The tale of a man who tried to quit his job

So you want to leave your job. Searching for greener pastures? A boss who listens? More money? That’s cool–but it’s a tough row to hoe right now, given that there are few jobs available and scores of qualified and over-qualified candidates spamming their resumes all over the Internet. Here’s what happened to an acquaintance of mine a few months ago when he tried to quit.

This is posted with permission, because we both think it’s a good lesson and an even better story, though I’ve changed all the names and taken some liberty with the dialog to clarify the story (and because nobody recorded anything).

The Man Who Tried to Quit His Job

For 6 months or more, Eric was unhappy with his job. His responsibilities remained the same as they were when he started, 2 1/2 years prior. As a good employee who received average to high marks on his employee reviews, he felt he deserved a raise, a promotion, or both. He even asked the boss for different responsibilities to break the monotony of his day-to-day.

I met with Eric a couple of times during this period of unrest, and each time he expressed dismay at the unchanging state of his job and career. I let him vent for a while before we moved on to other topics, like fantasy football or the books we were reading. We didn’t dive deep into his work trouble–just typical responses to “How’s work?”

The last time I saw him, though, he had a different answer.

Charlie: “How’s work? Any better?” Eric: “Actually, it’s funny you ask. It is getting better.”
“What changed?”
“I quit.”
“What?!?”
“I went in to my boss’s office one Monday morning last month and told him I quit.”

(This is where it gets interesting.)

Right to the boss’s face, Eric told him he quit!

His boss asked him why, and Eric laid out three very common reasons why people leave their job: 1) He wasn’t going anywhere in the company; 2) He was bored with what he was doing; 3) He wanted more money.

“So what’s your plan?” asked the boss. “I don’t have one yet,” said Eric. (I think Eric was proud to have the strength to leave a job, in this economy, with no backup plan, and he wanted his boss to know.)

“You don’t have another job offer?”
“No sir, I don’t. But I’m sure I’ll find something.”

“Then I’m not letting you quit,” said the boss.
“Huh?”
“Hear me out on this one, okay?”
“Um…okay.”

The boss went on to explain what even a few months of lost wages can do to a recent grad with lots of school debt and other financial commitments. And in this economy, a year of unemployment is closer to the norm. Sage advice, to be sure, but Eric had already thought of that. What the boss said next is what impresses me so much.

“Eric, you said you want three things: advancement, new responsibilities, and more money. You haven’t done anything to indicate to me or the other leaders that you’re ready for any of those.”

“But I always score at the top of our group in accuracy, and I put in more hours and take less vacation than everyone else!”

“That’s true, and we know that you’re very good at what you do. But we don’t promote people because they’re valuable in their current position. We promote people because we need them in the next position.”

This was a huge point the boss made, and hopefully a big a-ha moment for Eric. I tried to highlight this in my post about the 5 reasons why you’re not getting promoted. Especially when there are no job openings and few promotions to give out, companies won’t promote someone only because they’re good at their existing job, or due to tenure or the timeline in someone’s head. Employees are moved where they’re needed.

As far as his boss was concerned, Eric didn’t yet belong at the next level.

That’s why he wasn’t promoted.

“Eric, you’ve been on our radar the whole time,” continued the boss, “and we haven’t seen any changes or improvements. But your employee rank is high, you’re a bright kid, and everyone in the department likes you. I want you to stay, and I want you to get promoted. I’ll work with you myself.”

Crazy, isn’t it? The boss knew Eric was a good employee with (potentially) a bright future at the company. He also knew that many people, younger employees specifically, don’t know how to go about climbing the ladder. They do what they’re supposed to, get better and better at it, and wait to be told something different.

Eric weighed his options and accepted his boss’s offer to not quit for another 6 months so they can work together on getting Eric ready for the next level. It wasn’t a raise or a promotion, and it wasn’t the promise of one, either. But compared with a painful and protracted job hunt, it seemed like a sweet deal.

What does Eric get out of this? For one thing, six months of personal attention from the boss (who is actually three grades above Eric) is always good. For another, tips and tricks about working his way to the next level will help Eric no matter what his career path looks like from here on out. Good move, Eric.

What does the boss get out of this? Increased loyalty from Eric is the most obvious benefit. If this works out, Eric is likely to be a model employee and supporter of the organization (and his boss) for years to come. The other benefit is not having to replace Eric. Open positions cost money, as does recruiting a new employee. Now the boss doesn’t have to worry about that. And if it’s not looking like Eric is a good fit to get promoted, the boss can quietly begin his replacement search ahead of time.

Eric’s boss changed a mutually bad situation into a mutually agreeable plan of action. Frankly, I’m impressed. I don’t want anyone to quit on me, but if I’m ever in the same situation, I hope I can think as quickly and clearly.

Hats off to Eric for realizing that this is a good opportunity. Double-hats-off to Eric’s boss taking a chance and trying something creative that won’t cost much in the short run but can pay serious dividends in the future.

Eric is now in month 2 of the plan, and it sounds like it’s working. He’s engaging himself on new projects and building his internal network, and reading a few books his boss recommended. Hopefully I’ll have a good follow-up story in 4 months.

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