Why resigning can be so hard to do

When you about to go in to your boss to resign are you excited, feeling dread, angry, confident, smug, highly anxious, guilty or relieved? Many people go through a wide array of emotions and most of them have been building for weeks. The decision can be agonising.

There is a vast array of emotions connected to this one event of ending the relationship. Your job probably takes up more time than anything in your life apart from sleeping. So when the existing agreement between yourself and the company you work for becomes strained to the point of divorce, it can be understandably difficult.

People don’t leave jobs, they leave managers – is this still true?

There is an old adage that has helped many CEOs that have a personality-based style of leadership – people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers. The idea obviously being that if the relationships within the office are strong then staff retention rates will be high – but this only tells part of the story.

More and more people are questioning the worth of their work, their life balance and whether the job is actually serving them in a way they want it to. Sure, we all know examples of the younger generation pushing this too far, but the older generation is starting to question the traditional style of work and its place in their lives. I’m hearing of more instances where managers are doing a great job, but are losing staff.

Some people feel as though they’re letting down the organisation

Resignation can come with a lot of guilty baggage at times. A person who is a committed employee, who has pushed himself to his highest level of performance for a long time, can feel like they are letting people down. And to a certain extent this is true – if they are a valued member of staff then their absence will be felt, and additional work will fall to other co-workers, especially when organisations can take the opportunity not to replace that position.

People on the road to resignation can find this quite overwhelming, particularly if they have respect for their manager and co-workers. It’s a difficult situation. But it is at this point that the person resigning needs to recall the reasons behind it. If there is undue, prolonged stress that is infiltrating life outside of work in ways that can’t be overcome – then it is time to reconsider the job, its impact and your level of enjoyment in life.

Resignation can feel like failure

Whilst some people might feel triumphant and thrilled to be resigning, this is usually when they have found something better to go to upon leaving… and they are walking away from an obviously bad culture. In fact, a person resigning may trigger others to follow because the others start feeling envious of the escapee.

However, many people who are resigning can feel like a failure, saying, “I have taken on this role, I have done my best, but it has got the better of me.” That is a harrowing line of thought for some people, and one that makes it easier to stay in a bad working situation than to leave it.

This feeling of failure is very damaging – and it tends to be the high achievers that feel it the most. These are people that have a drive to take on bigger and better challenges all the time. When they come across a challenge that is insurmountable it’s understandable that they feel awful. Understandable, but damaging, and it requires a new perspective.

When a particular role demands something of you that is ‘too much’ then it will usually occur in terms of time (not enough to get things done), expertise (a lack of the required skills) or roadblocks (organisational issues that make things more difficult than they could be).

This is a contrast to what high performers define as problems within themselves. For example, they see a demanding job that is overprescribed as a failure to do what is required, as something they should be able to achieve. It happens so often – the elements that drive success in high achievers are also their undoing in highly charged, stressful environments.

There is a middle ground

Part of the pain around resignations is the feeling of finality. There seems to be a dichotomy – either you stop working or you do the job exactly as it’s asked of you. The middle ground is about discussing and manoeuvring your role so that you are more effective. It takes discussions and negotiations with managers about what is reasonable, what is achievable and most importantly – what the priorities are.

A manager will have downward pressure to achieve certain goals, so upwards pressure can be met with irritation, but if you can effectively have an ongoing conversation about a powerful use of time then your stress levels can decrease and the frustration and stress that has led to the decision to resign can evaporate.

The middle ground often doesn’t seem like a reality and this adds a lot of emotion to the resignation process. The fewer options you have, the less you feel as though you have ownership of the course of action.

Likewise, that middle ground can also be full of promises, but ones that don’t eventuate into a reality that is different enough from that which has caused you to want to resign in the first place.

Sometimes you have to do things that feel very uncomfortable

In the end it comes down to priorities. A job is an intersection between your needs and your company’s needs. They need your skills and expertise, while you need paid employment in exchange for your time and effort. When you first sign up for a job you don’t expect it to have an adverse effect on your life. You know that it will take up your time, but if the costs of the initial agreement begin to increase (i.e. it costs your happiness, etc) then it is time to re-evaluate the agreement.

Sure, the company will miss you, and your departure will put pressure on others in the department, but in the end we need to look after ourselves and make sure that our overall happiness and quality time with friends and family isn’t being completely eroded by paid work.

Eve Ash has produced a wide range of resources and books for professional development available through Seven Dimensions at www.7d-tv.com.


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