is it irresponsible to quit my job without having another one lined up?

A reader writes:

I have been at my company in a support role for over two years. I was under the impression from the very beginning that I was on a promotion track, and I thought my boss and I were on the same page. Long story short, I endured two years of belittling, gaslighting, and repudiation (just to name a few) and suffered through terrible management in every way you can think of. Two years of being made to feel like I was an idiot left me depressed and without a shred of self-esteem. I could go on for pages about all the terrible things that happened leading up to this point, but this is not about whether or not I should stay — I decided months ago that I was ready to leave and needed to start looking for a new job.

Unfortunately, with the condition of the job market during this pandemic, job opportunities have been few and far between and my search has been largely fruitless. I was prepared to stick it out at my current job (it’s easier to get a job when you have a job, and the conditions at work had been going on for so long anyway that at least there wouldn’t be any surprises). But just when I thought things at my current job couldn’t get any worse, they did and I don’t think I can work in this organization indefinitely.

I desperately want to quit and remove myself from this toxic situation for the sake of my mental health, but I worry that if I quit my job without having anything lined up I could be unemployed for years. Is it illogical to quit knowing that opportunities in my industry are sparse? Would it be an irresponsible decision for my long-term career goals? Any advice you might offer is appreciated! My gut and my brain are in a never-ending battle.

I’m sorry, that sounds like a terrible situation to be stuck in.

As a general rule, you should prioritize your health — mental and physical — over any job.

In practice, people often end up staying in situations that are bad for them because they need to pay for food and housing and health care … and not having those things is also bad for your health. It sucks.

So, how do you know when you can safely quit your job without another source of income already lined up? It’s really tricky, especially in a job market like this one.

The first thing I’d look at is what your financial situation is like. If you had to survive without a job for a while, how long could you cover your expenses for? Do you have an emergency fund? If you could only cover necessary expenses for a couple of months before things would become dire, I’d be much more hesitant than if you could support yourself for a year or more.

But figuring out how long you could need to support yourself without another job is where it gets complicated. In a good job market, I’d tell you to look at how long your past job searches have taken you. If you’ve always been able to find new jobs within X number of months, it’s not unreasonable to assume that’s roughly the time frame you’d be looking at this time too. But in a bad job market — and particularly in a pandemic — you can’t trust that past experience to be a reliable guide.

So how do you figure it out? You can’t really know for sure, as scary as that is. You can look at some types of data that can get you closer to an answer — like how strong your network is, how long it’s taken other people in your field to get new work over the past year (talk to people who do similar work about what they’re hearing), how much hiring is going on in your field generally right now, how well you interview, and how in demand your skills are. But at some point there’s a leap of faith in there.

As someone who finds leaps of faith pretty terrifying, I’m a big fan of asking, If the worst happened, then what? What would you do if your money ran out before you had another job? Could you temporarily stay with family or friends for a while if you needed to? Could you get a survival-type job to pay the bills, and would those jobs be ones you’d feel safe doing if the pandemic is still going on? In other words, if everything came crashing down, what next? (Even when you’re not trying to figure out the kind of dilemma you’re facing, it can be strangely comforting to decide on the answer to that.)

I know you’re probably hoping for a more definite answer, like “plan on it taking up to X months to find a job, but then you should be fine.” I wish I could give that kind of answer. I don’t think it exists, but asking yourself the kind of questions above should help you get a better idea of what’s likely.

Meanwhile, though, there may be other options you could throw in the mix. For example, would your current employer be open to you going part time? That would give you some relief from the toxicity there, and it would give you time to look for another job while still having money coming in. Or, are any of the awful things that have happened there ones that involved illegal labor practices? If yes, that might mean you’re well positioned to negotiate a severance payout if you leave. (That might sound like a stretch, but it’s shockingly common for companies to break labor laws, and an employment attorney could help you figure out if they have, as well as next steps if so.)

Another thing: Any chance that the work you do lends itself to freelancing? It’s not practical for every field, and there are aspects to freelancing that aren’t for everyone, but even if you just have a couple of clients and don’t do it long-term, it could provide a financial safety net that makes you feel safer leaving your job.

I wish I had a more precise answer for you! All you can really do is examine the factors above and gauge your comfort level with taking the leap. (And of course, as you’re pondering all of this, keep actively job searching!) Good luck.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 131 comments… read them below }

  1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    It’s better to have a job lined up. However, if you have the savings and support system to survive an extended stretch unemployed, and your current job is preventing you from getting a new one by damaging your mental health, quitting first and finding a new job later is a viable strategy.

    Take some time for yourself, and when you feel you’re starting to rebound, look to volunteer, take online courses and train, anything you can do to show you’re active, ready to work again, and going to be an asset to your new employer.

    1. RC Rascal*

      Job searches can take longer than you think, even if you think you are prepared. And the outcome might not be what you want.

      I had who quit her job in 2011. She couldn’t find another one. She did manage to do a little temp and contract work but there wasn’t another full time job to be found in our mid size city. She ended up having to relocate 3 years later to take a new full time job job in her old field in a HCOLA area.

    2. Momma Bear*

      Years ago I crunched the numbers and (professionally, no scorched earth) noped the heck out of a bad boss/job. I had seen a counselor who flat-out told me it was so toxic that she thought I should quit for my health. So…if you have the means to float for a bit, then I say give notice and get out. And then look really hard for a new job. It took some steps, but I started back PT and then got a FT job and am now reasonably close to where I would have been, with my sanity intact. Was it always easy? No. Was it the right thing to do? Yes. Just plan (esp. if medical insurance is a concern) and be frugal while you job hunt. Good luck.

    3. JSPA*

      There are success stories and horror stories either way. People have stayed and done themselves enough damage that they’re still feeling it decades later (or suffered only to ALSO get fired.) People have quit and ended up in dire straits.

      If your only backup plan, should you truly and entirely run out of money, is to be uninsured and in a shelter; living in your car someplace where it’s neither legal nor safe; or in an abusive situation…don’t leave before you make sure there’s some sort of job or situation you can get, that you are qualified for. Maybe it’s punching tickets, running the fryer, or volunteering someplace that offers room and board. Anyone acts dubious over it in an interview for a job in your field? You were taking a health break / finding yourself / gathering life experience for a novel.

      If you have the option, should things not work out, of moving in with a congenial family member, you have enough saved up that you don’t have to start calling in favors or couch surving immediately, and you’re comfortable that you can swing health care coverage for an extended period–I’d leave sooner rather than later.

    4. Like Sharknado, but with turtles*

      My spouse had this very dilemma. A sibling had pointed out that quitting immediately might not be the best option, because spouse might end up still miserable and unemployed. Because the toxic job had decent health coverage, the first step was to use it to get help via counseling with a psychologist who specialized in work issues. Spouse also sought help with a workplace coach (not covered). This allowed spouse to start building on the skills needed to handle some of the stress/issues, and made the job less toxic (spouse could leave it at work, disengage so it didn’t leak over into home life). Second step was to start actively networking with people who could help spouse jump ship (old coworkers who left, vendors, friends, family) – often people shut down when they are miserable and that works against their job search. And 3rd step was for spouse to make sure that all cerrtifications were updated (anything toxic job would pay for), take any needed refresher courses (moving forward to a new job helped spouse put their focus on a good future, rather than feel trapped in the present)

      1. MissDisplaced*

        It depends on how close you are to a degree. If starting from scratch, it’s probably not a great option. But if you’ve been taking classes for a while, it might be a path to fast-track, finish and then switch careers.
        You’d really have to consider the student loans and debt on whether it’s worth it.

    1. natter*

      As someone who has BTDT, a lot of employers seem to consider time spent in school as barely more desirable than time sitting at home watching TV. I did not know this before I went to grad school a few years ago, and was shocked to figure it out when my resume landed with a resounding thud.

      This would be an absolute last resort, and even then only if you have a plan at the end (not doing it just to do it, but an actual goal in mind where the schooling is a non-negotiable step.) This doesn’t seem to apply to the LW.

      1. Cj*

        I think grad school, if it’s not necessary for your field and/or desired position, is different than if she doesn’t have an undergraduate degree yet. Still expensive, though.

    2. SomebodyElse*

      There is a whole different cost/benefit analysis that the OP (or anyone) would need to do to make this decision. One problem that was alluded to below is that it can limit a person and it can be seen as hiding employment gaps.

      That’s not to say that it can’t be done or that it isn’t a good idea. But I think a lot of people found themselves with a degree and a lot of debt after trying to escape the last recession and still found it difficult to find a job in their career.

      If the OP were going to consider, here are the things I’d think about (not inclusive, but a good start)…
      Career choice
      Cost of school (including loan fees/interest)
      Typical degree level for entry level positions in field
      Time to obtain degree
      Opportunity cost (401K, Savings, etc.)

      1. Self Employed*

        I got a master’s in biology for the biotech jobs my university said were waiting for their graduates–but they’d been offshored by the time I graduated. I was competing with lots of experienced candidates and nobody wanted a new graduate. By the time the field recovered, nobody wanted someone who had an old degree from a less-desirable university and no work experience.

