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Should I Quit My Job? The Lowdown on Three Types of Jobs – Including Toxic Ones


With a new year approaching, many of us get to thinking that it may be time to move on to a different job. Whether it’s time to quit depends on the type of job you’re in – and how much that job’s affecting your mood and behavior.

The Three Types of Jobs

Start by determining what type of job you hold, then pop down to “Next Steps” to learn what to do in your situation.

1.  The “It Pays the Bills” Job

This job – which might be called a stop gap or even a drudge job – is one for which you don’t hold out any high hopes of fulfillment or long-term potential. It’s purpose is simply to supply the cash while you balance other demands (e.g., school or family life) or try to secure a job in the field of your dreams.

2.  The “Unfulfilling Career Ladder” Job

This is a job that you’d hoped would set your heart on fire. It’s in your field of choice, has many aspects that are a good fit for you, and has at least some potential of being “the one.” When it comes right down to it, though, the job leaves you feeling…blah.

Importantly, this sort of job isn’t dragging you down, it’s simply not boosting you up.

3.  The Toxic Job

Now THIS is the job you need to quit. And soon. This job type is so important (and common…) that we’ll spend the bulk of today’s post discussing it.

Jobs in categories 1 or 2 can turn into a toxic job, sometimes with little warning. The toxicity of a job is just like the toxicity of substances – you may be able to take it until it reaches a critical level, and then it simply takes you down.

Signs of a Toxic Job

Before we dig into the signs of a toxic job, an important note:  the following are not the aspects of a job that make it toxic. That actually varies from person to person depending on preferences and personality. (What seems like a yelling, abusive boss to one person feels like a great motivator to another!)

Instead these are symptoms that you may start to display while in a toxic job:

1.  Never smiling at work.  Most of us don’t spend our entire days smiling. That would just be weird. (!) That said, you don’t want to be like my career coaching client who said, “Someone came in my office and told a funny story and when I smiled, it felt strange. Like I hadn’t used those muscles in so long I couldn’t remember how to make them work.” Ugh.

2. The belief that something is wrong with you for feeling miserable in your organization or field. This one breaks my heart. If your work environment or career path doesn’t match your preferred skills, interests or values, that doesn’t mean YOU are the problem. It means you and the work don’t fit. Period. When your work is changing your thoughts about yourself and your sense of esteem, it’s an ugly, ugly sign.

3. Irritability. You’ve become the snappiest person you know, launching into bitter tirades at the drop of a Kardashian marriage, especially when you’re home. This doesn’t mean your home life is the problem, it’s simply “safer” to show your anger to your loved ones than to the people who can have you fired, so that’s where the irritability tends to make its great display.

4. Hopelessness about future work. The most common sentiment I hear my clients in toxic jobs express is, “I don’t know if there’s any job out there worth doing. I think I’m doomed to be miserable at work forever.” This is a depressive mindset, thinking that negative things going on now will continue forever. Once you breathe the clean air of a healthy work environment (even vicariously through informational interviewing), your thoughts will begin to change. Trust me.

5. Lack of motivation/energy at the end of each and every day (except maybe Fridays). We all have exhausting days. We all have days we’d rather not be working at all. But when those once-in-a-while days become your norm, it’s a pretty sure sign you’re in a toxic job. You should want to do more than watch TV and eat takeout all evening every evening. That is not living.

6. Sleep disturbances. When your sleep starts to change, job toxicity is nearing a breaking point. You might find yourself being unable to fall asleep, waking up for long periods of time in the middle of the night and/or waking up too early every morning. For instance, my husband began waking up at 4am every single day in the three months after his job turned from unfulfilling to toxic.  He said he wasn’t thinking about anything in particular (not even work) but couldn’t fall back asleep. Once we made the decision that it was time for him to find a new job, voila, he started sleeping normally again. And – bonus – he hadn’t even quit yet; the decision to leave was enough to cause the change.

7. You experience repeated “Sunday night hangovers” - a sense of dread that descends as the work week creeps closer, affecting your behavior and mood. As business consultant Ellen Mastros told US News and World Report, we all tend to feel sad as Monday approaches, but getting angry, irritable, or having physical symptoms like headaches and stomachaches isn’t OK. Not sure if you experience these hangovers? Ask the people who live with you. Believe me, they’ll know.

