It isn’t always easy to know when the right time has come to leave your job. A career is not a bus itinerary, with clearly labelled stops and windows to see where you’re going, and it’s not uncommon for people to step off the ride thinking I should have done this so much earlier.
But while your company may seldom wave a big red flag in front of your desk, it can – and very often will – provide indirect clues that the time has come to move on. In this article we will be looking specifically at verbal clues – things that management or your colleagues may say to you which, while not an explicit invitation to leave, should start ringing some alarm bells.
It is (hopefully) not necessary to specify that we are not advising anyone to just up and resign the moment they hear these words. What we do advise, however, is not being complacent about your professional surroundings, much less your career. None of these sentences are a death knell for your job – but if you hear them, well, it’s not a bad idea to ask yourself if they carry any subtler meanings.
Let’s start with…
“It’s a bad idea, but hey, that’s what they want”
This is the type of phrase that is (sort of) acceptable if said by a freelancer in response to a request by a client. Ideally, one should always offer some professional advice, but if a client insists on paying for software that isn’t going to do them any good, well, it’s their money to waste.
But it’s a very different story if you’re an employee, you hear a colleague speaking these words (especially on a regular basis), and it is said in response to something requested by management. That’s a clear sign that a disconnect has developed (or is developing) between the people at the top of the company and those you’re working with. It’s evidence that the boss is not listening to your product manager, or – and this may be even worse for you – that the product manager is not listening to their own developers.
While this is a situation that sometimes fixes itself, it typically needs to reach a state of crisis first – that is to say, it needs to become the sort of situation where people yell at you for somebody else’s mistakes. You might want to spare yourself that, and get off the vehicle before it crashes.
“This is how it’s always been done”
I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t already know with this one – the sentence “this is how it’s always been done” has a way of getting on people’s nerves not just in tech, but in any industry where innovation matters.
If people start throwing this excuse at you when you propose that something be changed, it’s a warning sign that your team is beginning to stagnate – philosophically if not yet in terms of languages and frameworks. And stagnation is public enemy number one for a developer who has career aspirations.
Not only is this sentence a hint that you will spend more and more hours in the future doing repetitive, avoidable work, it also tells you that you are likely to learn less and less the longer you stay there. In fact, if that particular phrase starts getting combined with talk of ‘legacy system’, eh, it’s probably time to consider your options…
“You’re the best programmer here by a mile”
It doesn’t happen terribly often, but sometimes words of kindness can be a bad omen. In this case, if either colleagues or management are telling you that you have no peers in the team, perhaps you should start questioning what you’re doing in that team in the first place. Perhaps you belong in a higher league?
You should be wary of finding yourself in groups where there’s nobody left who can teach you something. As importantly, if everybody thinks that you’re so good, then could it be that the work you’re doing is not challenging you sufficiently? Is said work actually improving you as a developer, or are we back to the problem of stagnation?
At the very least, if people are praising you so highly, then you should consider asking for a raise or a promotion. But even then, as it is more important in the long term to cultivate your skills than your salary, the best option may simply be to walk away. Even from all that kindness.
“The coffee used to be a lot better”
Ok, hang on – we’re not actually suggesting leaving your job over the quality of the coffee-machine (although some of us might consider it…). Rather, the point is to look out not for this particular sentence but for sentences like this one, and more precisely, any sentence serving as a clue that your company’s financial conditions are deteriorating.
Often these clues are not verbal in form. You may notice, for example, that in recent times several of the top people in the company have been departing. Attention to detail has gone slightly down. Things are done late, and reviews feel hurried and sloppy.
If a company is going downhill, then it’s wise not to be around when it hits the ground. They will have little to offer you going forward, and they may very well lay you off because they can no longer afford you. Leave of your own volition before someone else pushes you out.
“I’m worried about you”
It’s great if others in your team show they care about you, but it’s not exactly a good sign if they’re worried, and this for two reasons. Firstly, when we as individuals are in trouble, we often tend to downplay it. We may tell ourselves that we’re ‘just a bit tired’ when we’re already halfway to burnout, or that we’re going through ‘a bit of a mood’ when really we are sliding towards depression.
The second reason is that the concern others express about how you are doing also tends to be disproportionate to your trouble – people will only start saying that they are ‘a bit worried’ when the reasons to be worried get pretty substantial.
Thus, if your colleagues begin to share misgivings about your well-being, or if your boss sits you down to have a talk about ‘how you’ve been doing’, that is an alarm bell that you should take seriously. Consider changing something about the way you work – and remember that often the easiest way of doing that is simply to step away.
If others are worried, why aren’t you?
This one is not about others, it’s about you. Specifically, it’s about those times when you see something you don’t like or hear something you disagree with, and you just lower your head and say nothing. Maybe you’re just not very talkative in general (in which case it’s a different story), but on the other hand, it may be something new – and then there may be reason to worry.
If you used to speak up about making a project as good as it could possibly be, and now you no longer do, that means that you want to spend less energy thinking about work and less time talking about it. In other words, you have lost passion and interest. That’s not a trivial matter.
You saying nothing is your subconscious actually saying something – it is telling you, I don’t want to be here. You should listen to that. If you no longer take pride in what you do, if it no longer makes you want to get out of bed in the morning, then it’s time for you to find something that does. And if your company can’t offer that, then yes, it’s time to change companies.
The universe has many funny – and sometimes not so funny – ways of communicating with us, but it almost never does straight talk. Nobody will ever come and say to you directly ‘Hey, it’s time to leave your job’, and this does not combine well with our natural instinct to just settle with whatever we have as long as it’s vaguely tolerable.
None of the sentences above are direct instructions to leave, but they do provide clues. Clues that things may not be going so well, either with you or with your company, and that perhaps you’re not in the best place for yourself.
If that happens, consider the alternative. The universe may not do straight talk – but it does require straight answers.