  2. BunBun*

    I did this. I ended up leaving my job on disability due to my panic attacks (brought on by how terrible the work environment was). And I looked for jobs during this time and interviewed. However when my disability was up, I couldn’t bear going back and quit without anything lined up.

    And then Covid happened and any hope of getting a job disappeared instantly.

    Now my situation worked out because I’m in Canada and I received monthly government payments due to lack of employment because of Covid. Me being unemployed also allowed me to focus on my child’s homeschooling. My husband was also working still (and has a decent paying career). So my financial situation wasn’t dire.

    Good news is I’ve landed a (part time) position now so things are looking up.

    I would recommend to have something lined up, but if you are financially comfortable (and will continue to be unemployed) quitting with nothing lined up isn’t the worst – especially if your health depends on it as mine did.

  3. BRR*

    One thing that will at least work in your favor is that gaps are much more common right now. Not that it will make your job search immensely easier or affect your financial ability to leave without a job lined up, but if it can get you past the resume stage a little bit easier then you can explain the gap during an interview with something like “needed to take care of a health issue [your mental well being] that has since been resolved.”

    1. Momma Bear*

      We had two applicants last year who were both laid off the spring before. Given the industry and COVID no one was concerned about the employment gap. We hired one of them.

    2. It's a fish, Al*

      I just hired someone who had been laid off three months ago. I would have hired her if it had been a full year, because she is the right person for the job and the tourism industry is awful for work right now.

  4. mcfizzle*

    Normally I’d say you should have a job lined up, but your mental health is more important.
    As a stop-gap while you’re looking, could you work something more temp in the meantime? I don’t know how comfortable you are with covid-related issues, but working a grocery store, etc would at least help with bills, so you’re not living entirely on savings?
    I say this only as someone who would panic about “what if I haven’t found a job in a year?!”.

    1. Kisses*

      I agree. Stress can kill. While I’d say hold out as long as you can, your health ultimately needs to come first (easy to say when being unemployed and broke isn’t a stressor as well!)

  5. Cassidy*

    I’m sorry you’re going through this.

    My own opinion is that I don’t see how risking your health is worth the unknown of how a future hiring manager or committee might react to your leaving without having another job lined up. But you have a great case here: your employer is risking your health and safety, and you didn’t want to prolong that risk by continuing to work there. Your health is paramount, and, sometimes, ya gotta do what ya gotta do. Any reasonable and sane hiring manager or search committee would agree without question. I know that especially these days I’d want a coworker who cared about workplace health and safety, and who also had a great sense of fairness (‘rona discriminates amoung single and married/kids? Wut?)

    Also, while it’s true that being employed helps demonstrates one’s employability, see above.

    Good luck. Really.

    1. Ali*

      I agree, and to steal Alison’s wording from past situations, you can say when asked “I quit to deal with a health situation that has since been resolved.” Nobody has to know that the health situation was stress caused by your terrible workplace unless you choose to tell them.

  6. Can Can Cannot*

    Can you quit in place? Stop caring, putting in any effort beyond the minimum? Would disengaging help tolerate the place? They could obviously fire you, but would that matter to you? At least if they let you go, you would be eligible for unemployment assuming you did the minimum.

    1. yokozbornak*

      If she can’t afford to quit, this would be my other suggestion. Stop engaging and start acting like your Peter from Office Space. I have mostly great bosses, but I finally told my toxic boss that I was there because I wanted to be and not because I had to be. I loved the work itself, but the workplace was terrible. She actually backed off me a lot. I still ended up quitting a few months later to stay home with my kids, but it felt good to stand up for myself and let her know she didn’t have nearly as much control as she thought.

      1. WorkerGal*

        I wish I read this months ago. This is exactly what I needed to read/hear when I was still at my last job. I loved the work, had great colleagues but my boss was a bully. I stood up to her often and excelled at my work, and I would have loved to tell her I was there because I wanted to be and not because I had to be. Wow. I like that.

        Disengaging would have been a good solution, too. I think I cared too much and it was the wrong place for those who care about their work. It was a public org so it would have taken them a lot of time, and a lot of proof to call for putting me on a PIP. Ok, so you want to run projects into the ground. By all means. Just make sure your name is on them, too.

    2. BRR*

      I’m curious to hear if this has worked for others? I was in a really awful job and at one point I said “I don’t care anymore. I’m going to do what I need to do but screw doing anything more than that.” It was definitely the right call to try and stop caring so much and think of my job as just a holding spot until I could move on, it just wasn’t that effective.

      1. Crystal Clear*

        It worked for my (now former) coworker. She was doing only the bare mininum for a couple months when they finally let her go with a nice severance check (after all, she was doing very little, but still doing it).

      2. Chilipepper*

        I’m not sure if what I did answers your question, BRR, but I am working on being the person who says, I don’t care. Or more correctly, I’m the person who does only and exactly what you tell me to do. Unless someone is bleeding, I act like I am the opposite of gumption. I find it difficult, that attitude does not fit my personality but it is keeping me out of the toxicity.

      3. Lara*

        It worked for me with my current job, but it was a little bit of a different scenario. I work in a field (medicine) that heavily depends on employees constantly going “above and beyond” and has very much normalized inappropriate work-life boundaries and crazy hours. Adding that to my own perfectionist tendencies was a recipe for disaster. 2 years ago, I was severely burned out and chose to intentionally scale back significantly and create appropriate boundaries to see if that would help rather than rage quitting. And it did! Tremendously! That being said, I’m still clearly meeting all my job requirements (and doing a good job with those), have a decent amount of job security, and the tasks I stopped doing were more “voluntary”/encouraged by the culture rather than actual requirements.

        1. Jay*

          Yup. Also in medicine, also got horrendously burned out. I learned that I was the only one who was going to look out for my own well-being and it turns out that when I say “no” it’s respected. That wasn’t true with my previous boss who had no boundaries and resented the hell out of anyone who did. I’m glad to be out of there and working someplace where my boundaries are respected. I will do clinical work after hours when I’m on call. Other than that, I have set up my schedule so that I can get all my work done during work hours 90% of the time (including documentation) and I turn off my work phone and computer when I’m done. Turns out I still love patient care when I am not mentally and physically exhausted.

      4. Rose*

        I did this. I was at a company where “we don’t care if you work 10-4, as long as you get your work done!” But of course getting your work done would take the average person 11 hours a day. I started working 9-5, no matter what, and waited to be let go. It allowed me to collect unemployment but I had to weigh that against other factors like my future recommendation.

    3. cubone*

      I feel like I am quoting Alison on this, but can’t find from where…. I am in this exact scenario and what’s been really helpful is to reframe my goals. My goal is NOT to get my boss to treat my kindly, my goal is not to convince higher ups to listen, understand, or care about my work. My goal isn’t even to “do my best” — it’s just to do the amount of work I can reasonably do in a day, tell my boss, and log out. It has definitely had consequences (passed over for opportunities, watched projects I’d love to lead get mishandled and fail, sense of certain people judging me as an underachiever), but I also am not responsible for creating the environment that made this my only choice. And if they fire me, I’ll know I prioritized my health and well-being and am a better, stronger, happier person for it.

      Remember that in a dysfunctional toxic environment, balls will ALWAYS be getting dropped by design. It’s not a question of if the balls do or do not get dropped, but whether your health and sanity goes along with them.

      1. Chilipepper*

        This! So well said!
        “Remember that in a dysfunctional toxic environment, balls will ALWAYS be getting dropped by design. It’s not a question of if the balls do or do not get dropped, but whether your health and sanity goes along with them.”

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes! I’ve talked about it in terms of what your measure of success will be. It can’t be “my boss treats me well” when your boss is a jerk who has shown they won’t change, but maybe it can be “get my work done with a minimum of emotional investment and leave at 5 pm every night so I can read novels.”

        1. cubone*

          It has been IMMENSELY helpful advice to me! I think it’s so hard if you’re someone who wants to do good work, and cares about doing good work… it feels like you’re sacrificing your values and standards and becoming the Coworker You Hate (you’re not – you’re just in a toxic environment where there are no good choices!). It’s a really difficult mental shift to live with, but it’s so, so true.

    4. Lacey*

      I used to do this periodically at an old job. I was putting in way too much effort and it was unappreciated anyway. When I scaled way back I was much happier and literally no one noticed.

  7. yokozbornak*

    Quit if you can afford it. A short-term gap isn’t going to be a dealbreaker for many employers especially during these unprecedented times. I quit a a toxic workplace and ended up staying home with my kids for several years. I jumped back into the workforce a few years ago without too many hiccups.

  8. CatCat*

    A couple thoughts:

    1. I am not sure if your health status qualifies as serious enough for FMLA leave, but it would be worth discussing what’s going on with your doctor because if you qualify, that would give you a break to recover your health and plan what to do next.

