It seems out of the question to talk about walking away from a job in these uncertain economic times. But there are times when walking away might be the best thing to do.
Bear with me while I share a personal story that prompted the idea for this blog. My teenaged son has a part-time job in shipping and receiving with a national home and building supply store. At first he loved his job. But gradually, the managers began to ask him to do more and more work, sometimes outside of his assigned department. Now he is loading the shelves, driving the forklift, helping customers find everything they need for projects, and then loading the supplies into their vehicles. But it seems the more he does, the fewer words of encouragement he receives from management. In fact, they take every opportunity to point out any small area where he is falling short. Of course, if he sucked at his job, they wouldn't be increasing his duties. My guess is that they're very comfortable taking him for granted.
OK, so far the story is pretty typical of every entry-level retail position in the world. But the kicker is that this particular chain practices the cringe-inducing ritual of gathering the employees in an inane cheer during each shift. Seriously, they gather all the employees and someone leads off a team cheer — "Give me an H!" My son is enough like me to bristle at this moronic attempt at forced company spirit. But to have do a cheer for a company that is otherwise treating you with contempt is like having someone slap you and then make you give them a hug. One of the managers has learned of my son's discomfort with the whole deal and now is on a mission to get him to actually lead one of the cheers, going so far as to page him on the loud speaker to come up front.
As a parent, I want to teach my son that he has to stick out the hard times. I want him to understand that there's a 90% chance that for the rest of his working life, he will be working alongside someone who is a jerk. There's a 50% chance that he will work for people who make twice as much money as he does but who have half the intelligence or drive. It's a fact of life.
But there are a couple of positions I take as his parent. One of the most primal ones tells me that I should walk into that store and chase all the managers around with a running weed-eater. Of course, I'm afraid of doing jail time so that's out of the question. The other option is to tell him to quit his job. First, he's a young man with no financial obligations. If you can't quit a job over principles at that point in your life, when can you? Second, the management behavior he is being subjected to is psychologically damaging in my opinion. If he endures that stuff at this age, will his threshold for abuse and humiliation increase until he ends up a modern-day Bob Cratchit?
I abruptly quit only one job in my life. I was 22, it was the middle of the day, and I just went into my boss's office and quit. Something had happened that just exceeded my tolerance level, and I couldn't take it anymore. I was unemployed for six months after that, and I've never done it again. But if I had it to do over, I would. Sometimes what you give up in a job is bigger than what you get from it.
Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.