‘Is It Irresponsible to Quit My Job Without Having Another One Lined Up?’

Wednesday, February 17, 2021
As a general rule, you should prioritize your health — mental and physical — over any job.

In practice, people often end up staying in situations that are bad for them because they need to pay for food and housing and health care … and not having those things is also bad for your health. It sucks.

So, how do you know when you can safely quit your job without another source of income already lined up? It’s really tricky, especially in a job market like this one.

The first thing I’d look at is what your financial situation is like. If you had to survive without a job for a while, how long could you cover your expenses for? Do you have an emergency fund? If you could only cover necessary expenses for a couple of months before things would become dire, I’d be much more hesitant than if you could support yourself for a year or more.

But figuring out how long you could need to support yourself without another job is where it gets complicated. In a good job market, I’d tell you to look at how long your past job searches have taken you. If you’ve always been able to find new jobs within X number of months, it’s not unreasonable to assume that’s roughly the time frame you’d be looking at this time too. But in a bad job market — and particularly in a pandemic — you can’t trust that past experience to be a reliable guide.

So how do you figure it out? You can’t really know for sure, as scary as that is. You can look at some types of data that can get you closer to an answer — like how strong your network is, how long it’s taken other people in your field to get new work over the past year (talk to people who do similar work about what they’re hearing), how much hiring is going on in your field generally right now, how well you interview, and how in demand your skills are. But at some point there’s a leap of faith in there.

As someone who finds leaps of faith pretty terrifying, I’m a big fan of asking, If the worst happened, then what? What would you do if your money ran out before you had another job? Could you temporarily stay with family or friends for a while if you needed to? Could you get a survival-type job to pay the bills, and would those jobs be ones you’d feel safe doing if the pandemic is still going on? In other words, if everything came crashing down, what next? (Even when you’re not trying to figure out the kind of dilemma you’re facing, it can be strangely comforting to decide on the answer to that.)

I know you’re probably hoping for a more definite answer, like “plan on it taking up to X months to find a job, but then you should be fine.” I wish I could give that kind of answer. I don’t think it exists, but asking yourself the kind of questions above should help you get a better idea of what’s likely.

Meanwhile, though, there may be other options you could throw in the mix. For example, would your current employer be open to you going part time? That would give you some relief from the toxicity there, and it would give you time to look for another job while still having money coming in. Or, are any of the awful things that have happened there ones that involved illegal labor practices? If yes, that might mean you’re well positioned to negotiate a severance payout if you leave. (That might sound like a stretch, but it’s shockingly common for companies to break labor laws, and an employment attorney could help you figure out if they have, as well as next steps if so.)

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