I frequently lead workshops on negotiation, and most of the questions that arise are about negotiating salary or other elements of a job offer (e.g., start date, bonus, schedule). However, every so often, I get a more ambitious, even philosophical question, like how to negotiate for changes at a company when you disagree with senior management.
One employee, currently on internship status at an employer, was encouraged to apply for a full-time role at the same place, but was hesitant, citing lack of diversity – should she push to get commitments on diversity hiring? Another temp employee felt ignored by her current manager – having already experienced that, should she pursue an offer at the same company, since mentoring and coaching was a priority for her? Even experienced employees face crossroads – one senior executive had raised concerns about her company’s strategic direction multiple times but was unable to convince her fellow leaders to shift gears.
In all of these cases, the employee disagrees with some aspect of how the company is being managed. How hard do you advocate for your position? How do you know whether to back down and make a compromise or draw a line in the sand and leave the company? Here are seven questions to help you decide if you should you quit your job when you disagree with company:
1 – Is part of your job to disagree?
The senior executive who raised concerns about the company’s strategic direction was part of the leadership team, so going back and forth on strategic issues is built into her job. There are many issues in the running of a company where multiple directions are available, so the fact that she had a difference of opinion to others isn’t a red flag in and of itself. If she always differed with company direction, then she might leave for another company that is more aligned with how she likes to do business. If she is never able to get her ideas accepted, then she might leave for another company where her voice can be heard.
Upon further reflection, this executive realized that there were other issues where her recommendations won out, that she still believed in the company and her fellow leaders overall and that she still wanted to work at this company. Her lack of influence was specific to this particular issue and sharing her opinion (sometimes to disagree but also sometimes to agree) was part of her and a way to contribute to the company. Take a step back and further reflect on the nature of your disagreement with the company – you might want to avoid this conflict, but it actually could be part of your job to speak up.
2 – Can you better improve the situation by staying or going?
This senior executive contributed diversity of thought and arguably improved the company by sticking with the discussion instead of leaving in protest. Similarly, the intern concerned about diversity hiring could also contribute to the issue by joining full-time and continuing to try and improve the situation while working there. Declining an offer could be seen as taking a stand (that’s how the intern intended it), but once she did that, her influence on the company would end. She would no longer be there to promote additional changes.
This intern worried that accepting a full-time job would make her complicit in behavior she disagreed with. However, every job has multiple responsibilities, and every company is multifaceted – with good and bad attributes. There will invariably be something (typically multiple things) you don’t like and want to improve about your role and/ or your employer. You will likely have more impact by trying to improve the situation from the inside. As a bonus, you could also improve the situation for others by sticking around.
3 – Do you have a better alternative lined up?
Just because you can work to improve a situation doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to. The senior executive whose role includes strategic direction for the company arguably has a built-in responsibility to actively work through her disagreements. The intern whose role was not diversity hiring but something entirely different (finance in her case) isn’t bound by the same commitment. If she doesn’t want to take on this particular issue, she doesn’t have to – if she has other offers or is willing to continue her job search instead.
Before quitting (or in this case dropping out of an offer process prematurely), look at your alternatives. Do you have another offer, and might it come with a similar issue? If you don’t have another offer, are you willing to take on the uncertainty of a job search right now? Keep in mind that some job markets are kinder than others – there is ample evidence that today’s job market is challenging.
4 – Can you afford to quit?
You may be willing to risk a period of unemployment to continue your job search, but can you afford to go without working? I teach a negotiation class at my alma mater, and when I ask the students about life (and affording it) post-graduation (e.g., where they’ll live, how they’ll cover student loan payments), invariably I root out at least one (and typically more) student who hasn’t run the numbers on how they’ll cover the day-to-day. Usually they assume parental support will continue or savings will cover.
Maybe they’re right. However, you want to run your numbers on how you’ll support yourself, and take into account any upcoming changes that can dramatically impact your situation. Graduating students would need to account for the move from dormitory living to the open market or from their parents’ support to supporting themselves. I have coached experienced professionals who are also looking at significant life changes (e.g., children entering college, elderly parents needing care). The uncertainty about the Affordable Care Act should also factor into your calculations since a job might become the only reliable way to obtain health insurance. Finally, since it’s by far easier to land a job when you already have one, you want to think twice about quitting in this soft job market, when it will already be more challenging to find a new job.
5 – Is it too soon to quit?
I supported myself in college largely through temp work assignments, so I feel for the temp with the unsupportive manager. One of the benefits of a temp-to-perm assignment is that you can experience the company firsthand before deciding whether to work there. If your temp experience isn’t positive, you can’t assume that converting to full-time at the same place will be much of an improvement.
However, early days on the job are almost always awkward. You’re still learning the job, and even if the job responsibilities are familiar, you are figuring out how this particular company does things. For most jobs, the first 90 days are not going to be comfortable, and for some jobs (especially when your role is complex and/ or you have to work with a lot of different people) you may not feel comfortable for the first year. You do want to consider if your misgivings are really about the situation or just the newness of the situation.
6 — Are you too emotional to quit properly?
If you’re really upset about something the company did – whether it’s an unsupportive manager, lack of commitment, a specific disagreement or something else – you might be too upset to quit properly. Even if you’re 100% sure that you want to leave and that you’ll never come back, you always want to remain professional. (Use these tips on how to quit amicably in an unfriendly environment.)
You want to be at a stage where you can talk about your grievance in a neutral voice. Ideally, you want to have tried to remedy the situation before giving up on the company. The current market environment is unusual because of the pandemic disrupting work patterns (e.g., WFH!), supply chains (e.g., toilet paper runs) and customer appetite (some companies have a major drop in business but some are seeing a surge). How a company is being managed right now may not be indicative of how it normally runs. Just like you want to give yourself some time to calm down, you also may want to give the company some time to adjust to any market difficulties it may be experiencing that are really out of the ordinary.
7 — How will you ensure this same situation doesn’t happen again (and again)?
If you do leave a job due to a company disagreement rather than trying to work through it – either by changing the company or by changing yourself – then you lose an opportunity to build resilience for yourself. You give up on the company, rather than investing in it. If you do this once, it may not matter in a decades-long career. But if a future job happens to have a short tenure – say you get laid off – or another future job surfaces another disagreeable situation, you can quickly find yourself with a pattern of short tenures.
You shouldn’t stay in a bad situation just to avoid having a short tenure. However, you do want to make sure you learn how to improve a work situation without having to quit.
Quitting a job is not the only way to change your situation
I once had an employee who was convinced her manager had given up on her and was ignoring her (this was actually a different person than the temp with the unsupportive manager though the situations are similar). As it turned out, the manager expected his staff to approach him when they needed something, and far from ignoring this employee, he thought she was a star who needed little management. I was working in HR for this company, and I coached both of them to suspend their initial assumptions and flex their communication style so that both this employee and her manager made an effort to initiate conversations. They ended up happily working together for years. Perhaps, someone in company HR can help you improve your situation. Or an outside coach can give you some fresh ideas of perspective. Or simply the passage of time can help (see my point about the pandemic shocks). Brainstorm alternatives before settling on the finality of quitting your job.