Should You Stay or Should You Go?

Cat sitting at an open door, considering

I can’t tell you how often I hear (from folks who are employed), “I think I’m in transition.” They are often tired of tolerating an unacceptable situation at work, and they’re hearing in their mind’s ear the question asked by The Clash: “Should I stay or should I go?”

“Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double….
The indecision’s bugging me.” –The Clash

(Disclaimer: Every week, someone asks me, “Were you writing about me?” I understand why someone would think so, but all my examples are drawn from several people–these are universal experiences. You aren’t alone.)

If you’ve been tolerating that rumble of dissatisfaction and you’re feeling itchy for a change, the temptation to leave your job might be getting stronger every day. If this is happening for you, here are some important questions that you should seek clarity on first. These are bigger than just the practical questions of whether or not you can get another job or tolerate unemployment.

They’re about where your happiness or dissatisfaction are really coming from.

I suggest you start with a blank sheet of paper with 3 columns:  First column for each of the questions below, second column for your thoughts about how your answer to the question is “yes,” and third column for your thoughts about how your answer to the question is “no.”  And that’s correct — you might say “yes and no” to any or all of the following questions:

1. Are you doing the right work?

Fit with your job is important. You need to use your strengths every day. If you aren’t developing your strengths, that makes the work hard or frustrating, which is something you would have to tolerate daily. How often do you get to use your strengths? Furthermore, have you developed all the mastery you can develop? Is it still a challenge for you?

If you aren’t doing the right work, you might be able to stay with the company but just find another role in it.


Love what you’re doing, still have room to grow, but unhappy? Keep reading.

2. Are you enthusiastic about the organization’s goals?

Does the organization’s sense of itself, its vision for the future, and its daily priorities resonate for you? Do you believe in the product? Can you get behind the company’s story about itself? Your ability to answer with a passionate “yes!” dictates your ability to stay there.

If your “yes” lacks passion, or if you feel any strength behind a “no,” then strongly consider looking for work elsewhere. That doesn’t mean you should just quit — be sure to think through the practical implications of the decision — but it is an important clue.


Love what you do and appreciate the company, but still unhappy? These next two questions address that circumstance.

3. Are you holding up your end?  Are they?

“Are you holding up your end?” is the most shocking of all the questions, but it’s important to spend some time with it.

When we join a company as an employee, manager, or executive, we enter into a contract that might be legal or might be social. Either way, there are expectations on both sides about what each will and will not do.

You want to know your employer is going to honor their commitments to you. You want to know that your teammates are pulling their weight. You need your team to follow through on their commitments. And just as important, you need yourself to be reliable, committed, and capable. If any of those are falling apart, you will be unhappy, and you will either do the work that it takes to improve accountability in your work world, or you will start planning to leave.

If accountability is suffering, there are some very real things you can do to make improvements in this area. This isn’t about controlling others or doing all the work by yourself. You can take stock, own your piece of whatever has fallen apart, and do the work that needs to be done to make improvements on your end.

If others around you are falling down on their accountability, you can clarify expectations with consistency and be straightforward and consistent about consequences.  Once you have done that, it’s up to them to decide what to do, and up to you to either deliver or point out the consequences that are happening.

If accountability is the source of your dissatisfaction, you don’t necessarily have to leave. Hold up your end. Clarify expectations. Be consistent about consequences. If your own sense of accountability is the problem, then moving to another organization won’t serve you until you get better at holding yourself and others accountable. [Of course, if you have clarified expectations and been consistent about consequences with regard to others, and they are committed to their stuck place, you may have little reason to stay.]

4. Are you taking good care of yourself and your professional relationships?

Generalized dissatisfaction can come from poor relationships with others or even with yourself. Emotional intelligence is a set of skills for understanding and managing yourself as well as understanding others and effectively managing your relationships with them. If you find that you have trouble managing anxiety, depression, or hostility, then developing an emotional- intelligence skill set is very helpful.

If you find that your working relationships are what’s bothering you, take time to review your experiences with people from your last few jobs. Do you find patterns? For example: Does it seem like there’s always one person who gets under your skin? Or there’s always one person who makes you feel small? Or does it seem like you’re always the brunt of everyone else’s ire? These are patterns that naturally occur when one’s emotional intelligence skill set needs work.

If this is what you are experiencing, leaving your job won’t help. You’ll just find the same pattern recurring at the next place. You do need to work on yourself.


Once you have done the one-page exercise with three columns, look over what you’ve written.

If your answers to #s 1 and 2 weigh heavily in the “no” column, consider looking for something else. (Try for another role in the same company if your “no” is just in #1. Consider looking at other organizations if your biggest “no” is in #2.)

If your answer to # 3 is in the “no” column, consider those questions carefully before you go looking for another role. Take time to make sure you are holding up your end, including holding others accountable appropriately (and positively–clarifying consequences can be done in a caring, gentle way).  Don’t start your job hunt until you’ve made sure you have done the work you need to do here first.

If your answer to # 4 is heaviest in the “no” column, job hunting is the wrong strategy for you. You are unhappy–that’s certain–but the work you have to do is on yourself first. After you can honestly shift those answers to “yes”, then reconsider whether or not you need to make a change.

These are significant variables, and I have tried to simplify them as much as possible so you can make your decision less complicated. However, I don’t know anyone who is dealing with just one “no” to these questions. Most of us have a variety of skills to develop. With my clients, I offer a self-assessment tool that helps to break down each of these areas into smaller pieces, and it helps us uncover what they really need to work with. If you are interested in doing this work together, let me know.

And I apologize for the earworm.

Image Credit: Should I Stay Or Should I Go Cat by Craig Sunter at Flickr


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