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Grant Lipelt
Grant Lipelt

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Intellectual Wrestling When Contemplating Leaving a Company

Spending the past decades in a career focused on logic and reason it's disappointing and perhaps eye-opening to observe reasonable people not making reasonable decisions. As much as I'd like to mount my particularly high horse and proclaim from above how everyone should behave, self-reflection would only exhibit hypocracy as I'm guilty of some of the same short-comings. I'm still a pup in the study of organizational dynamics so I offer no solutions, only present observations specifically focused on justifying leaving a team which has a corrosive element. By no means should this be perceived as advocating leaving your team, rather it should be considered reasons you could consider leaving and remedy guilt you may feel in doing so.

Perhaps sadly, long gone are the days of long-term employee/employer relationships. While more common in past decades, I'm constantly surprised when encountering employee anniversaries on the 15+ year mark. While admirable, it's far more common for 5-10 year engagements in my observations, but I have no data to back up such a claim. The point is, company/employee loyalty or long-standing relations are less common than years ago and there is no societal judgement in leaving a job for another position. In fact, in my opinion, one of the worst things for anyone is to feel or be trapped to an employer/employee. The employment relationship should be mutually beneficial, if not it's time to consider splitting ties.

I'm getting a bit off-topic so let me reel this in. Suppose you're currently working on a team that is mostly good, but has some strong elements that makes it frequently suck. For example, suppose you like your manager, really like most of your team members, but has one (or a few) people make it miserable. Now what?

You're at a cross-roads; stay or leave?

There are strong merits to staying and participating in changing the culture and as admirable this path is, I won't be focusing on it; leaving it to countless other experts. Stay or go; it's a personal decision, one you need to make for yourself. Having struggled with this decision numerous times myself and seeing colleagues around me go through it as well it's a pretty common plight. I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on what may go through your mind and provide some counter-points to common concerns and feelings of guilt.

Feeling of Guilt Leaving the Team

Hopefully, there are team members that you genuinely enjoy working with. When this is the case I've often struggled with a feeling of abandonment, leaving your good team members to deal with the bad ones. A feeling that you should remain to assist in changing the team for the better. Despite the 'fork in the road' analogy the choice to leave can participate in changing the culture. Pain is a primary motivation, easily observed if you've ever encountered a freak hailstorm on a beautiful sunny day. Despite your overwhelming desire to stay outdoors, being pelted by hail motivates you to change your current situation. This goes for you as well as the organization. Leaving a position, unless it's irrelevant, causes pain to your team, leadership, and organization at many levels. Project schedules and risk will be impacted which will/should be relayed up the leadership chain. Time and cost to locate a replacement team member will hit your hiring manager as well as human resources. Training costs, formal or informal, will impact the organization. In the case of loss of an employee, rather than a contractor, often a 20% salary finders fee will be accrued, a pretty common fee associated with recruiters. Loss of a team member is a pretty visible event, while there are plenty of organizations that see this as simply a common thing, you NEVER want to work for a organization that trivializes employees leaving as a non-event.

If you hate the organization you're leaving and everyone associated with it you'll unlikely experience any feelings of remorse, but what if you genuinely like some of the people that will be recipients of the impacts?

What if you like your manager, aren't you hurting them? In a word, yes; but you may also be helping them. If a caustic team member is driving away good people it may motivate them to remove the bad element rather than feel everyone will simply deal. Even the strongest managers struggle with removing an employee for any number of reasons; hoping in time they will improve, a desire to avoid conflict, avoiding the time/cost to locate and train a replacement, a hope in time they'll leave on their own or a desire to avoid the crap-ton of red-tape in documenting and executing an employee dismissal. Sometimes it's not a shortcoming of your manager, perhaps the caustic employee works for another team. Like a neighbors dog, often the caustic team member is nice to his/her immediate family but bites everyone else. The neighbor will strongly desire to keep their family member until it's been demonstrated it bites someone, only then are they sufficiently motivated to address the issue. Leaving an organization is a public event and formally or informally the reason you choose to leave will make it to decision makers capable of addressing the root cause. If you have a dick working at the company that is driving away talented people it's simply a matter of time before people who can remedy the situation are in the know. Regardless of how instrumental they may be to the company, a repeated cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars of driving away good people will raise them into a stage they want to avoid. A company earning a reputation of being a revolving door of hiring is less tangible, but certainly one most companies will avoid.

What About My Team?

Regardless of how good you are, it's incredibly arrogant to ever think your team can't live without you. Will they be affected? Absolutely. Short-term they will absolutely encounter pain and likely through no fault of their own. In my opinion, this will likely be the heaviest burden of guilt you may feel when deciding to leave. Call it career survivors guilt, understandable but ill-placed. Long-term, your leaving may contribute more to changing the culture than staying and fighting windmills for years. It opens a door to find a organization that has a better culture and keeping an eye out for opportunities for your team to join you in the future.

What About My Reputation?

Maybe you're concerned that leaving when 'times got tough' will earn you a quitter scarlet letter. Having been on both sides of hiring, despite what your high school principle may have informed have no 'permanent record'. Unless you live in an incredibly small community that is subject to gossip, the reasons you leave an organization are pretty confidential. The company you left will likely know, and future employment will only know what you share. Employment references are less common than days of past, and when given are often heavily restricted. Your past managers sharing the reason you left puts the company in jeopardy of liability.

What If I Can't Find Another Job?

Risk of not being able to find another job may be an issue, but if you're good at what you do and the market is accommodating I've always been confident in finding another position. You can remedy this concern by finding a position before tenuring your resignation. Timing of leaving a position for another should be considered, and while likely industry-dependent....avoid leaving near the end of the year when hiring efforts and financials slow.

In Closing

I hope you found some of this useful. Feel free to share your own questions or opinions on the matter. Keep in mind, this isn't advocating leaving as the only solution, rather hopefully it provides insight into how leaving a company can long-term benefit a company as well as counter-points to feelings of guilt you may feel when struggling with this decision. Having worked for a variety of companies these past decades, as an contributor, a technical lead and part of management I feel I have a wide angle lens on employee hiring/leaving practices.

Final note; I've worked for a variety of organizations and have never found one to be inherently evil. I've never met a Montgomery Burns who treats employees like replaceable cogs and doesn't want to address organizational issues. Most people want to do the right thing, sometimes it takes a sharp kick in the pants to motivate them to do so. Reputation and cost are universal motivators to organizations and may provide the tipping point to fix what ails them.

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