Give appropriate notice. This can be the classic two weeks or longer. It should not be shorter unless there is a good reason. Tell the boss in person if possible. Offer to help with the transition in any way that you can before leaving. Do not make offers to help after leaving. You will be busy with your new job. Answering the occasional inquiry is fine, but not supporting the replacement daily. You can ask that any contact flow through the prior boss, rather than giving your contact information out to new or several staff.
Button things up. Leave your projects and files well-organized. Transfer them as well as you can to others, and brief the points of contact thoroughly on status. This serves your reputation well and gives you the satisfaction of leaving properly.
The monkey bars principle. Classic advice on quitting jobs is not to jump until you have something else lined up. If you are holding on to a monkey bar of a job (meaning that you need a job to keep hanging on in life), don’t let go until you are grabbing the next bar. There are exceptions to this, but in general the advice holds true—it is better to have a consistent résumé presence of some sort and a steady stream of income. It is usually easier to land a job when you have a job, because the new employer does not wonder why you are unemployed. There are few times in life when most of us have the safety net to take breaks—and doing so is underrated and underdone because it is hard financially and counters the “always have a job” culture. Despite the classic advice to always be employed, however, taking time off can be very healthy, a time to regroup for yourself or career, transition, or just plain rest—something lost in today’s age. Some fields lend better to accepting breaks than others—traditional fields less so than technology, older, more entrenched companies less than newer ones. Sabbaticals are made available by a small percentage of employers. If you get the opportunity and can swing it financially, do it.
Leaving for greener pastures. If you have a better opportunity, congratulations! Express your thanks for the opportunities you had and do not burn any bridges on the way out. Do not badmouth anyone or air grievances. You do not have anything to gain from this and you can vent your frustrations elsewhere. You can offer new contact information to people you want to stay in touch with. You do not need to provide it to everyone. If no one organizes a going-away gathering for you, set up a small lunch with a few colleagues whose company you enjoy. It is nice to have these gestures of closure and reflection. People also tend to open up in a new way at these moments.
Anticipate the need to move on. Ever heard the saying “I loved the job but the job didn’t love me”? Sometimes it is time to move on for reasons outside your control, such as unfortunate internal politics, bad functional or personal fit, or other reasons. You are better off anticipating the need to make a move before things sour for you or others. Leave with your reputation intact and your spirits still high. Signs that it is time to move include lack of a boss’s support in your decisions and actions, being excluded from projects, meetings, or conversations that should be part of your job, negative feedback from multiple sources, or poor performance reviews. In addition, if structural changes are happening such as others are losing their jobs, or you are not being promoted up as part of reorganizations, it can be time to go regardless of how much you may like your job.
Move on from destructive jobs sooner rather than later. Jobs that drain your energy or have you tolerating abusive working conditions or bosses, toxic teammates, inhumane hours, mean clients, or other undesirable traits are not worth what they do to your stress level. While many of us have times where we have to tolerate one or more of these in a job, the balance can swing too far to the negative side. If this happens, start pulsing your network and looking around. Life is too short to spend most of your waking hours somewhere that makes you feel bad, particularly if there are other options.
Leaving a job especially without another is hard even if you are miserable, particularly if you rely fully on the income and jobs in your current field are tough to land. Yet even dealing with consequences and unemployment can be better than the daily stress of an abusive job. In today’s fluid economy, you can always try gap-filling with short-term consultant gigs, online ventures, or other nontraditional tasks to stay active.
You will likely have a bad job at some point during your career unless you are very fortunate. Use it as an opportunity to practice skills that will serve you later. Imagine you are suddenly in a war zone trying to survive and help others. What skills would you need to call upon?
Resilience. Strength. Being tough and dealing with unfair circumstances. Practice your patience. Temper your expectations.
Jerks are everywhere and get away with it. Bad bosses are a fact of life—it might be the combination of you and the boss together. Drudgery and boring work can be part of life too. Long hours happen. Low pay is common. Slogging through it will gain you appreciation of the absence of bad conditions later. If you are lucky enough to find a position in an organization or to create your own where none of these frustrations are present, enjoy every day of it while it lasts. But if you find yourself with any of the above complaints, remember that you may need the job, that it is okay to suck it up and roll up your sleeves, and that the experience will lay groundwork to develop skills that will serve you well later in life. People who never go through a bad job can come across as too charmed and unseasoned. Those who have been in the trenches earning their stripes and paying their dues know how to operate. They can endure, prevail, and execute. Of course, be planning how to shift away from the bad conditions all the while, but embrace and value the lessons learned along the way.