Is the commute at the new job better, by any chance?  Maybe seize on that as a reason.  “I found something with a much better commute, thanks for asking!” “It has a more flexible schedule, thanks for asking.  How are things with (family/hobby/school?)”

Now, your boss may understandably be peeved when she hears the news.  New employees are more trouble than they are worth right at the beginning (even bright, newly minted college grads in seemingly “easy” or “boring” jobs), and the fact that she’s relying on you to pick up some other people’s slack is a sign that you’ve now crossed that line into “useful person who can be counted on.”  So she’ll be annoyed at having to replace you.  That’s why I want you to thank her (even if you don’t feel thankful) explicitly in her letter, and on your last day when you say goodbye, thank her again in person. In the meantime, ask her “What can I do to help?”

As for your aunt and uncle, why are you so worried to tell them that you got a new and different job?  You didn’t quit your old job without lining up a new job, so what’s the worry?  “Hey, Aunt and Uncle, great news!  I got a new job!”

Now, as I am your elder, allow me a small sermon:

You should quit jobs that you don’t like. You should use your drive and smarts to find new ones that you might like better.  Look out for yourself without guilt.  No problem.  I’m a little tired of the current economic narrative that a job is something that you are grateful for instead of a relationship where both sides are contributing something of value. However, sometimes economic realities lead us to have to do things like enter data in a dusty warehouse even when our aspirations are set on better things.

So, I know you were grateful to be hired so quickly and you have legitimate reasons for wanting to leave, but I want you to seriously think about the contempt that you convey when you talk about how “A drunk monkey could do my job so it isn’t really a brag at all” and how you work with people youdon’t like or have much respect for.”  You may end up working a lot of jobs on the way to your dream job, and you’re going to serve yourself and the people around you better if you don’t look down on the work that you’re doing and on the other people who do that work.

Sincerely,

A Former Waitress, Data Entry Clerk, Receptionist, Cashier, Hostess, and owner of many jobs with the word “Assistant” in the title Who Learned The Hard Way

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19 comments
  1. Nomie said:

    I hear you on the guilt thing, LW, especially when it comes to your coworkers. I felt extreeeeemely guilty about leaving my coworkers (whom I liked a lot and who made my crappy job worthwhile), given that I handled a whole lot of stuff and our company was under a hiring freeze. But you know what? As soon as I was out that door for the last time? Not my problem anymore. I guarantee you that your boss and coworkers will figure out a way to get all the work done in your absence and/or until they find someone to fill your spot. And unless you a) believe in curses and b) think they will actually put a curse on you, who cares what they think or say about you after you leave?

  2. Millie said:

    Oh Captain my captain, this is perfect, spot on advice.

    Signed,
    Former receptionist/data entry clerk/grocery store cashier/general office paperpusher

  3. Stephanie said:

    One thing I found interesting is that you think they’ll guilt you into trying to stay. Anecdotes aren’t necessarily data, but no one has ever done that to me. Sure, they can “make you feel guilty” because you’re the one escaping, they’ll have to do your work when you leave, yadda yadda yadda. But honestly, when I’ve given notice, mostly they’ve just accepted it and we’ve moved on. These are jobs where I was routinely given good performance reviews and promotions, so it’s not like I’m a slacker they can’t wait to get rid of.

    You’ll give notice (without overexplaining it) there will be an amount of grumping, and yes, they will somehow figure out how to survive. They’ve done it before. But this time, YOU won’t have to figure out how to survive, and you’ll be (hopefully!) happier in your new job. Crying on the way home from work every day should not be the status quo.

  4. Ace said:

    I’m with the Captain on this one. No matter how much you hate the job, you have to leave with some dignity and professionalism. The other people might be annoyed, but you’re not the first new grad to come and go and you won’t be the last. As long as you don’t throw up your arms and run out screaming ‘SEE YA BIIIIIIITCHESSSSSS! I’M FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!’ I’m sure they’re just shrug and deal with it. Their staff problems are not your concern, you’re data entry, not the manager.

    The other thing is if you’re trying to build a job in the non-profit sector, you might want to check out http://www.askamanager.org The woman there has been in HR in non-profits and has tons of great advice and tips on how to find the job you’re looking for, applying, resumes, interviews, and everything else. I can speak from experience, jumping from job to job out of fear will not get you where you’re going. While you’re at this new job, make a plan.

    • JenniferP said:

      Ask A Manager is great!

      A lot of entry level nonprofit jobs involve data entry in dusty, windowless rooms, though, so be prepared. (I am serious. I have done those jobs).

      • mustelid said:

        Ask a Manager has some good advice as far as surviving in the non-profit world (or even just the office world), true. But whenever I see this blog pop up in comment-land, I feel compelled to point out that the author had a pretty bad snafu a few years back with regards to an alleged rape in one of the non-profits she used to manage. The Executive Director, who was known to have boundary issues, was accused of raping a subordinate at an after-work happy hour. Ms. Green (the author of AAM) basically said the subordinate employee was lying. She lost a handful of employees (including the victim) as a result. (Source.)

        I guess all I’m saying is, grain of salt.

        • JenniferP said:

          I was not aware of that history. Huh.

          It certainly raises the question of “If a person makes a giant mistake or does something really jerky, does it taint everything else they’ve said/created/done/written?” in a way that I was not expecting on a post about job-quitting.

          You should always take all advice (including mine) with a grain of salt. Honestly, I”ll probably still link to her from time to time, the way I link to Penelope Trunk or the Evil HR Lady when I think they have something useful going on, even though they often say stuff that I don’t agree with. For example, someone recently asked about job interviewing and this is pretty much exactly what I was going to write.