    2. Maybe this is a situation where you don’t quit, but you sure don’t try that hard to not get fired. Not saying refuse work or be insubordinate, but if someone says something nasty: “Please don’t speak to me like that.” (And then hang up the phone or leave the room if any sort of berating continues.) Or if they pile unreasonable work, “I can only realistically complete 3 of those 8 tasks within the next few weeks, which should be the priorities?” (And if everything is supposedly a priority, well, just let some balls drop.) Politely and firmly pushing back against whatever the toxicity could definitely get you fired from the toxic place, but then you would have a better chance at accessing unemployment benefits (I would research qualifications in advance and how to appeal a denial because a toxic place may try and fight you on it, but the state should have a procedure for appeals.)

    1. HR Exec Popping In*

      Option 1 may be viable for the OP and they might even qualify for paid leave depending on their benefits plan (and their state). Op should at least talk to their doctor about anxiety and stress levels to determine if they believe the OP would benefit from a medical leave of absence.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, and while on medical leave, there’s nothing stopping them from applying for other jobs while on leave. Medical leave doesn’t mean you have to slouch on the couch and binge-watch your favorite shows.

  9. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    Always better to leave one job for another.

    I did leave a job with none lined up…in 1993. No kids yet, and mortgage was very manageable. But the job was also so very miserable and not a good fit. It didn’t impact my job prospects at all, now that I look back on it. And since I quit, I had to justify my unemployment claim (they agreed with me and granted me the funds).

    I would not do this today with two kids and me the sole breadwinner.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yes, it really depends on your obligations in life. When we were first married, my spouse quit a job without having another lined up (and then ended up in an even crappier job before moving into their career-job), but we had my income and health insurance, no mortgage, no dependents, and adequate savings to weather a job hunt – and it was also not in the middle of a pandemic.

      It would not be my first choice, personally – we do not have family that could afford to help us or have space to take us in – but everyone’s situation is different and only you know what your situation can withstand.

    2. old curmudgeon*

      You know, you raise a very good point about unemployment compensation.

      OP, you may want to research your state’s unemployment statutes to see if “quitting with good cause” is a covered form of separation. If so, then also research what the state defines as good cause. At least in my state, UI is allowed in cases where an employee was able to demonstrate good cause for quitting, although in full disclosure, it usually goes to a hearing (employee files, employer disputes, employee appeals, hearing is held), which definitely delays benefits. Examples of good cause in my state would include situations like the company owner sexually harassing an employee, or a truck driver being ordered to drive longer hours than is legally allowable, or requiring a 17-year-old to work with hazardous machinery, that sort of thing.

      Not all states’ UI statutes allow benefits for a quit-with-good-cause, and those that do are pretty buried in adjudicating claims already, so it wouldn’t be a perfect solution by any means, but it might be worth investigating. Good luck to you in any case, and I hope you return with a Friday success story someday soon!

  10. permanently laid off*

    I was once in a support role for a large corporation and hated it with all of my being. One evening after a tearful conversation, my husband said “just quit” and I did the next morning. It was the most freeing feeling that I still remember that feeling after 30 years. I was told by that company that I would never work in the industry again. But I did. I got hired on with a temp agency that afternoon and never looked back. Even with the pandemic I would do it all over again.

    1. Malika*

      I have left toxic environments twice without anything lined up. I figured that survival jobs such as delivering pizzas would at least save my mental health. And yes, both times was told i would never get re-hired and am now thriving in wonderful new job, a gazillion times happier and with much more perspective as i am not being driven insane by my working environment. Temp jobs can be a life saver!

  11. HR Exec Popping In*

    OP, only you can answer the questions you posted. Only you can tell if the cost of staying is less or more than the cost of leaving. The biggest challenge is that there is no way to fully know the cost of leaving. It is possible you could find a job in a few weeks or it could take months and months. Sadly, no one can tell you what will happen. FWIW, my advice is to assess your savings, make a plan for what you will do if your unemployment in your field lasts longer than your savings and assess if you are comfortable with that plan. That plan could be driving for Uber, doing temp work, working at a grocery store, etc. Does that sound better than continuing in your current position? If it does, then you know the answer. If you immediately think, I would never do any of those jobs, well then you also know your answer.

  12. Archaeopteryx*

    Depending on your finances, a good medium might be to set a limit, like “I’ll endure three more months and then I’m out.” Then (besides still applying, obviously), use that three months to prepare financially: pare back nonessential expenses, see if you can move to a cheaper place, etc. That will make those months easier to endure mentally, and you’ll be better off than you would’ve been just abruptly dropping into unemployment.

    It really depends on the worst case scenario, though. If it’s “would have to move back in with my parents/impose on my best friend,” maybe that’s an ok risk. If it’s, “would be homeless or have to move into a toxic situation”, etc, don’t leave the frying pan for the fire.

  13. Partly Cloudy*

    I’ve quit a job for mental health reasons before; I had another one in the works, but no offer letter yet. I admit that’s different from what this LW is asking though.

    “It’s easier to get a job when you have a job” has not proven to be true for me for a couple of reasons. Part of it is that I didn’t have the same motivation to job hunt effectively when employed vs. unemployed, and part of it is the sheer time and energy it takes to properly job hunt. It’s a full-time job in itself, at least in the beginning (once your resume is updated and you’re caught up on Indeed, it’s more like a part-time job).

  14. Andre S.*

    I did once leave a Job because our new Boss threatened us with warnings over the most ridicilous Thing. I was on the edge but this said to me enough is enough. It was satisfying to do this and i ended up in another home which wasn’t great but helped find another better Job where i am now beides studying social Work.

  15. Double A*

    I highly recommend the LW look into temp agencies. It will be a paycut and there won’t be benefits, but it’s a great way to get through gaps. Agencies and employers are so impressed by reliable temps, and being a reliable temp is a very low bar to clear. And it lets you explore various companies and can get your foot in the door sometimes.

    1. 'nother prof*

      Or alternative career paths. I’m not saying drop everything you’ve done, but if you’re looking for, say, event-planning jobs, which are practically nil right now, you might be able to parlay those skills into a job in project planning, writing, or advertising, for example. You might shift back later, but it would get you out safely now.

      1. Momma Bear*

        Agreed. I did some freelance, and then a PT customer service role until I got back into my career path. Sometimes career-adjacent can still be a valuable opportunity/stepping stone.

    2. Sandman*

      Agree. I did this after a situation similar to the LW’s, and it was such a positive experience to see how all different kinds of offices worked – and that none of them were as horrible as what I’d just left. Highly recommend.

  16. WDCZombie*

    I did this at my last job. I loved my job for almost the entire time I was there (7 years), and then a change of management happened that made my final 6 months there unbearable — it was to the point where I either had to quit my job, or check myself into a mental hospital. After talking it over with some trusted family and friends, they all said get out immediately. (being in that job is where I learned the term gaslighting). After I made the decision to leave, I literally DANCED out the door on my last day, I felt so free.

    It had serious repercussions on my mental health and my self esteem for quite a while, though, and therapy really helped me but it was rough. I don’t recommend quitting with no new job in sight as a rule, and that was the first and hopefully last time I’ve ever done something like that, but if you’re at this point and you have money saved, or plans in place like other commenters (and Alison) have mentioned, put yourself and your well-being before any job. That’s far, far more important.

  17. Amy*

    I can’t tell if this is the case from your post, but if your industry has been hard hit by the pandemic and is low on jobs right now, it might be worth expanding your search to other fields. I know it’s probably not in line with your career goals as you’ve been imagining them, but being able to ride out the pandemic in a non-toxic environment and then pick up your job search again when the market recovers might well be worth it. Even if you don’t have specific experience in another field, if you have transferable skills and they’re hiring a lot more than your field, that might well pay off.

    1. LDN Layabout*

      In the UK, there’s been a bit of a mini-job boom in the public sector, a lot are contract or temporary 12/18 month posts, but it was how a friend of mine scored a PA position in a sector she’s never worked in. They need people NOW and it isn’t necessarily people with explicit public health experience.

      (There are permanent positions as well, but a lot of those are more specialised. At least the civil service/NHS won’t need to keep drafting in specialists from sister organisations anymore…)

    2. A Simple Narwhal*

      This is a great idea – I worked in a specific field in my last job that had me wearing many hats – it was also a highly-competitive field known for churning through people and being meh-ly paid. I ended up getting a job in a completely separate industry that only required me to wear one of those hats – and it ended up being much less stressful and a lot more lucrative!

      It wasn’t originally what I thought I was going to be doing, and I originally mourned the loss of my other hats, but I’ve found it really enjoyable (and I’ve found ways to incorporate flair from my former hats into boosting my current hat, so bonus!).

    3. LilyP*

      Yeah, I’d ask yourself “what would I be doing with my job hunt if I’d already been unemployed and looking for six months and haven’t found anything in my field yet” and then start doing some of that stuff NOW before you’re unemployed. Adjacent fields? Temp/online gig work? Whatever you can get?

