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Quitting Is Having a Moment, but Ditching Your Job Can Be Costly Right Now

Commentary: Thankfully, I didn't quit my awful job right away.

graphic of door with exit sign
Yutthana Gaetgeaw/Getty Images

This story is part of So Money, an online community dedicated to financial empowerment and advice, led by CNET Editor at Large and So Money podcast host Farnoosh Torabi.

Welcome to So Money Hot Mic, a weekly column on my latest financial musings.

My first full-time job was the worst. 

I got hired as an editorial assistant at a top magazine in New York. On paper, it was great. But in reality, the job lacked the training and mentoring I needed to learn and thrive. I was young, inexperienced and too nervous to speak up in a newsroom full of award-winning journalists. 

But I tried. A few of my pitches made it to print. Unfortunately, they had the occasional error. I once described dollar stores as places where "everything costs a dollar." But, my friends, not everything costs a dollar at the Dollar Tree, does it?  

Well. That mistake put me on probation. If I screwed up again, I'd have to turn in my badge.

I wanted to quit so bad. But I couldn't. The job paid $18 an hour with free dinner if I stayed typing away at my desk past 7 p.m. I had student loans. I had rent. I couldn't beg my parents for more help than they'd already provided. 

Reading headlines about the Great Resignation and the recent quiet quitting trend made me remember this story. Plus, a new survey reveals that a majority of executives believe workers will quit based on feeling disconnected from their colleagues and team culture. 

Sometimes I wish I'd had the chutzpah to leave that job right then and there. But my fear of financial instability was far greater than my fear of staying in an unsatisfying job. My instincts were telling me to take action but to not be hasty. I told myself to create a viable plan, to be patient and to control only what I could control. And for that, I'm grateful. 

If you're thinking about quitting because you're overworked, burnt out, underpaid, unmotivated or all of the above, I know the feeling. But quitting can be a high-stakes, costly move, especially amid widespread economic instability

I've had some conversations with experts on my So Money podcast who share this sentiment and offer important advice. Before you pull the plug, here are some steps they say could save you money, time and regret.  

Need boundaries? Speak up

Quiet quitting, the notion of setting boundaries at work and not going above and beyond, would not have served me well back then. Not for the young woman on the verge of being fired. 

While addressing your boundaries at work is key, why do it quietly? Your employer and colleagues should know if and when you're being pushed to the edge (since they likely have something to do with it). Staying mum is no way to hold employers accountable for their actions.

"One of my favorite things about well-stated boundaries is that you are empowering other people to solve problems for themselves, instead of being the savior," said Cait Donovan, the host of FRIED: The Burnout Podcast and a guest on my So Money podcast. 

Career coach and author of You Turn Ashley Stahl echoed Donovan's advice when she stopped by my podcast this week. She offered the following script for those who want to have a constructive conversation about their limits at work. "Sit down with your boss and say, 'Hey, here's what I have on deck. Here's my list of priorities. Here's what I can do right now… Can you help me in reshuffling this if you want me to shift my priorities?"  

Two money experts smile before walking through a door

So Money podcast guests Cait Donovan and Ashley Stahl share strategies for setting boundaries at work and switching jobs.

Photos by Lee Uehara and Nicole Neira. Design by Brandon Douglas/CNET

Burnt out? Quitting may not be the solution

"Quitting your job just to get away from things is not always the answer," said Donovan. 

There are exceptions, of course. If your work conditions are toxic or you're being bullied or harassed, then sometimes quitting is the only solution. It's more than OK -- it's crucial -- to give yourself permission to leave without all your finances lined up. In that case, you could consider an interim job, one that will set you free from your current employer -- and buy you time and provide income and benefits to ease your transition.  

But the grass isn't always greener. Keep in mind that a new job might have some of the same old problems. A 2022 Joblist survey found that a quarter of those who quit their previous job regret their decision, and over 40% say their new job doesn't meet their expectations. 

If you're not ready to quit, speaking to your manager may be a good first step. "But if you're just trying to deal and you don't know how, get some help," Donovan said. Before you reach a breaking point, consider options that might improve your work situation, including adjusting your hours or scope of work, training for a new role in the company or asking for a raise. You might also consider taking an extended leave. 

If you think the cause of your burnout is because you feel compelled to overdeliver, overcompensate or overthink, speaking to a therapist may be the smarter way to address the root of the issue, said Donovan. Before you make any transition, it's important to ask yourself why you push so hard. Is it because you were taught that's the only way to be successful or get ahead? If that's the case, she said, "You can change careers if you want, but it's going to come with you." 

Not enjoying work? Beware the passion trap 

If you're itching to quit because you're no longer passionate about your job and you'd like to explore a new field, that's great. But sometimes our passion is not meant to be a profession. "Don't do what you love, do what you are," says Stahl. "I love shopping, but I'd be a horrible fashion designer."

In other words, choose a career based on your skills -- especially the soft ones that can't be outsourced or replaced by robots. That may be the very job you have now.

To source more happiness in your life, you may need to look beyond your 9 to 5. "I don't know if my work is completely where my purpose is," says Stahl. "It's where I contribute and where I use my skills and where I sharpen and hone them, and that feels good." 

But our relationships and personal experiences outside work are where we can exercise our passions. "This whole idea of putting pressure on yourself to love what you do is also dysregulating a lot of people and forcing them to go into these mental health spirals," said Stahl. "Just take that pressure off." 

As for me, I remained at that writing job for a few more months because, in addition to not having enough savings to be unemployed, I decided it was best to not go down in flames. As big as New York is, word travels fast. I wanted to be valued as a dedicated journalist who worked hard and learned from her mistakes. I wanted the job to be a stepping stone and provide me with a good reference for the next post. As tough as it was, I insisted on improving. I became a fact-checking ninja. I proactively sought out mentors to teach me the ropes. I arrived early to deliver more assignments. I eventually regained the trust of my managers and became more self-confident.

And while doing all this, I began applying for new roles and managed to land my next job elsewhere before the end of the year. Your experience may not match mine, but taking time to quit afforded me the financial stability I needed. It didn't hurt, too, that I was able to leave on a high note with the dollar store debacle now just a funny memory.

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