March 4, 2020

Leave Corporate Job

You went to high school, then to college, or even got an advanced degree. You entered the workforce with excitement. But there's trepidation as you embarked on what would become your career. You got raises and promotions, quit for new opportunities, and even got fired somewhere along the way. Then look back and wonder where the years went and how you got to where you are today. You’ve attained a high salary level, a senior level title, and acquired great experiences. But what now? I hear this question a lot and have asked it in my own life as well. Is it time to leave your corporate job?

Asking the Hard Questions

If you’re like many others, you reach a point in your career when you start to ask the hard questions. What have I really accomplished? Is my corporate job providing the security I think it is? Why does my work/life balance feel out of sync with my desires? Would anyone miss me if I was gone? Is it time to leave my corporate job?

These and many others are valid questions. Experience has taught us that things aren’t always what they seem. Safety and security are often illusions that we don’t realize until it’s too late. Our hard work and contribution can often go unrecognized. Work can easily become routine. At the end of many years of faithful service, you can look back and wonder what you've accomplished. Do you have a legacy and if so, is it something you can take pride in?

Stay or Leave?

In the corporate world, it’s very easy to fall into routines. Bring in the sales by the end of the quarter. Finish reports by the end of the month. Solve that customer issue by the end of the week. Have that product ready for release by the fall. These deadlines often repeat themselves, and we build our lives around them. They also seem to speed up the passage of time. What’s often frustrating is that many deadlines in the corporate world are arbitrary. Someone sets a deadline so that teams can build plans on this fixed date which somehow takes on a life of its own. I’ve worked in many places where people stay late, work weekends and burn themselves out. And that's all because of a fixed date that often has no meaning. 

Corporate Culture

It’s funny to look back a few decades and see what working environments were like. Men dressed like clones in suits and hats, sitting in nondescript offices. Some smoking cigarettes and having their afternoon cocktail. Women were usually relegated to support positions. They found themselves sitting in secretarial pools or doing other administrative tasks. Times have changed...and for the better. Today we live in a business world where corporate culture is actually a thing. Shortages of highly skilled workers have forced companies to look beyond the work. They create environments that enhance the work experience. We often spend more hours in corporate offices than we do in our homes. Yet the trend of focusing on creating a positive workplace culture is still new. And the degree to which companies embrace the idea varies.

For companies that value company culture, you'll find yourself in a fulfilling environment. It's one where the company values your contribution. They foster values that align with your own. They have created an environment of open communication. You understand the strategy and have a voice in its execution. Unfortunately, that’s not the situation where many people find themselves.

The Real Meaning of Corporate Culture

Many companies believe that corporate culture is free coffee and ugly sweater days. They don’t understand that culture starts at the top. It's nurtured into the company’s values and its strategies. It's how the company shares information and communicates. It’s the heart of the company’s identity, and that culture is what yields success. Too often, companies look at culture as something they do once they’ve found success, They believe it’s about perks and benefits, not core values.

So as you look at your life in the corporate world, do you find yourself aligned with the company’s culture? Or the better question is, do you believe the company is aligned with your values? Working someplace where there’s a mismatch in values can be a source of stress and anxiety. That can spill over into our personal lives and lead to depression and a lack of fulfillment from our work. If this sounds like your situation, is it time to leave your corporate job?

If the company culture is the problem, what can you do? Even if you are in a senior role within the company or on the executive team, there's very little you can influence. if you’re not running the show, culture is difficult to change. It’s a reflection of the values of the company’s leader. When culture is the priority, you’ll see that from the top, and it will be central to all decision-making. When it’s an afterthought, a committee or manager pushes it down to someone in HR. Committee recommendations, employee surveys, and HR recommendations might help. It can make some needed improvements, but they’re unlikely to move the needle in a meaningful way. 

The Grass May Be Greener If You Leave Your Corporate Job

Now, you've amassed a skill set and fill your resume with years of experience. You've increased your salary, and you're promoted into a senior position. There may be better opportunities over at XYZ Company. The challenge is often understanding the motivations for moving. Is moving an opportunity to climb another rung on the career ladder? Do other companies offer better pay, better benefits, a better culture?

There are legitimate reasons to jump ship. Often times, company policies limit growth. Employees get stuck waiting for a raise or promotion. If this persists, it leads to feeling undervalued and unappreciated. That can have ramifications on the quality of your work experience. A new company may offer a way through these roadblocks. But it’s wise to dig deeper. Sometimes the feelings that drive this are misleading. What does a new title mean? Additional power? Higher respect? More direct reports? A higher salary is always a nice thing to have. But how will that $10k, $25k, $50K affect your life? Will it enable you to resolve things that have been causing stress? Will it help you get out of debt, or is it adding a cushion to the bank account for retirement or the niceties of life?

Whatever the driver, I’d challenge you to do this; make sure you’re honest with yourself. Understand the undying reason that moving somewhere else will make you happier. I can’t tell you how many friends I’ve had over the years that decided to move out of town. “This place sucks," but Anytown is really happening.” A few years later, they moved back. Sure, Anytown was happening, but the town wasn’t the problem. My friends were stagnating in their jobs and unhappy. They believe the town was the problem. A change of scenery would change their life. It didn’t, because the scenery wasn’t the problem. When switching to a new corporate job, it’s easy to understand why you believe that the scenery will be better. The thrill of extra money in your account will be short-lived if you're still miserable at work.

Safety and Security

How many people dream of what their life would be if they followed their passion and carved out their own business? Why do we love Shark Tank? Why do seeing these entrepreneurs pitching their ideas excite us? For me, it’s because there’s an entrepreneur within us all, but usually, we keep our ideas to ourselves. It’s too risky! I have a family to support! I can’t afford to do that! All are valid reasons. But when you think about the idea of going off on your own, you're getting a little excited. You dream of being your own boss and spending more time with your family. You want to travel or pursue other interests. These ideas are tempting, but the thing that holds most of us back is security. We stay with a corporate job because it provides the safety and reliability we need.

Yet, you could be let go tomorrow. A riff, workforce reduction, layoff, cost-cutting, or just get fired. Without a warning, you could find yourself collecting unemployment and scrambling to find other work. The security you thought you had turns out not to be much security at all. What it is, in reality, is a convenient excuse not to take risks yourself. Not to pursue your passion out of fear of the unknown. You’ll keep that corporate job until you decide to quit but staying for security is a bad way to look at your options. You may have a job with benefits. But what you lack is control, and that’s the only thing that can give you real security.

What Now? Would You Leave a Corporate Job?

I’m not here to advocate leaving the corporate world and going off on your own, but I am encouraging you to think about it. If you’re frustrated with your company, that's a sign it’s time to make a change. If you're frustrated with the work you do, it’s about time to consider other options. There may be great jobs out there that pay more, give you more responsibility, or a better title. In the short term, they may solve your problem.

But if that’s not what’s behind your desire for change, then you’d be wise to dig deeper. Finding a company that shares your values can make work a more rewarding experience. Those companies are hard to find and often, getting a job with them is even harder. The one company you know would share your values is your company! The fulfillment you seek might not come from jumping to the next company, but from taking the chance and starting one of your own!!!

Eric Dickmann

Eric Dickmann is the founder of The Five Echelon Group, host of the weekly podcast - The Virtual CMO, and a CMO On Demand for a variety of small and midsize companies. An executive leader with over 30 years of experience in marketing, product development, and digital transformation, he has worked with large, global companies and small startups to develop and execute marketing strategies and bring innovative products to the market.