  18. LDN Layabout*

    I can vouch for Alison’s ‘worst case scenario’ reality check as a great way to handle situations like these, especially if you’ve got a bit of catastrophising streak in you (guilty).

    The pandemic job market is a very weird animal, only you can know how your field is doing, some are thriving and can’t find enough people, others are hibernating/dead. However, all of my friends, who don’t have niche or highly desirable skills are struggling a lot more than previously in terms of getting new jobs right now.

  19. New Mom*

    I’m sorry you are going through such a rough time, OP. I think you should do your own personal cost-benefit analysis of the current job and what would be at stake/risk of leaving without another job lined up. For example, if you leave, what does your current emergency fund look like? I’d recommend having more than six months worth of expenses saved up (ideally 9-12 if it is likely to take a while to find a job) or do you have someone you could live with that could cover your expenses while you looked for a job like a partner or family?
    As someone who had a really horrible boss years ago, I would recommend leaving before you get totally burned out if you have the means to do that. When I switched industries about seven years ago I left teaching and then went to graduate school and then started working in a different but related field. It was nice being a student again, and I was able to have some time and space to think about my next career step. But it did take me a while to find a job, and the financial aspect of it was stressful so that’s why I’d recommend having even more funds available than you think you’ll need so it’ll be one less thing to stress about.

  20. Grig Larson*

    I have never quit a job, but I have been laid off three times: once in 1987, again in 1991, and last in 2015. In 1987 I was moving, so getting let go was actually kind of convenient and had a new job in my new location three months later. The one in 1991, I was unemployed for two years afterwards, and it was a dire situation for a while there. Luckily, I had a supportive family, and eventually I was back on my feet. That scarred me pretty bad, though, and I may have left other jobs because I was scared of being laid off. Then I was laid off again in 2015, but was only out of work 2 months this time.

    It’s similar to quitting, IMHO, because absolutely no one asked about my gap in my resume. I didn’t hide it, but I didn’t draw attention to it either. It helps on a resume to only list the year, like: 2012-2015: Job A, 2015-present: Job B… but from March 2015 to July 2015, you could have taken time off to recuperate from a really bad situation. Also, if you quit your last job because they were terrible, you can always request not to contact your current employer, although that’s kind of a gray area.

    1. Double A*

      I also feel like very few employers are going to be particularly skeptical about gaps in 2020-2021.

  21. A Simple Narwhal*

    Another thing to consider is how are you doing in the eyes of your company? If you’re struggling overall and things are generally Not Good, you might be able to negotiate a mutual departure and still get unemployment, which can be a real help. (This is probably not an option if you’re miserable and struggling but otherwise in good standing with your job.)

    I left my last job with nothing lined up and it didn’t affect my long-term career goals – I had been unemployed for just about six months when I got hired at my current job, and during the interview they asked why I left my last job (clearly with nothing lined up). When I gave an abridged version of why I left, they nodded knowingly and moved swiftly on. I totally understand the idea of having a gap on your resume or leaving with nothing lined up is scary, but that alone won’t mark you as tainted.

    I don’t know what your financial and or home situation is like, but if work is making you physically ill and you have the option to leave a job with nothing lined up (ie if your household can afford to lose your income, if you can go on a spouse’s insurance, you have enough savings and a support system that could help you out if you can’t find a new job, etc), I encourage you to take it. I was really hesitant to leave my horrific job, even though I was working 14 hour days, crying constantly, and dry-heaving on the way to work, I thought you weren’t supposed to just leave. But there is no way I would have been able to find my current job if I was still working – I had zero time to job hunt and I was so broken down there is no way I could have interviewed successfully for a place that was a good fit. So if you do have that option, there is no shame in taking it.

    1. Ali G*

      I agree with everything you wrote. I was in a similar situation as you a few years ago and I suffered zero professional consequences. Also, when you are enduring the daily beat-down of a job that is so emotionally taxing, you have very little left for job hunting, which is also emotionally taxing. Walking away for a little while was exactly what I needed to be able to actually job search successfully.

    2. Nonprofit Pro*

      Any advice on how to navigate to that mutually beneficial departure point? I could have written this post and am currently wavering on how exactly to quit my job(we technically have to give a month’s notice, plus I have a surgery in a month I would really like to have health insurance for.) Being able to get some severance or even just take some unpaid leave so I could stay on the health insurance for a bit would be fantastic. But how to bring it up?

  22. Seal*

    I did this 20 years ago and have never regretted it, because it proved to be the reset I needed to get out of a truly toxic work environment where I had been stuck for far too long and finally pursue a real career. Fortunately I had enough money lined up to be able to take the summer off entirely which helped me clear my head. After taking a bad temp job, I found a great new job in the same industry I thought I was leaving for good with more responsibilities and better pay and my career took off from there. No one ever questioned the gap in my resume, either. Even after all this time, I still struggle with workplace norms on occasion because of how badly that toxic cesspool messed with my head; I really wish I had gotten out sooner. I know everyone’s situation is different, but in my case leaving a bad job without another one lined up is among the best things I’ve ever done for myself.

  23. H.C.*

    As Alison & others mentioned – there is no concrete answer to this story and it depends on a whole lot of variables. But without another job lined up, some financial/lifestyle considerations include:

    – How will you be more committed to job searching after leaving current job?
    – How robust is your professional network to support your job search?
    – How much savings you have, how long will it tide you over?
    – What expenses can you reduce or eliminate?
    – Are you open to relocating (either for job and/or reduce expenses)?
    – Are you willing to take jobs outside of desired industries/roles?
    – Can you take temp jobs/gigs to get some income or stretch out your savings?
    – What “last resort” measures (e.g. tapping into retirement accounts, borrowing from loved ones) are available & what circumstances will trigger you to consider them?

    The more concrete plan you can lay out, the better idea you have whether (& when) to leave current job w/o another lined up is right for you. Good luck!

    1. sofar*

      All this.

      1. Plus, what’s your support network? Do you have parents/family who can essentially house you for free indefinitely and are eager to have you move in, if you run out of savings and can’t pay rent? Can you/are you willing to move to where family is? If not and you have to rely on friends, know that your job search will only get harder while you’re incessantly couch surfing and looking for your next spot because your current host only agreed to have you for two weeks.

      2. Do you have a pet(s)? That makes it 100x harder to find people to crash with. It makes it much harder to find housing in general. If you have a pet, triple your savings before quitting your job.

      Basically, consider the worst possible scenario and decide if your job is worse than that.

      Reason these things are top of mind for me, is we’ve had several crashers during this pandemic stay at our place for various reasons. The top ones being “I didn’t expect to be unemployed for this long,” and “nobody else will let my pet stay.” And even then we had to, heartbreakingly, ask one of them to leave before she was ready/had a job.

  24. Kenilf*

    I’m sorry that you’ve been going through that for so long.

    I was in a situation where I hated my job and then a new, worse factor was being added. I’d had a considerable nest egg so chose to exit and start my own business after chilling for a bit (then the pandemic happened!). I’ve continued to see job offers and live in a place/industry that is still growing.

    You’ve indicated that your industry/type of role is not much in demand right now in the place you live. Over here, there’s often a shuffle at this exact time of the year since bonuses have been deposited and certain promotions have been announced. If there is a similar event (bonus/promo time) and the jobs were still not appearing, I would strongly recommend seeing if the FMLA leave that CatCat mentioned is available to you. Otherwise, can you take any vacation days to clear your mind so you can weigh the pros and cons?

    If you quit, you’re not eligible for unemployment insurance and if your savings cannot support you for a long time, it might be much tougher down the road, I’m afraid. I’ve known folks who left their jobs and then weren’t able to find new ones for a full year so it colors the metrics I apply when assessing risk. If I hadn’t had sufficient savings for at least a year, I’d still be at my old job and taking Stress-X pills every day

    I wish the best for you.

    1. old curmudgeon*

      One minor point re: not being eligible for unemployment compensation if a person quits – that is true in some states but not all. There are states that allow UI benefits if a claimant can demonstrate that they quit with good cause attributable to the employer. As I noted elsewhere, it’s not an ideal solution because it depends on the state, and even in a state that allows it, cases frequently go to adjudication and it can take a while to actually get benefits, but it is not entirely accurate to say that quitting automatically disqualifies a person from claiming UI.

  25. Bob's Your Uncle*

    Been there, done that. I’m not saying that’s the case for you, LW, but I was able to find another job quicker after quitting (had more energy to focus on resume and cover letter, more time to interview, and so on). Also, before I got the job, I had to work retail for a while to make ends meet, so check your options both financially and in terms of back up plans.

