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Wondering if you should leave a new job? Consider the 3x3 approach

Perhaps you find yourself starting a new job. Sadly, only after a few weeks, you have that sudden feeling in the pit of your stomach…and you think to yourself, “Oh no… What if this isn’t going to work…”

If that’s you, or someone you may know, keep reading.

It could be one interaction that tips you off to a problematic work culture. Or it may be a slow and steady drip that confirms that your expectations of the role are not aligned to what you are now experiencing. Whichever it is, you may start to swirl with concerns over whether you can stay in this job.

You might find yourself panicking with thoughts like:

  • “I can’t leave this job yet, how will that look?”

  • “Will this ruin my resume?”

  • “What about references?”

  • “Is it better to get out sooner rather than later?”

When considering whether to leave a new job, I find it best to start with what I call the “3x3 Approach.” Start with the “3 Stabilizers”:

  • Stabilizer 1 - Acknowledge your disappointment. Many of us don’t know what to do when we experience “work emotion.” It can feel inconvenient or like we should “just be rational.” But let’s stop kidding ourselves. If the new job we just started is not going well, that can feel incredibly disorienting. Perhaps you were hanging a little (okay, maybe a LOT) of hope on this new job. It can be really emotional, sad, grief-filled or even embarrassing if it’s not going well. Make sure you have a few friends in your corner who can be supportive.

  • Stabilizer 2 - You are a competent human being. It’s so easy to question yourself in the beginning of a new role. You may wonder if the problem is you. You may question your abilities. It’s a learning curve and it’s humbling. The ground under you has changed and that’s enough to make anyone feel vulnerable.

  • Stabilizer 3 - Go slow. What does this mean? It means you’re going to want things to feel normal, both at home and at work. You’ll want your high-achieving self to speed through deliverables, make dinner, clean the house, run 10 miles, and do all the things. Nope. You need to build in extra time to rest, recuperate, and connect with people who know you because you’re in transition and you are allowed to take time.

Now that you’ve embraced the 3 Stabilizers, you can move on to the “3 Questions.” These questions help you break down the bigger question of whether to stay in the role or plan to move on.

  • Question 1 - What is the root cause of me feeling this way? Was it a negative interaction with a boss? Poor onboarding? Feels like it’s unsustainable? Write out a list of specific circumstances and begin to analyze what was actually happening in those moments. Do your best to cut through any of your own insecurities to identify what is driving this concern. Also, notice if any of your responses are reflective of your nervous system. In other words, if you’re worried this job won’t work out, is it possible that the fear is snowballing and making you want to find familiarity all the more? Or, are some of your experiences the residue or “hangover” from a previously negative work environment? Put yourself through some rigorous reflection on paper and ask a friend or two for support. Remember, every person is unique, so people need different things in a transition to feel safe. You have to identify what those things are for you.

  • Question 2 - What needs to improve in this situation in the next 4-6 weeks for me to stay? Before we can solve the problem, we have to define what the problem actually is. And then we have to ask ourselves, “Can I communicate my needs to my supervisor?” The first 90 days in a role are critical to level-set expectations. Your team does not want to lose you right as they hired you. So make sure you’re clear on what’s missing so you can address it together. Your communication style should be focused toward problem-solving, not overly apologetic or, to the other extreme, accusatory. You are solving a problem together. Sometimes there are simple things that may be important to you, that your new colleagues just don’t know. (Mind readers are super hard to come by these days!)

  • Question 3 - Is my concern related to work culture? Sometimes the concern you have isn’t related to a simple communication issue or system issue. Sometimes you may be aware that it’s a deeper issue. Toxic communication, abusive supervisors, top-down leadership, unreasonable workloads, and more. If you have noticed behaviors like the ones I outlined in my toxic workplace article, it is unlikely that you will change the culture overnight. If that is the case, remember not to panic. Consider whether the challenge is tenable for a year, or whether it would take an unreasonable toll on your physical, mental, or emotional health. If you think that your health is on the line, it’s never worth it. If that is the case, you can begin working with a career coach to formulate a “redirect” job search strategy. (And keep in mind, just because interviewing again sounds awful, that’s not a reason to delay the inevitable and stay in an unmanageable situation.)

The key to making a decision on whether to leave a new role is ultimately to discern whether the challenge is the natural discomfort of transition or the sad reality of a poor fit or negative work culture. To use a “boat” metaphor, if the challenge is the nature of transition, then grab some duck tape, patch some holes, and let the wind take your sails! Sometimes giving time for the adjustment can make all the difference. But if the challenge is a poor fit or toxic work culture, count your losses and utilize your energy to move forward. No need to band-aid a boat with too many holes. You’ll just get wet!

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