Updated: Jun 22
There is an old song by the Clash called Should I Stay or Should I Go. It’s about romance. And it’s the same question many of us are asking about our jobs.
Our team of coaches is talking to people like you about this question every week, especially in the last two years. However, this question of whether the grass is greener on the other side isn’t new. We’ve been asking it since we stopped accepting the vocations our parents passed on to us and were given the freedom to choose. In a culture where work, for many, has increasingly become less instrumental and more self-expressive, it’s become all the more important to those asking the question.
How do you know when to stay in a job and when to go? In this article, we consider the landscape around this question and a four-part guide to avoid disaster and follow God’s path for your career.
Job/Career Change and the Great Resignation: High levels of open positions have employees reevaluating their priorities and voluntarily quitting in record numbers. As of March 2022, roughly 4 million people each month have left their jobs for almost a year. They are not dropping out of the workforce. They are trading up for work that meets their evolving needs and desires. This means that more than 25% of the labor force has changed jobs in the last year.
This is not all sweetness and light and an easy work upgrade. A survey of our news sources on this topic reveals some interesting phenomena that are taking place:
Rage Quitting: This is the contemporary version of “you can take this job and shove it.” Rage quitting celebrates a dramatic, screed-filled exit. This is bridge-burning and is celebrated in various posts and forums.
No-plan Quitting: Testimonial articles tell glowing stories of leaving one’s toxic job without a plan. Under certain circumstances, this may be the wisest play or the only play. But we find folks at our door running out of money and short on options because they ran for the exit without a plan.
Buyers' Remorse: Studies are starting to show what we all know: the grass isn’t always greener. Reports suggest that 20-70% of recent switchers regret their exit. It’s a wide range–much depends on question framing and sample sets, but the truth remains—a large percentage of great resigners are looking again within 90 days.
Employers are Feeling Pain: Executives in our network find it is taking longer to fill positions, overall labor costs are rising, and the compensation they are posting for new hires is rippling throughout their pay structure. Leaders are also dealing with the challenges of replacing, onboarding, and building trust with new team members.
Dilemma Research: In VOCA’s 2021 work-life dilemma research, we asked this question several different ways and job/career change was always near the top. In fact, in our Year-End Dilemma Project, the question of whether or not one should change their job was selected by 31% of respondents. “Making a Job/Career Change” was the third most frequently selected dilemma in the qualitative portion of our study. Furthermore, “Job/Career Change” came in second in the write-in portion of the study.
The Times are Changing: While there continue to be more job openings than job seekers, as we plow towards the end of the 2nd Quarter of 2022, we see signs of slowing down. Tech and finance companies are freezing hiring. Mortgage companies are laying people off. Could the boom be going bust? We don’t know. But we do know that these types of things are cyclical and switching jobs and careers will be more challenging in the days ahead.
For me and our team at VOCA, job and career change is an area of expertise. We’ve delivered solutions in this space for over 10 years and journeyed with 350+ clients to greater clarity in their vocational direction. We believe there are situations where the wisest, God-honoring, faith-driven approach is to stay and others where the best decision is to move on.
Wisdom Thread #1: Move On With Care
“If you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity” (1 Corinthians 7:21)
Strategy 1: Leave for real opportunities that constitute a verified improvement. Improvement means that the new move is a clearly better expression of your calling. We see many of our colleagues let down by wishful thinking and blind optimism. Better to do extensive homework and consider the cost before making a move. Real research is a much better premise to build your future on than wishful thinking. Still, departure can be the wisest decision.
Here are three examples of signs it’s time to move on:
Some of our clients are typecast in their current roles and could dramatically expand their contribution if given a fresh start.
Watch the timing. We think it may be better to leave sooner rather than later as an economic contraction is building steam. It isn’t wise to find yourself as a vulnerable newer member of a team in a downturn.
Verification is key. Verification includes economics, business health, and culture. As I like to say, “Don’t jump onto a shrinking iceberg.” A great job in a shrinking industry or bleeding company will not be a great job for long.
Wisdom Thread #2: Advance in Place
Sometimes the wisest strategy is to stay, to pick up the slack as others move on, to be a trusted player in the midst of turmoil. I have friends who have accidentally made great careers out of this strategy.
The Prophet Daniel seems to have played this part in the narrative of Daniel 4. The King went mad and was driven from power for seven years. It seems that Daniel and his three friends were running the kingdom in his absence. They were part of the collection of administrators who sought out the king and returned him to the throne (Daniel 4:36). Daniel stayed, advanced in skill and respect, and secured a station of influence.
Here are three lessons to be learned from Daniel:
Sometimes staying sets us up for earning institutional knowledge and trust that will open future doors.
Sometimes staying enables one to focus on other areas of life for a season.
Sometimes staying is a response to a direct prompting from God to serve others in a difficult context and build character for ourselves.
Wisdom 1 is to leave. Wisdom 2 is to stay. How do you know what is best? Short answer: it depends on the situation. Judgment is required. But we have more to help us than just the pluses and minuses of the stay-go continuum.
Guidelines for Discernment
Wisdom is situational. It’s helpful yet requires constant discernment. God offers us wisdom and more. He also provides solid boundaries for decision-making.
As our Lord, Jesus gives us guidelines that apply to all situations. We could list moral imperatives that should not be violated in any situation. All of them boil down to two: Jesus commands us to love God and love our neighbor (Matthew 22:34-40).
First, this means when we make career decisions we ask sincerely, “What does God want?” Rather than only asking ourselves, “What is it that I want?”, we should eagerly listen to the question, “What might God be calling me to do?”
Second, we ask, “What about my family, colleagues, clients, and bosses?” We are all connected to others–our choices impact others. Jesus invites us to embrace this web of relationships, to walk through it, and slow down enough to consider the impact of our choices on those around us.
This raises a final and fourth thread about God’s plan for our lives.
God’s Will, Your Career
The Scriptures introduce us to a God with a plan. A macro plan for history and humanity, and a micro personal plan for our lives.
Speaking to those who think their plan for the future is a sure thing, Jesus’ brother James writes: “You ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’” Paul makes it clear that through a life of surrender, we will know what God’s will is (Romans 12:1-2). God’s will should be our aim at every intersection in life.
So how do we know God’s will for our work? We advocate a thorough process where we look for the overlap of a number of forces:
Build on a foundation of Scriptural guidelines
Practice meditation and prayer
Listen for what the Spirit is saying
Monitor what and why we feel drawn to in our hearts
Observe what is possible in the circumstances
Bake in what spiritual friends and mentors in our lives are advising
God directs through all these things. We look for alignment between principle, heart, counsel, and circumstances.
Sometimes God’s will is very conventional and sometimes it is counter-intuitive. The big shift here is moving from my will to his will as Jesus did in the Garden. As we sincerely make our way forward as best we can discern, we will make the most God-honoring decisions regarding job/career moves that we can in this season.
Should you stay or should you go? It’s an important question that requires thoughtful effort to move forward with clarity. The approach we advocate for can give each of us the confidence that we are doing what God wants us to do, for now, and the peace of knowing that our vocational lives have been firmly placed in his hands.