  26. Cordoba*

    I’d recommend staying at the current job but:
    1) Disengage to the greatest extent possible. What’s the minimum you need to do not to get fired? Do about 5% more than that.
    2) Start laying the groundwork for being without a job. Cut expenses, save money, make a long-term budget, figure out your options for health care, etc. Having a plan and a realistic understanding of the practical impacts of quitting may help reduce the stress, and will definitely help with fully assessing the actual risk. This also gives you a place of relative strength if work gets truly unbearable and you do just need to quit some day.
    3) Investigate options for a job that you can effectively walk into and wouldn’t hate doing. Personally I’ve found that landscaping companies pay reasonably well, and are always in need of people who will show up on-time, sober and ready to work. It’s not my long-term plan, but I don’t mind that type of work and have absolutely used it to fill gaps between jobs etc. In my book getting paid to work outside beats the pants off of sitting at home with no income; I definitely had jobs where it was nice to be able to tell myself “eh, worst case if things fall apart here I’ll be mowing grass by next Tuesday.” This specific thing may not be for you, but perhaps there is an equivalent for you?

  27. A-A-Ron*

    I quit retail management with nothing else lined up because the alternative was driving my car off a bridge. It ruined me financially for 8 years, eventually lost a house and eventually went through bankruptcy. That company’s entire culture was abuse. (Am I allowed to name them? I will)

    I would do it again.

    Lean on any support systems you have. After a few weeks of no income you may find yourself able to qualify for temporary assistance for food and utilities. Use what little social safety net that exists while you get back on your feet.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Same. I’ve walked out of 2 firms straight into unemployment because I was at the point of going certifiably crazy or deliberately crashing the car on the way to work.

      I’ve spent over a year unemployed after a total nervous breakdown because I couldn’t work. Or do anything really. I regret letting things get that bad.

      Would I quit again if my mental health was at stake? Yes. Nervous breakdowns are not like the Hollywood image where you cry for a few days then rebuild. They’re hideous breaks of sanity that never fully heal.

  28. Jay*

    Alison’s advice was spot on and exactly the thoughts I’d suggest.

    The only additional advice I can supply is considering what your current position is and how accessible positions are in that field – which it sounds like you have. I know you mention the pandemic, but there are a lot of industries and companies aggressively hiring at this point – between back filling positions that were eliminated last year or filling roles from people that quit. I’d suggest broadening the scope of your search and looking for positions that may not be an exact match but similar skill set. You mention you are in a support role – positions such as an Admin Assistant or Project Manager might be of interest.

    I know everyone’s search is different but for reference – I have been inactively looking for the past three years. I was never in a position like you where I had to leave though. If something came up in LinkedIn or Indeed, I’d apply but I was very selective, I also request a decent salary and close proximity to home (which is a rural location), which really narrowed down my job search. I would guess for every 10-15 resumes sent, I received one call back, I had 2-4 interviews for a year and in almost all of them I made it to the final round of interviews and no job offer. Last month, I applied for a position that I was overqualified, had went through a phone interview screening, two in person interviews and a final video interview with two people who work out of state. The company was able to bring up their salary and willing to take on a more experienced candidate and I got the offer (I start next week). So while it can take some time to find something or you can apply to one position and get the offer, you never really know.

    Either way, take care of yourself and best of luck with what you decide.

  29. cubone*

    I could’ve written this letter, but one thing that has really helped me is well, my therapist, lol. But specifically, they noted that I was holding this question over me every single day. I would constantly ask friends and family what they thought, I would say I was going to care less and stick it out for the paycheque, then the next day after 8 new tasks were added to my plate, I’d be frantically doing calculations if I could afford to quit tomorrow. It was always on my mind and everything that did (or didn’t happen) was making me stew over it again and again.

    There’s already good advice here about how to weigh that decision (cost analysis, pros/cons, etc.) and that this is your decision to make, but the best thing I can offer is to make and live with that decision – even if it’s just for 1 week! You can have your pros and cons list and decide “I will reevaluate this in 1 month”, or “if something drastic changes, I will redo my pros and cons” (sometimes pros become cons and vice versa!). But just know that holding this question over you constantly keeps you in an unhealthy, insecure and stressed out state. You’re never going to get a clear, guaranteed answer and you’re never going to be able to guarantee the outcomes of either decision, but it makes a huge difference to make A DECISION so that every time you start to spiral, you can remind yourself why you decided to stay or go.

  30. West*

    In 2017, I did this. My boss was a narcissistic bully and talked down to me like I was 5 years old. And I really mean like a 5-year-old; this is not an exaggeration. I was 28 at the time and didn’t do anything to warrant such a treatment. It was demeaning, cruel, and backed me into a corner. It got so bad that I snuck out the door without saying a word, left my belongings there because I was afraid that if I took them, my boss would question me (yes, that’s question, not ask) why. This was in a big city too, so we were in a multi-floor building. I ran out the door, darted down a few flights of stairs, and called my recruiter telling her I wanted to be dropped out of the assignment. This was a temp-to-hire position but with really lousy pay. She was sympathetic and dropped me from the assignment immediately. The whole process was harrowing and nearly drove me to an anxiety attack.

    The point here I am trying to make is your health is more important than your job. If you are not financially able to quit without another job lined up, then ramp up your job search so you will get a higher chance to secure another position. Though it’s probably much tougher due to the pandemic. If you have savings that can last you 6 months or more, then quit. I was in the latter position because I am a saver by nature and I have a supportive family, so I left. Mind you, this was 2017 when the economy was in great shape, so my situation is not likely to mirror yours.

  31. Crivens!*

    I’m considering doing this right now as I found out a job I started literally this week required regular Saturdays and that’s non negotiable for me. Ugh.

    1. West*

      Yikes, why Saturdays? Unless you are in retail, restaurant, services, law enforcement, health care (particularly in hospitals), or helping for 2020 tax returns for tax season, I don’t see how this is reasonable.

      Are you supposed to be working 9-to-5?

  32. blue*

    Truly, the discrimination against people in hiring for not having a job rn or having gaps on their resume needs to stop. It’s just as unfair as judging someone for having kids, or having medical issues, or anything else.

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      If there’s one “good” thing about the pandemic, it’s that this perception should/will have to change. There are just too many people without jobs due to no fault of their own that companies just can’t blindly feel negatively towards them.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Unfortunately, until it impacts the people doing the discriminating, it’s not going to change. Hiring managers think they’re being savvy, not bigoted.

    2. SunnySideUp*

      The idea that an adult human must have every single month of their lives accounted for by regular paying work is outmoded and ridiculous.

  33. Anon and on and on*

    Please, actively look for a new job.
    Make that your priority.
    Put your effort into that and make your job something that you have to do.
    Make the people there something you have to deal with for a paycheck.
    Think of it as a shit job you took in high school or whenever, to pay the bills, not your career.
    Complete tasks at your job. Work on your future.
    Go to therapy if you can. Medication if you need it.
    But do not quit without something lined up.
    You will find a better job. You will.
    I have anecdotal stories from friends who couldn’t take it anymore and they have been playing catch up ever since.
    You can survive this.

  34. Gone Girl*

    OP, this sounds like a letter I could have written just a few months ago. I was miserable, and had been just steps away from getting a new job right before the pandemic hit, so I spent most of last year trying to carve out a niche for myself in the job market, and it was exhausting. I didn’t actually quit before the end of my job search, but what really opened my eyes to the mental toll Toxic Job was taking was the feedback I got after my dream-job interview: I had been runner-up, but they told me I lacked confidence for the role. Truthfully, it was a fair assessment, but I knew it was Toxic Job that kept me from growing my confidence in the first place (gaslighting, emotional abuse, etc), and it came to a point where I needed to either quit, or make a change (and quitting was suuuuuper tempting, trust me; had I not gotten a job when I did, that’s probably what I would have done for the sake of my emotional well-being with or without a job). Disengaging helped a little (until my boss tried to tell me I needed to be more passionate), but I also I sat down and started writing all the things I new I was good at, positive self-affirmations, and truths that – when Toxic Job would try to say otherwise – I could lean on. For good measure, I wrote some for my colleagues as well because I knew they were feeling the same. It certainly wasn’t a long-term solution, but it helped me reframe my relationship with my job and stabilize my mental health while I continued my search. And for what it’s worth: quitting Toxic Job was the best feeling I had felt in a long time; I had my family tell me almost immediately they saw a change in my mental well-being.

    Long story short: OP, if you have a safety net (and maybe even if you don’t), quitting – even without another job lined up – may be the best option for your mental health. A toxic job is not worth it, imo. Especially after this year, employers will understand the gaps, and you won’t be unemployed for years (you may need to find a temp job in the meantime depending on your financial needs, but it sounds like that’s better than where you are now). You are worth so much more than how your current employer treats you, and I hope you’re able to get out and find a healthier job somewhere else and soon.

  35. Rapid Roy (The Stock Car Boy)*

    I am so sorry you are going through this. Mental health is precious and you are right to consider that leaving a steady but debilitating job could be the right call. As a manager who has to hire people, I don’t flinch at a gap in the resume, I just want to know why. In your case, a simple “that job wasn’t a good fit for me for X reason” would be good enough for me. Character, cultural fit, and skillset are far more important to me than someone who has a “100% fully employed” history.

