When to Say Goodbye: Do You Need to Stay 2 Years at Every Job?

A former colleague reached out to me earlier this year with a situation. She found herself in a position at a company that didn’t quite measure up to her expectations in terms of work/life balance and culture. It’s really hard to assess these things upfront and especially difficult for folks early in their careers with less ability / means to be choosy when job hunting.

Her question for me was: do I really need to stay at this position for 2 years to make this look good on my resume? Or can I start looking for a new position now?

My response to this question is nuanced because life isn’t quite so black and white.

Consider the Risks of Staying in Your Situation
It’s always a good story to say you were at a place for a couple of years to show that you are personally resilient enough to weather the small challenges that come with most workplaces. However, I don’t think it’s worth sacrificing mental health to obtain that story. I had a 1 year stint at a start-up that, at this point in my career path, I don’t even talk about in my career story and the reason it was so short was the organization was particularly volatile during my tenure (e.g. lots of layoffs/attrition that made the day-to-day stressful).

I would never recommend staying in a toxic or abusive situation if it can be avoided but recognize that, for some, you need to stay to sustain an income until you can find better.

…And Also How This Situation Can Offer Growth
If mental health is not at risk and there’s no clear burn-out on the horizon, there’s some value in “sticking-it-out” and trying to get some learning out of the situation. It probably won’t be the first or last time you encounter difficult people or situations so sometimes it’s an exercise in trying to build/transform relationships through empathy and deep listening.

Or sometimes it’s about figuring out how to better “manage up” if the strife is coming from the leadership team. Or maybe it’s finding a way to advocate for change and influence your manager or others to join your cause. And, if you can tie your pain points to outcomes that are costing the company money they could be saving (or some other bottom-line, objective metric that folks with more influence might care about), that can help you rally support to potentially drive change.

I personally have had this situation in my career at least a couple of times where I didn’t really enjoy working with someone but was able to learn how to navigate their style to my professional advantage — and that’s come to serve me well in future situations where I’ve encountered similar folks!

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