Why does quitting your job make it more enjoyable?

Why do people have the best days of their jobs when they’ve just quit? And what can it tell us about how we relate to work?

Every week I spend my days coaching design leaders. And in these videos, I reflect upon the common themes and questions that come up in the week.


[00:00:00] Andy Polaine: Why do people have the best days of their jobs when they’ve just quit? And what can it tell us about how we relate to work?

Every week I spend my days coaching design leaders. And in these videos, I reflect upon the common themes and questions that come up in the week.

And I’ve had quite a few coachees over the years, actually, but also recently who have either quit a difficult work situation, one they’ve been unhappy with or they’ve been part of the recent layoffs and there’s a kind of common theme that I’ve seen or a reaction that’s happened, which many of them, all of them actually report the feeling of a weight being lifted. And they often say, " My last couple of weeks have been the best time I’ve had in the place I’m working at since maybe the beginning of it."

And I think it’s kind of really interesting what’s going on there that people actually have quit and then having a good time at a place they had previously been really struggling in.

I think some of it’s just stress. I think it’s the lifting of the stress. And I know this is " I no longer have to kind of care about this" and so that stress goes away. Some of it, I think is maybe seeing a way out, light at the end of the tunnel, having been trapped in some kind of state of learned helplessness. But I think a more significant thing is they no longer have the fear of being fired.

Now. Even if you’re financially stable and have some kind of runway, there’s always this background fear that I might get fired for saying this for speaking up for going to the CEO directly, instead of going through this other senior stakeholder who has told me everything has to go through them or any of those things. And obviously in the U S I’m aware of that the health care reality that pretty much, if you don’t have a job, you don’t have any healthcare. And it’s quite different in Europe.

That said the fear of being fired is such a strong enabler, powerful enabler of some really toxic behavior from leadership. That I think is really important to remember you always have the choice to leave.

There’s a certain amount of privilege I want to recognize in that statement because, obviously, for some people leaving really is a massive existential crisis. That said you still have the choice.

What a lot of coachees report is now I’m speaking my mind. I’m saying all the things I held back on. Often to stakeholders that they’ve struggled with in the past. And I don’t mean being belligerent and just burning bridges and giving people the middle finger.

I don’t think it was ever a good idea to leave a place in that kind of toxic way, even if it hasn’t been great. I think it’s useful certainly in public to leave with some kind of grace. You don’t have to thank them and tell them that it’s the best place you’ve ever worked at, but there’ll be one or two people you will miss and who you’ve enjoyed and you want to thank.

If a place is really genuinely toxic, I think it behooves us all to tell our network maybe more privately, "Hey, you know, this is not a place I’d recommend working at." And if there’s something that is really bullying and harassing, then there’s a time there to support people talking about this in public.

But in general, though, I think the more important thing is to recognize that the external reality of the place that you are working at hasn’t changed. It’s still the same place. It’s still got all of its dysfunction and everything else. The thing that’s changed that makes you now enjoy it is you’d be released yourself from that fear.

What has changed is that you have reframed your relationship to it. And that in turn changes the way you relate to others and the work. And, in turn, that’s going to change the way they relate to you. Essentially it’s a very Stoic philosophy approach, where instead of wasting a lot of energy in things you can’t control you focus instead on the things that you can influence, which is mostly yourself and the way you relate to things.

At the end of the coaching sessions, I will ask coachees for feedback. And one coachee gave me this lovely piece of feedback, which was "One thing I’ve really taken from the coaching is not to take work so seriously."

And by that it wasn’t about being unprofessional or not trying to do your best work. It was more about this idea that some of the things that seem like they’re desperately important and this deadline has to be hit by this time and so forth and all of that stress that you let kind of permeate your whole life. It’s about letting go of that and not letting that happen and having a slightly more observational and detached approach to the way you think, at least about the stress of your work, and a bit more of a kind of realistic recalibration of your relationship to your work. That stress permeating your whole life is easier than ever in remote and hybrid work environments where you, you don’t even get the mental buffer of a commute.

So what can we learn from this?

Well, really, I think we can learn what that feeling feels like. And if you’ve had it and you’ve had that moment of release and you suddenly feel happy and more confident in the way you’re relating to people at work and the work itself, you kind of want to focus on that and almost bottle it so that the next time, wherever else you’re working, you come back and you can remember that feeling and what was going on in you that gave you that confidence and that sense of freedom of fear.

I hope that’s useful. If you’d like to check out my coaching practice, it is at polaine.com/coaching, and I’ll put a link below. If you’ve got any of your own ideas or suggestions, or if you disagree, please post a comment below. I like these videos to be conversation and not just monologues.

Thanks very much. I will see you again soon.

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