    Semi-Related: I was fired back in 2018 from a seriously toxic environment (My boss cut me loose to save his own job – I was scapegoated) It was the best and worst thing that ever happened to me. I’ve never been more happy to leave a job and never been more scared about my future. I was out of work for six weeks and it was nerve wracking!

    I handled my getting fired and being out of work by being direct and up front. I told the truth and explained in the interview process what happened and why and what I learned. I landed in a good company and my current boss (and his boss) took my explanation at face value and it didn’t harm my chances or my on-going relationship with them.

    wishing you all kinds of luck and peace. I hope you find a good way forward.

  36. SomebodyElse*

    OP, we all have a limit that would make us leave a job before having another lined up. So that is really the key you have to consider; What is that limit for you knowing the repercussions of being unemployed.

    I am totally risk adverse when it comes to my employment. So for me, whatever that breaking point is would have to be pretty bad, I’ve been drained, burned out, worked for horrible boss’, had breakdowns, increased drinking as coping mechanism just to name a few.

    Through all of that I would not leave/quit without having something else to go to. For me the risk was too much. I always figured, “Well, shit, I’m miserable now, being broke, homeless, and unemployed is not going make that situation any better” (Why yes, I have said that sentence aloud to myself many times). Usually this is around the time I embrace work apathy and put all my energy into looking for a new job, for me I start within my company and then expand outward.

    I don’t say all of this to imply that sticking it out is the best thing or admirable, just offering a perspective on my thought process when faced with the same question (and believe me, I’ve asked it!)

  37. Spicy Tuna*

    I really wouldn’t recommend it. I was stuck for nearly four years in a terrible work situation. I would pray for a non-serious car accident on my way to work just so I wouldn’t have to go that day. One morning, I was out for a run before work and saw a raccoon. My first thought was, “I wonder if it’s rabid, and if so and it bites me, how much time off from work would I get?”

    I didn’t have the financial resources to quit without something else lined up, and I’m REALLY glad I didn’t because just when I was reaching my breaking point, 9/11 happened and I ended up being glad to have a job at all. About 6 months after that, I found another, only slightly less toxic job, but it ultimately was worth it to hang in.

    It helped to have other outlets. I had a good friend that was a mental health counselor. We got together every Sunday to go running or biking, and she was great about letting me vent. I also made sure I made time to go to the gym or exercise every day, not only for stress relief, but for “me” time. I also relentlessly searched for jobs – just doing something made me feel better, even if some weeks there was not one single job that would have been appropriate.

  38. Bookworm*

    Been there, OP. I’m old enough to have been employed during the Great Recession in a job that I thought hit everything: marked career advancement, higher salary (with benefits!), had tasks I thought I would like better (and less people facing, haha).

    I was miserable. I left after getting the first thing I could find because I was that miserable and my Sunday Scaries were creeping into my Friday nights (it was so bad that I’d be sad even on Fridays because it meant next Monday was that much closer). Part of me wonders what it would have been like if I had stayed, because I went underemployed for years after that and didn’t get a full-time job until several years later.

    But it wasn’t worth it. I’ve almost never felt that badly ever since. It’s up to you. I was in a situation where I could afford to leave without something more stable lined up but many don’t. There is no right answer, except the one for you. Good luck!

  39. Lacey*

    This can go so many different ways.

    When I was really young I had a temp position end abruptly (the person I was covering for came back early) and I found a new job in under two weeks.
    After a while in that job I really needed to leave and had to look for 3 years straight before I got hired anywhere that paid comparably.
    The next job ended up being a horrible fit – but that time I only had to look for 5 months before finding a new one.

    It’s just impossible to predict.

  40. Cookies For Breakfast*

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this. Sending a big virtual hug, if you want it, and all my wishes for an escape route to open up for you soon.

    I quit my first job without anything lined up, for similar reasons. I only did it because my boss had forced a ridiculously long notice on my very junior role, and a recruiter told me no one would ever hire me once they found out they had to wait that long (I cried in her office, and she never called me back). I was lucky to find another job right at the end of the notice, which was much longer than I’d expected it would take.

    Now, I’m again in an environment I will leave at the earliest opportunity. The only reason I haven’t already quit is I’m too worried I will run out of savings before I know it (pandemic uncertainty is a factor, but not the only one). I know that would have the same destructive effect on my mental health the toxic workplace is having now. What it means in practice is that I’ll start applying for more jobs I think I won’t hate, rather than singling out the ones I’d love, like I hoped I’d be in a position to do at this point in my career.

    Your mileage may vary. I wouldn’t blame anyone for quitting in a situation like this – I admire those who can do it, without anxiety immediately kicking in that the next chapter of their productive life has to start Right Now. After going through hell and still being pressured to perform, you’d think the least we’ve earned is a long bout of breathing space! But there’s a lot of solid advice in the comments about considering your support system and temp jobs, crunching your numbers and shielding yourself at your current workplace, and that sounds more like the real world than my wishful thinking :)

  41. Essess*

    I had a horrific job and reached the point where I asked my partner if I could just quit. Partner (rightfully) said that as long as I could continue to pay my share of the bills then he didn’t care if I was working or not and it was up to me. I called around and found a temp agency that did 1-week secretarial temp jobs and I took a 50% pay cut that would still just cover my basic bills. I was so much happier but I still had some security with some money coming in even if I didn’t have a guarantee of having work every week and it gave me a lot of new job references and potential ‘in’s for jobs at each of the places where I temp-ed.

    I would recommend trying to find something even if it pays minimally and it not a career job, just to keep having some income coming in until you can find a real job in your field.

    1. allathian*

      Ouch! So your partner was fine with the two of you having a different standard of living while you were unemployed, with all of your money going to pay the bills? That’s not a partnership in my book, it’s no different from being roommates with benefits. You do you, but I guess I’m glad to be married. If I lost my job or had to quit for my own sanity, my husband would have the legal obligation to support me. Sure, I’d still get unemployment, but he’d pay most of the bills.

      1. allathian*

        I mean I’d get unemployment if I was laid off. Firing for cause is a different matter, but I work for the public sector in the Nordics and that never happens without plenty of warning unless it’s for something truly egregious, such as but not limited to sexual harassment, issuing death threats to a coworker, posting personal data that I have access to thanks to my job online, or even looking at such data without having a direct job-related reason to do so (if I looked at my own data I might get a warning, but if I looked up somebody out of curiosity, nope).

  42. JohannaCabal*

    One thing to consider is how it would feel to find a new job while still working at your current job. I was at a toxic company for years, job hunting when I could, and it felt so good to hand in my resignation and let them know I’d found something else.

    For two weeks, I got to watch the firm scramble to deal with my departure. I’ll admit, there was some schadenfreude

    1. princessbuttercup*

      I agree that there’s nothing like the satisfaction of handing in your notice and updating your LinkedIn with a new, awesome job, but I quit without something lined up and wow, the look on my managers face was pretty worth it. I’m sure a lot of people judged me and thought it was a bad decision, but I ran into a former colleague years later who was higher up than me and she basically confirmed that it planted a seed for her (and several others) that it wasn’t in their heads that something wasn’t right when a high performer (me) preferred to be doing nothing to working there.

  43. Firecat*

    Here is a no job lined up success story for you.

    I was working in an industry I thought I wanted to work in permanently. I was miserable, and after I found some sketchy issues with the data and research, I decided to bail.

    I had a partner with a job who could support me but I was still 6 months unemployed. That was definitely stressful.

    It was completely worth it. I made sure to stay at my next job 2 years, I’m in much better financial and mental state then if I had stayed at that terrible job. Sometimes it’s worth quitting with nothing lined up.

  44. Tempe Tess*

    I did this, in the long run it was worth it. In the short term it was very stressful on me and on my family and friends. I was lucky to have a temp gig lined up but I did think at one point that I was going to have to move home. But honestly, even if I had ended up doing that it would have been better than staying in that office. Luckily having no other option really lit a fire under my ass about applying to jobs and I ended up in the role I’m in now which is perfect. I’d try talking to some recruiters before you leave even if just for practice & to brush up on your resume. One thing I was not prepared for was how much time it took to get over the bad job. I didn’t realize how bad it was when I was in it and I had no idea it was impacting my life so much!

  45. AndersonDarling*

    I was in the same scenario in 2008 when I quit my admin job with nothing lined up. I had an abusive boss and my health could not take it anymore. I was terrified to leave. I had savings, but the job market was a wreck and everything was an unknown. When I was unemployed, I was scared every day that I would never find a job.
    I found a job in 3 months and everything was okay. I wish I could have figured out my finances and told myself not to panic and enjoyed my time out of work because I did have a safety net.
    The OP has a few things working for them. They are in a support role so there will be opportunities through temp agencies for similar roles. And when you leave during a recession/pandemic, recruiters aren’t going to drill you as hard as if you left your job in a perfect work climate. You could easily say that you had to stay home for your health (true!).
    OP, if you have a safety net available, or are willing to work at a grocery store to make ends meet, then do it. Your health and wellbeing is worth a few months without a standard paycheck. Your career will not be permanently sidetracked. You will eventually find another job in your career, and this will be nothing but a blip.
    And you will be able to interview better when you have built up your self confidence and find hope again.

