Don’t rush to quit your job – or announce your new one – because of societal expectations

Managing how and when you communicate job changes can be challenging at a time when career switches can be fraught with landmines.

Paul Heng, NeXT Career Consulting

February, the month after companies dish out year-end bonuses and people have served out notice periods, is a key quitting season in the calendar year.

Perhaps there is also something magical about the start of a brand new year, when resolutions are made after much reflection, and people reassess their priorities and entertain thoughts of hopping off to a better place.

Almost three in four readers polled by AsiaOne in November 2022 said they were thinking of quitting after receiving their next bonuses, with almost one in five indicating they were seriously considering their options.

But a quick word of advice for anyone who’s switching jobs: Refrain from announcing your new role on social media immediately.

Unless you’re in sales and need the visibility to engage clients and generate leads, you should give yourself time to break ground and establish visibility with colleagues in your new workplace before fuelling expectations.

Managing news of your resignation

Leaving a long-held job can come as a shock to people who know you for your role. When veteran actor Zheng Geping announced in January that he was leaving Mediacorp after 36 years, the news sparked online chatter.

Perhaps it was also the revelation that he had not informed his family before taking the “painful decision” that surprised Singaporeans.

Should Zheng have sought buy-in first from his family? Surely he should have consulted them if leaving creates an impact on their household income?

A spouse can also be a good sounding board offering wise counsel and level-headed advice for those who, in seeking to call it a day, might risk making a wrong-footed decision. Blind spots can be uncovered.

Yet on the other hand, if income was not a factor, Zheng might be doing the right thing as the head of the household to shoulder the responsibility of deciding on his own career choices without unduly burdening loved ones with worries about his next step. Even then, imagine if both spouses decided to quit at the same time, thinking the hit to the family coffers could be managed.

Still, family communications when it comes to big job changes should not be left to chance, or ignored entirely, especially when strong family ties are prized in the context of our Asian culture.

Right time to announce a new job?

Zheng’s news was also curious for the long lead time between July 2022, when he tendered his resignation, to his public announcement six months later. We can speculate whether contractual employment requirements or other employment legalities surrounding obligations to Mediacorp’s business partners and to shows and productions Zheng was involved in allowed him to publicly reveal his departure only much later.

But for the rest of us, is there a sweet spot when one announces such career changes?

What about announcing a new job?

The decision must be contextualised. A good rule of thumb is to wait 30 days – with enough time to settle down and confirm you do want to continue with the organisation for the near term. This last bit is not a given.

A client shared how horrified she was after joining a new company for a week, but no one was around to acquaint her with the role, set up her laptop or orientate her to the rest of the firm. She barely even saw her supervisor and, given the company culture, decided not to stay.

A second client quit barely weeks into the role, after discovering her boss’ tendency to micromanage, impose unrealistic deadlines on staff and use vulgar language in stressful moments.

Imagine if they had posted their new gig on LinkedIn before this – how would they backtrack or explain why they left without embarrassing their former employer?

Such scenarios can be commonplace for many Singaporeans, for whom financial considerations have featured less high up the hierarchy of factors urging one to stay on.

“Money is no longer the only factor when they make career decisions. We have observed that when employees feel burned out, or bored because they are not learning any more, this compels them to look for other opportunities”, Mr Monty Sujanani, country manager at Robert Walters Singapore, was quoted as saying when the recruitment firm released its 2023 global salary survey in November.

Handling stigma over leaving a job without another in hand

What then should we also make of Zheng’s confession that he has not yet decided on what he would be doing next and would be taking a break? And that he was contemplating moving into the fitness sector yet refrained from revealing any firm plans? The actor had earned a degree in sports science during Covid-19 and published a book on fitness in 2013, but is it becoming increasingly acceptable to resign without a job in hand?

In my experience, Singaporeans are loath to do so, not only because remaining employed enhances one’s employability but also because it can feel like a personal failing.

The stigma remains strong. Although LinkedIn’s new feature allowing professionals to add a “career break” attempts to normalise this increasingly common occurrence, most people simply do not update their status or shy away from reflecting roles they have been in for less than six months.

This is understandable. For one thing, doing so could hurt your bargaining position when wrangling over salary with an opportunistic hirer who might try to lowball a compensation package offer if he thinks you need a job quickly.

But better that a prospective employer reveals his lack of scruples should such tactics be deployed and for you to walk away, than for you to discover the values of an organisation only after joining.

Instead, don’t let social expectations colour your decision on whether to resign. When negotiating pay with your next employer, be transparent about your reasons for leaving.

Every job, with its specific responsibilities, typically has an assigned salary value to the employer. A good interview process that allows the employer to assess a job candidate’s competency in fulfilling the role should not require information regarding the candidate’s salary history. Companies such as Amazon have reportedly set aside requests for last drawn salaries.

Be frank about your experience with an unexpected and difficult work culture, the need to recharge after a long high-key work spell, or your desire to switch gears when your life priorities shift. Employers worth their salt will appreciate your thoughtful weighing of the pros and cons and know the most capable candidates understand they have options.

Giving a false impression you are still gainfully employed could damage your reputation in the long run, especially when reference checks will quickly reveal the truth.

The good news is that national norms and expectations that everyone should have a job at all times might be changing. Most Singaporeans appear to accept that one might not have clear plans after leaving a role. More than four in 10 surveyed in Randstad’s 2022 Workmonitor study said they would rather be unemployed than feel unhappy in their jobs.

Perhaps we are finally becoming a society that accepts different notions of success and individual ideas of what job satisfaction should entail, instead of one that clings onto the outdated thinking that leaving a job without another is an irresponsible act or a moral failure.

If anything, Zheng’s announcement demonstrates the importance of owning our careers and being deliberate about shepherding difficult decisions regarding announcing a career move. That requires clear thinking about what enduring job satisfaction looks like to you and how you can shape any job switch you make to achieve that, even if this involves a career break.

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