Next Steps

Now here’s what I’d suggest you do, depending on your job type:

If you’re in a “It Pays the Bills” Job, you’ll know when it’s time to quit:  when your path to meaningful work finally becomes available. (PS – if you’re not actively working toward making that a reality, it’s time. “It Pays the Bills” Jobs are notorious for turning toxic.)

If you’re in an “Unfulfilling Career Ladder” Job, before you think about quitting, make a concerted effort to employ some concrete job crafting strategies, such as those covered in my free eBook. Put a time limit on how long you’ll give the strategies a shot before reassessing quitting – maybe 6 months or a year – and be proactive during that entire time period. This isn’t about settling but about building. Believe me, the teaching job I’ve now held for a decade went from bland to blissful because I took these very steps.

Finally, if you see one or two of the signs of a Toxic Job, it’s time to formulate your exit plan ASAP; you only have months or possibly weeks until the toxicity overwhelms you and makes you suddenly scream “I quit!” in the middle of a team meeting, burning boku bridges in the process. (Most of my coaching clients wait until they’re at this point-of-no-return before contacting me…not the best move.)

How do you make a plan to quit smartly? By building an emergency fund, doing introspective work to determine your next best move, and using networking to lay the groundwork for the change ahead.

Then when the toxicity eventually scalds you to your core, you’ll be ready, not desperate.

Know someone who is thinking about quitting? Please pass this article along to him or her.

Now I want to hear from you:  What are your experiences with quitting? Were you in a toxic job, or in one of the other two types? What was the final straw that made you leave?

Photo Credit: quinn.anya

Rebecca Fraser-Thill About the author: A career coach, college instructor, blogger, and speaker, Rebecca Fraser-Thill empowers young adults to lead the lives they imagined they’d have. Drawing on psychology research, a decade of work with twentysomethings, and her own quarterlife frustrations, Rebecca encourages millennials to transcend the platitudes and pursue meaningful, fulfilling lives.

What do you think?

7 comments… add one

  • Greg Marcus says:

    Great post Rebecca. I’m totally with you. When things get toxic, the best course is to get out. But if we wait too long, our options run out. It is often very difficult to recognize that situation when we are in the middle of it, which is why I think your six signs are so helpful.

    I wrote about toxic culture in my book. Basically, a toxic culture will eventually break anyone, no matter how talented. Here is the first of a series of posts that excerpt the book on this topic if you are interested. http://idolbuster.com/archives/1984,

  • Great post, as always! Aside from becoming toxic, another danger of an “it pays the bills” job is that it becomes too comfortable. The same could be said about “unfulfilling career ladder.”

    It’s easy to find comfort in the familiarity of your commute, your daily tasks and your coworkers. Maybe you don’t like what you do, but looking into other options can become scary. The job hunt is exhausting and full of rejection. Your old job can almost become a security blanket. You can think to yourself, At least I’m wanted somewhere.

    While slipping into a toxic job is bad for our well-being, slipping into a comfort zone job can be just as bad in the long run. We could end up looking back, thinking, Why did I stay in that dead-end job for so long? It’s like settling in a bad relationship.

  • […] Should I Quit My Job? The Lowdown on Three Types of Jobs – Including Toxic Ones (workingself.com) […]

  • Zezee says:

    Thanks Rebecca! This post came at the right time. I was just discussing this topic with a friend.

  • Would you consider it toxic if you have in your possession your last years review in which you are congratulated on getting a promotion (that you did not ask for -but are told your earned)…and then they never actually give it to you. Titles don’t matter that much to me…but I am now being paid less than some newer employees, and that promotion is locked up behind a curtain of “we can’t afford that now” in the aftermath of a change in company ownership. Our management has no idea what a “process” is much less how to document one. Roughly 40% of the entire organization wants to leave, and we are now seeing signs of re-organization and upper management changeover that looks suspiciously like those things that are done to stabilize a failing company. Mid-level managers can “bite the heads” of people that express dissension – or ask “telling” questions that highlight their clueless nature at team meetings. Accepting credit, for “great leadership” when they were not even present at an incident – where my team actually addressed and solved the problem 4 hours before management actually executed the fix, is the norm. All attempts to show them by example : A properly written procedure, the lack of documented licensing for software- which then leads to us installing and overusing these licenses, precious little communication upwards or between teams, All of these things are ignored or declared to be “the way we have always done business” .

    It’s nuts and I have awakened to wish that I had simply passed in my sleep rather than having to face another day in this living hell…

  • […] said, if your job isn’t toxic, then TGTBT opportunities in and of themselves are not cause to leave a job. In fact, your […]