  46. Temperance*

    Support roles often don’t lead to promotions and access to more interesting work, unfortunately. Because if you’re good in a support role, they’ll likely want to keep you in one.

  47. Sandman*

    I think that the type of toxicity is part of this equation, too. I was in a similar situation years ago and wound up getting fired. I’d stuck around specifically because it felt irresponsible to quit without anything else lined up, but it really did a number on me mentally and was much harder to get over than quitting would have been (and it was 17 years ago, and just last week I had to check ‘yes’ on a ‘have you ever been fired’ box in a job application). Not all workplace toxicity comes out in unnecessary firings, of course, but it’s something to keep in mind if you think that might be your workplace.

  48. Tired of Covid-and People*

    OP, consider going out on disability as another commenter did. I believe you would qualify. Otherwise, unless you have quite a bit in reserve, and perhaps another source of health insurance and income, I would never leave without another job lined up. Trading one source of anxiety for another is not helpful. Good luck.

  49. NeonDreams*

    I deal with this question every day. I’m severely burnt out from the work I’m doing, but can’t afford to leave. So I feel my mental health deteriorate the longer I stay. I don’t feel strong enough to search around my town, plus the selection for jobs is few and far between on a good day.

  50. gbca*

    I’ve done this before in my mid-20s, and for years defended my choice. With the benefit of a decade+ of hindsight, I would have stuck around, disengaged as much as possible while job searching (as much of my problems were with the personalities involved and I could have gotten over that) and confided in my trusted mentor at the company who would have helped me out with my exit strategy.

    If you don’t have a safety net outside of your own savings, I’d try REALLY hard to hang in there. On the other hand, if you have a partner and can manage on one salary or family who is willing and able to support, I’d consider it if you feel like you really, really need to get out. But before you jump ship, I would strongly consider disengaging as much as possible, as others have suggested.

  51. L.L.*

    Just wanted to share that I was in the same position as you, OP. I was burnt out, demoralized, and my mental health took a significant hit from my toxic workplace and demanding job (litigation). One thing that helped me stay until I finally got a new job over a year later was taking advantage of my health insurance plan, which included therapy in the benefits, and an employer paid gym membership/paid classes (pre covid). Does your employer offer coverage for therapy, or an EAP? If so, it could be helpful to speak with a therapist to get through the really tough weeks, or use some of your current employer perks, if any. Good luck!

  52. Pobody’s Nerfect*

    Take FMLA first if you can; while on that leave make a plan for how and when you’ll leave and quit for good, and then just do it, even without another job lined up. I did this a few years ago at a job where my manager was so unbelievably toxic and an outright bully that she drove my mental and physical health (and everyone else’s on the team too) into the ground. I was always told “never leave a job without another job” but that is not always possible in real life. In real life, there are too many horrible narcissistic psychopaths acting as managers who make everyone around them miserable and traumatized. Take care of yourself first.

  53. Algal Bloom*

    I’m struggling with this right now–my manager retired shortly before the pandemic hit, and the new manager decided that mid-April was the perfect time to inform me that she and three other people had decided that I was being given a new job role that I absolutely did not want and that had almost nothing to do with the job for which I was actually hired. She did not inform me of this while it was being discussed, probably so that I couldn’t tell her “no, I’m not even capable of doing this, what on earth are you thinking?” Instead, she announced my “new role” in a meeting with other coworkers present, probably so that I didn’t have a meaningful chance to refuse without looking like I was flaking out on something I’d already agreed to do. When I asked if I could at least be trained on the basics of the role, she gave me a one-hour meeting in which she explained the logistics of minute aspects of the role while failing to address the main tasks. I’m supposed to “ask questions” whenever I don’t understand something, except that I’m not even good enough at this role to know when I don’t understand something, and any questions I do ask are answered five days later with “uhhhh, I dunno, just use your best judgement.”

    I have expressed to her multiple times that I do not enjoy this role, do not feel equipped to perform it adequately (I severely screwed something up less than two months in and was publicly humiliated for it, then scolded for being “gun-shy” when I expressed reservations about my ability in the role), and am willing to quit if I’m forced to continue performing it. Almost a year on, I have still received no real training, but everyone is still acting like I’m going to be in this role indefinitely. I have a less than zero chance of landing a new job right now, and everyone with any power to change my situation is well aware of this.

  54. Kara S*

    I’ve been in a similar spot for about a year. What I found helped me was:

    – Identify what you specifically don’t like about the job and find ways to draw boundaries to minimize those effects. For me, I was tired of being expected to do overtime with no notice for 3+ hours a night. I told my boss something came up and now every day after work, I am busy at 6:00 and cannot work later than that. Ever. I was definitely being inflexible but when they had me work 20 hours straight with no advance notice and regard for how this would affect my health, I realized I no longer cared what my employer thought was reasonable. I was doing what I thought was reasonable based on the relationship they had created. When drawing these boundaries, your goal is not to work with your employer, it is to prioritize what you need.
    – Use Alison’s advice to think about if you have choices. Unless you have no savings, nowhere to stay in the event you are unemployed, and you desperately need this job due to something like health insurance, you do have options. If you realize the risks of leaving aren’t worth it, then instead of seeing working in the job as something you have to do, see it as a choice you made to achieve X. Whether X is a savings goal, security for when you do quit, or coverage for health care, try your best to think of every day as a step towards achieving that. I stopped looking at my job as something that was happening to me and something I was choosing to continue with while I problem solved (aka looked for a new place to work). It can be so, so hard when the job is truly awful but I find reframing the job in this way makes you feel more in control and less powerless.
    – Like others said, if you stay then disengage. Don’t intentionally get fired but do the bare minimum and don’t put up with people who are being awful to you. If your issue is coworkers, then call out when they treat you rudely and refuse to engage. If it’s awful customers, walk away when they are being unreasonable or hand them off to your manager and say it’s unrealistic to deal with them. If your issue is workload and general disorganization, realize that you cannot fix this and just do what is asked of you. If your issue is overwork, stop working late. Put something on your schedule immediately after work every day and refuse to work late because you’re busy now (that something can be an online exercise class, calling a friend, reading a book, whatever you want. You can’t miss it ever now).
    – If you’re venting to coworkers about your job, I’d recommend stopping. I used to find this therapeutic but all it did was make me hyper focused on the negatives.
    – Put something on your schedule every day that you are looking forward to. Maybe on Mondays you will watch a movie, or Tuesdays you’ll go out and get a coffee, whatever you want. Just give yourself something to look forward to
    – If you have savings and feel comfortable leaving your job after thinking it all over, do it. There will be risks to everything you do and it can be so much harder to find a new job when your current one is complete garbage. Your health is not worth the price of being miserable every day. If your workplace won’t change, the only thing you can change is your own perspective or you can leave the situation entirely. Those are within your control although changing your perspective can feel nearly impossible when the situation is terrible.

    This isn’t one size fits all advice but I hope it helps you.

  55. Bertha*

    I’ve been following AAM for a number of years now and I feel like I’ve seen very few people who quit a job they hate (and have of course already weighed the pros and cons and have some money in an emergency fund, making a thoughtful choice) that then regretted it.

    Heck, I just remembered when I was in my early 20s and was just a few weeks into a new job that made me cry everyday because it was basically cold calling businesses and lying to them over the phone. I think quitting hurt my romantic relationship, I was broke, i had no money in savings, and I got into credit card debt .. but the job made me cry every single day. I at least had a second part time job as a stopgap, which helped (no holes on my resume) and even though it was all .. not a great time, I ended up getting a temp job that paid my bills and inspired me to pivot into my current field. Yep, even with the worst case of worst cases, I can look back now and say it was absolutely worth it. And already OP your circumstances are much better than mine was.

  56. Judy*

    I’ve resigned from two jobs in the past five years because I too was miserable. Friends and family thought I was crazy to leave a job before I had another one lined up but I’d saved up as much $$ as possible in preparation for an extended job hunt. While it all worked out in the end and I don’t have regrets, I’ve told myself I’ve used up my “quit chits” and generally don’t recommend it. I could always tell managers questioned why I’d left my last job – was it really for the (made-up) reasons I’d said? I could tell they feared I’d really been fired so might be a risk and, in a competitive job market, that could be a bigger problem now than it was for me in 2016 and 2017. I was thrilled to be laid off last year (from a job I liked but didn’t love) because at least this time I could get unemployment!! I landed a new job last month and if it doesn’t work out I don’t have any plans to quit unless and until I have something else lined up. Don’t forget Cobra – mine would have been $1300/month for a single person if I hadn’t gotten this job when I did.