          • Esti said:

            I don’t think one mistake or jerky act taints everything a person has said or done, but I do think that an HR manager who for six years admittedly allowed sexual harassment (and perhaps much worse) to run rampant through her organization is not someone I would recommend as a resource. I’m sure a lot of her advice is great, but she’s lost all credibility to me as a reputable professional in her field.

          • Actually, contrary to this account, what I did was to do my job, which was to keep the organization running during the time it was dealing with that situation. Once the executive director was reinstated to his position, I resigned.

          • JenniferP said:

            Thanks for stopping by to clear things up. It sounds like a nightmare.

        • Ace said:

          Huh. Well, I don’t know her personally. I’ve thought her advice in the past has been pretty good for interviews and other job related stuff.
          Don’t suppose I’ll be taking her advice on sexual harrassment anytime soon though. Yikes.

      • piny said:

        Oh, dear, I read this comment and went, “Oh, that would be HEAVEN. Maybe there would even be free coffee. In a kitchen! Where I could sit!”

        ..I think I need to start sending out resumes.

  5. bellacoker said:

    I think this post is excellent, especially coming off the post about the lady with an abusive family.

    We spend more waking time with our co-workers than we do with our family, it seems completely reasonable to me to not want to spend that time with mean people, people we don’t respect, or people who make us feel bad.

    In my opinion, once you get beyond subsistence wages, it’s more important to spend time with people I like and who respect me enough to give me interesting work than it is to make bank.

    So, quit! Almost everyone quits their first job. Jobs are like relationships, we learn what we like from good ones and what we won’t accept from bad ones.

  6. Jenny D said:

    Another excellent post and excellent advice from the Captain. The part that stuck with me the most was the one about not looking down on a job, even if it’s not a very demanding one.

    I’ve been a Unix sysadmin for nigh on fifteen years now. It’s my dream job, and I’m very good at it. Before that I’ve done many different things – working the checkout counter, been a sales agent, a forwarding agent, a translator, and done data entry. Most people would probably say that the checkout job was the worst, and in some ways it was – but it was also one where I learned a lot of things. I learned to deal with rude people without letting them get to me too much, I learned to focus on the thing I was doing even when there was a line of twenty stressed-out people waiting behind the current customer. And I learned to work with people of very different background, education level and manners from what I’d been used to. I learned to handle gossiping and lazy coworkers as well as those who thought themselves better than everyone else, and even if I wasn’t friends with everyone, at least Iearned how to get along without too much friction. (I also learned how to deal with people who didn’t take me seriously on account of my gender and age – I started working there at 17, and at 18 I was having managerial responsibilities on weekends. Some customers found that very hard to fathom.)

    These aren’t the skills most people think about when they say that a job has been challenging and helped them develop their professional skills, but they are among the most useful you will ever learn. And it’s better to learn them early, in a job that you’re going to leave.

    Some other things you can bring from this boring data entry job is that you are capable of doing a good job and being a responsible and trusty coworker even if you don’t like the job itself. This is a very good thing to know about yourself. Also, your typing skills have probably improved, even if they were already good when you started.

    (I should add that the one job I would never ever in a million years go back to was the sales agent one. I sucked at it and I hated it. I’m not good enough at lying. I’d rather work checkout again, or swab floors, or any menial and dirty and boring task. Which is also a good thing to have learned.)

  7. I doubt they’ll try to guilt you into staying, but one thing that CAN happen is they might ask you “hey, we may need to call you for X or Y reason” which is fine but you have to set a hard end date for that (and one that’s very soon – like one week.)

    Do not let them continue to get free work from you after you’re gone.

  8. G said:

    LW, you don’t owe any employer long term loyalty. No employer will offer you long term loyalty, either. If they decided they didn’t need you any more, they would lay you off in a flash without wasting half a second on guilt.

    What you do owe them is a day’s work for a day’s pay. As long as you’re accepting wages from them you need to work to earn those wages, but that doesn’t obligate you to do anything else for them. They didn’t do you a favor by hiring you: You and the company entered into a mutually beneficial agreement to exchange work for wages which either side can cancel at any time. Nobody did anybody any favors.

    I am a little worried that you’re planning to start your new, better job without knowing whether it will be full or part time. Are you thinking they’re doing you a favor, too, by saving you from the job you don’t like so you’re not looking into the new one in detail? Don’t fall into the ‘favor’ trap again at the new place.

    • Esti said:

      The description of the new job concerns me, as well. I understand the desire to get out of a really miserable situation as soon as possible, but you really can’t jump from random job to random job for too long before you start to look unfocused and unreliable to potential employers. Whatever the new position is like, I hope the LW sticks it out there for at least a year and doesn’t leave until she has found a job she knows she wants to do for at least a few years after that. In a bad economy it’s tempting to take any job that comes your way, but more time and investigation on the front end means you’re less likely to need to go job hunting again soon.

  9. As a recent grad, I can definitely say I’m super lucky to get a job in my field with people that are more tolerable than not. Working in a bad environment is not fun. I did the terrible entry level desk job during school for the money, and it forced me to really narrow my job search down to areas and fields that I felt could really help contribute to my eventual future plans of going back to school for my PhD. The fact that you’re boss seemed to have hired some incompetent people is not your fault, either, so let that go.

  10. Directed said:

    It took me forever to be able to go back to the grocery store I used to work at.

    I still can’t go to the department I worked at, though! I know people there! It’s been years, but I don’t want to ask them for a pound of chicken salad, I’m just too nervous.

    Good luck on your new job, writer!

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