The Freedom to Leave

Published: July 26, 2022

Not everyone is changing jobs during the mass resignation. Many people are simply considering transitions, and still others are using this window in their career trajectory to evaluate fit and direction. The decision is not binary. You don’t have to either stay or leave. You can do both. The freedom to leave equals the freedom to stay.

Once you’ve acknowledged the option to execute a change (the ‘if,’ ‘why,’ ‘how,’ and ‘when’ are up to you), the next step becomes an ultimate team assessment. Is this the work I seek to do? Are these the teammates with whom I’d like to partner? Does this organization align with my values?

It pays to acknowledge that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence. Many companies have ‘bridge’ policies that assume their talent may test the waters and ultimately regret their departure. The policy ensures that things like date-of-hire and vesting schedules maintain momentum should employees leave and return within a prescribed period (usually six months).

So, before you convert your soft search to a full out job hunt, brush up your resume and LinkedIn profile, and get clarity about your strengths and priorities. The networking that ensues should be strategically narrowed to only conversations that match up with your ideals and hit a culture bullseye. The stress of change is only worth it if it gets you closer to your professional vision.

Too many employees seek change for the sake of change without doing their homework. The result is usually a trade-in of one set of frustrating office politics for another. To avoid this pitfall, first ask yourself a few key questions:

  1. What is the most engaging and energizing aspect of my current role?
  2. Is there an opportunity to do that aspect of my job all the time?
  3. Does that opportunity already exist within my current organization, or do I need to look elsewhere?
  4. What would have to be true for me to choose to stay?
  5. If and when I choose to leave, am I fully prepared for the implications of a major transition?

If you are in a leadership position, understand that your employees are asking these questions and, more importantly, your competitors are more than happy to poach your talent. This is the prime time to do everything in your power to focus on retention. Luckily, the most effective strategy for retention is not complicated. If you invest in your people, the “Should I stay or should I go?” question will almost always gets answered with a whole-hearted “Stay!”

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.