  57. Roquefort*

    I don’t think you necessarily need another job lined up in order to leave a job you hate to the point it’s affecting your mental health, but I do think it’s useful to have a plan of what you intend to do after quitting and the rough timeline you intend to do it in. Of course things don’t always work out the way you planned, but having a general idea keeps you from getting complacent once the initial relief wears off. You don’t want to find yourself stagnating at a series of dead-end jobs that you also hate… or worse, accept a position similar to the one you originally hated because you have no other qualifications.

  58. Half April Ludgate, Half Leslie Knope*

    This post could have been mine a year and a half ago. I ended up getting laid off (which was basically my manager realizing I was miserable in a situation she knew was terrible for all of us) and getting severance, but here’s what I did before I anticipated getting a severance check/timeline:

    -make a budget. I calculated how much I needed to live for 6 months. I also expected to move, so I factored in those costs. Don’t forget COBRA if you need it.
    -make an out plan. I planned out how long I needed to work to build up my savings and came up with a resignation date.
    -start quietly prepping to leave. This is mostly if you hope to retain contacts there – I made guides to things I knew others would have to take on, so I could keep the bridges I’d built intact.
    -start quietly reaching out to contacts. Let people know you’re looking to go – change your LinkedIn profile status to “actively searching” and start applying like crazy.
    -find ways to grow your connections and skills while you’re hunting. I did a certificate program that honestly didn’t really help me in the role I got, but I learned a lot and it at least gave me something to do.

  59. 15 Pieces of Flairs*

    Each person’s financial situation and risk tolerance is different. However, mental health concerns outweigh a paycheck when a workplace is truly toxic. Definitely have a “worst case scenario” plan in case the search takes longer than you anticipate.

    In 2016 I quit a terrible job at an outsourcing company with only a very part-time freelance gig lined up. While my job search seemed promising at first, I experienced a series of unfortunate events over the next year and eventually decided to focus on freelancing. I was underemployed for more than 3 years.

    However, I have never regretted quitting that job. After realizing I was never going to make the equivalent of FTE salary freelancing, I earned a very affordable professional certification, emphasized only my best experience on my resume and launched a more targeted job search. Three months later (June 2019), I was working in a fully remote FTE role for a startup and making significantly more than I did at the terrible job.

    Five years and two employers after quitting that job, I make more than twice as much (155k vs. 65k) and work in a much less stressful environment. I would not be where I am today if I continued to let my former employer work me into the ground. Quitting was hard, scary and very worth it.

    1. Been There Before*

      A few years ago, I worked as a preschool teacher in a poorly run and very toxic facility. That job, combined with some tragic losses in my personal life, really affected my mental health. I was so depressed I would cry in the closet during my lunch break. I should have quit when I felt my mental health tanking, but I was 22, it was my first post-college job, and I was terrified of the potential career ramifications.

      My mental health deteriorated to a point where I couldn’t even do my job effectively, and I ended up in a psych ward under observation for a week. Even then, I tried to come back for a few weeks afterwards. My plan was to stick it out for the year, but I just ultimately couldn’t do it anymore and I finally quit.

      Was it a financially responsible decision? Absolutely not, but it also didn’t feel like much of a decision at the end of the day. I did some related (but lower paying) work for half a year, gained some references who weren’t the worst, and now I work for an awesome principal in a much better school.

      OP, a blemish on your resume is not worth your sanity. If it’s toxic enough that you were motivated to write this letter, you already know what you need to do.

  60. JMR4*

    I’ve left a job more than once to go and do short term contracts? Is that an option for the work you do?
    The big plus is that they often turn into full time employment– and you already know if you like the company.

  61. HR Parks Here*

    In the same boat OP. I didn’t have panic attacks before I started working here, but like you said the pandemic is making it sooooo hard to find a new job.

  62. AnotherBoss*

    This is an interesting letter to read right now, as it sounds like it could have been written by one of my employees who is on a performance improvement plan. I’m sure from their perspective, I am a toxic, unreasonable micromanager and my main goal in life is to ruin their day and set them up to fail. From my perspective, this process has been an emotional drain and very difficult for me. As their performance started to decline and I tried to correct course, it almost seemed as if this person took those actions as a personal betrayal, forgetting it is part of my job as their boss. And from there the problems compounded.

    Obviously, I don’t want to doubt the LW’s account of the toxicity, but I do want to add to this conversation as this situation has been a real eye opener for me. What I wish this person had done was talk to me and really have a conversation, instead of brushing my thoughts off and attributing everything to my meanness and unfairness. I really did want them to succeed, but they never stepped up or followed through. If there were tasks that they were less interested in or didn’t feel strong in, we could have adjusted expectations and worked together on a new plan. We could have explored training options to build their skills and confidence. Because at the end of the day, both sides need to come together and reach an understanding. I really did my best to get us there.

    I know this employee is going to leave soon and it is so scary out there. I really hope they land somewhere better, in a role that makes them happy, and that this is the right jump for them, but it makes me sad all the same given the world today. I really wanted things to be different.

  63. boop the first*

    I like the “quit in place” suggestion above for the meantime :D

    Otherwise, my hypothetical question would be, irresponsible to whom? If this only affects you, then only you can answer.

  64. A Library Person*

    This sounds a lot like my workplace right now, and if it’s that bad, I think you should seriously consider leaving if your financial situation at all allows you to do so. This is especially true if you think you may be able to get something like a retail job to tide you over during the job search. Having gotten out of a situation like this before and being in a similar one now, I can say from experience that it can have permanent detrimental effects on your mental health. Best of luck to you.

  65. Lorax*

    It all depends on your financial security. I had two terrible experiences quitting jobs with nothing lined up during the last recession, and I think you really have to factor in the recession job market when considering quitting this time around. I learned a couple things:

    (1) There’s no such thing as an easy fall back job. During the last recession, I thought it would be easy enough to find a job in retail or food service to get me through to my next full-time position. It wasn’t. There were so many people job searching, even fast food places were requiring years of experience in the service industry. I had previously worked as a camp counselor, a secretarial aide, and a groundskeeper. No dice. This time around, a lot of service sector jobs that might have otherwise been “fall back” jobs have disappeared, so I imagine you’d be looking at call centers, package delivery, gig economy work, or warehouse logistics. I’d really encourage you to identify what your best bet is for a fall back plan, then look at their application-to-hire ratios before quitting.

    (2) If you put yourself in a position of financial desperation, you may end up in a job that’s even worse than the one you have now. In my experience during the last recession, the only “filler” job I was able to land was one of those jobs doing door-to-door or on-the-street fundraising solicitation. As someone prone to severe panic attacks, Sartre himself could not have designed a better personal hell for me than that job. My anxiety was out of control, which fueled a lot of other mental health issues, but I would have been homeless without it. As bad as your job is right now, it’s important to get into a better situation overall, not just jump from one bad situation to another. (Get out of the frying pan without landing in the fire.) Ideally, that means starting a job search from a position of strength, not desperation.

    (3) On the up side, I got pretty good at side hustles to make money outside of the formal job market, and I think some of those can help you get by in between leaving one job and getting another: Uber/Lyft, paid medical research, paid market research, paid plasma donation, scrap metaling, busking, selling items to consignment shops or on eBay or other sites, mechanical turk jobs, monetizing an online platform… None of these options brings in much, none of it is sufficient on its own, many of these options are the byproduct of a horrifically underfunded social safety net… But all these things can be tools in a toolkit for making ends meet if things get really rough.

    I’m sorry to be a downer. I never had financial security in the past, and so my perspective is very much one where memories of food insecurity, mounting debt, and the threat of homelessness loom large. I know there have been people who have had great successes in quitting without something else lined up, and my experience may be on the more desperate end of the spectrum, but I generally think it’s best to plan for the worst, even while hoping for the best. Sending you all my best wishes for your job search.

  66. That job crushed me*

    I quit a toxic job in March 2020 without anything else lined up. Being unemployed during a pandemic was seriously _a less-stressful prospect_ than continuing in my job. I felt really torn up over it, and guilty, but also…I was truly at the end of my rope. I cried opening my email in the morning. The first feeling upon my alarm clock going off was dread. I had insomnia like never before in my life; I thought about what would happen if I just kept driving instead of turning into the office (before work went remote); I felt closer to a mental breakdown each day. Importantly, my husband and I had (and still have) a large emergency fund. So with those factors in mind–money set aside and a horrible state of mental health–I quit.

    Luckily I was able to get a new job quickly (verbal offer relatively early, which calmed me down, and an official start date in June). That was very, very fortunate and not at all guaranteed. Still, I would do it again because the old job was so awful for my wellbeing.

    So for whatever it’s worth, my story is one good outcome.

    It’s true that if you quit, you might be unemployed for a long time (though hopefully not!), and that in itself can be very harmful to your mental health, not to mention your physical/financial health. It’s also true that you are hurting now, in a way that’s serious enough for you to be asking for help (i.e., not just a one-off bad-attitude day, which we all have sometimes).

    I sincerely wish you the best of luck: in coming to a decision that feels right to you, and, if that involves a job search, having a quick and painless one.

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