August 29, 2022

Should you change jobs in an uncertain economy?

Last year at this time, I was planning a series of posts about the Great Resignation. It seemed everyone was changing jobs,  and the trend was becoming a movement that seemed destined to affect work for decades to come. What we didn’t know at the time was how bad the next waves of COVID-19 would be, and we didn’t know there was a war coming that would shake the global economy.

Fast forward about a year, and things look a bit different. While it’s not clear where trends like this year’s rising inflation will land the economy, there’s no question people are feeling the effects. So, what does it mean for recently empowered workers? And what about you – should you leave your job in an uncertain economic climate?

Let’s see if we can figure this out.

Where does the Great Resignation stand today?

The numbers last year were astounding. Nearly 12 million people left their jobs over the three-month period from April through June. Nearly half of people were actively or casually seeking a new job. And one survey found that all but 5% of respondents were at least thinking about leaving their position.

Although 95% of people didn’t go on to seek new work, many did, often into better-paying jobs that worked better for them and their families. And despite the threat of economic downturn, many people are still seeking greener pastures beyond their current jobs.

While the evidence has been less stark, it seems clear that academia has not been immune. (See it play out in real time on Twitter.) Burnout and dissatisfaction with advancement opportunities, workload, bureaucracy, stress, pay, bias and other factors became untenable for some, particularly in a job-seeker’s market.

However, the lengthy job application cycles in higher education and academic medicine mean some people who found themselves inspired by the early phase of the Great Resignation are still in the process of securing their next opportunity. Still others are still deciding whether they are ready to move on to something new. Meanwhile, the economy has some experts advising job seekers to proceed with caution.

All of this begs the question … what does the economy mean for your career plans?

Should you change jobs when there could be a recession?

There is no single answer to this question. Certainly inflation has increased expenses for employees and employers. And although employers have struggled to hire this year, they are also unlikely to keep pushing wages ever higher in an effort to bridge the gap.

Of course, stability and finances are not the only considerations. There are many reasons we stay in one job or go after another. For example, the Four Es – education, experience, exposure and enthusiasm – speak to professional development opportunities. Or, a given job may be light on new challenges but provide a wealth of other attributes, such as proximity to family or stability of benefits.

What’s important is that you’ve spent some time assessing what matters most to you and are using what you decide as a lens for this decision. And if what matters most to you right now is a stable income, there’s nothing in the world wrong with that. Just keep it top of mind as you turn to a handy little tool I call the stay/go grid.

Changing jobs in an uncertain economy

The stay/go grid is a tool I’ve written about before. It essentially provides a way of organizing your thoughts around your next career move. You ultimately have four options:

  • Stay and survive
  • Stay and thrive
  • Go and survive
  • Go and thrive

If you’ve determined that a stable, reliable income has risen to the top of your list of what matters most to you – something that can happen even in a healthy economic climate if personal expenses arise – then bring it to your stay/go analysis.

Where will you feel most financially stable? Your current job, perhaps, if your institution is thriving. Somewhere else, though, if you sense impending problems. Then, consider the other pros and cons to these options to determine your position on the grid. Here are some ways your stay/go analysis might shake out.

Go and survive

This is not a place you want to be. If you have to go elsewhere to survive, you might have been downsized or seen your compensation reduced. Perhaps you have discovered an untenable ethical breach. Or you might have a new boss who clearly intends to usher you out the door at the first opportunity. Whatever the scenario, it’s time to look for a job, and now.

When a client is in this position, we act quickly. But that doesn’t mean we don’t consider the Four Es and what matters most to the individual. However, we also make sure we get clear on where we can compromise and what priorities can be shifted to the back burner. While thriving is always the goal, surviving is what’s most important here.

Stay and survive

Even if you’re not growing in your current position, you may need to stay right where you are to maintain your salary or if you just can’t walk away from certain benefits (pensions and tuition benefits come to mind.) That’s OK – as I’ve written before, not all times in your career will involve periods of unfettered professional growth.

What’s important to consider is, what might still compel you to leave even though you think you should stay? I encourage clients to get clear on the bright red lines they simply won’t cross. Often these are ethical in nature, but not always. Maybe you are unwilling to travel more than one week per month, for example. Whatever your lines are, they could push you from “stay” to “go,” no matter how worried you might be about finances.

Similarly, give some consideration to what could nudge you from “survive” to “thrive.” Are there opportunities you might have overlooked at your current job? If there aren’t, could you create opportunity where none exists now? You might move from stay and survive to …

Stay and thrive

This part of the grid is a nice place to be. Your current professional home is still giving you enthusiasm, education, exposure or experience, and it is meeting the needs of your personal life. Your task is simply to keep at it. Make sure you continue to find opportunities to grow, and be sure nothing slips out of alignment to put you into stay/survive or go/survive. In fact, you might consider negotiating for a retention bonus – something that feels good in any time and especially in the current economic climate.

Even in this happy, steady state, keep scanning your horizon for opportunities that meet your personal and professional needs. You may find something comes along that compels you to …

Go and thrive

Sometimes possibility arises when you least expect it. Maybe an economic downturn is not when you would anticipate moving to the job (and compensation) of your dreams, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. It does – I have seen it.

People go and thrive when the chance to grow and benefit elsewhere outweighs the chance to do so if they stay. If all goes according to plan, you will thrive well into the future at your professional home, but it never hurts to revisit the grid every now and then and re-evaluate your situation.

Your Professional Career by Design

So, should you leave your job right now?

It’s up to you! But nothing is forever, so even if you were ready to stage your own Great Resignation and now you’re not so sure, no problem. Just hit the pause button for the moment.

The great thing about my Professional Careers by Design model is that it’s intended to flex with you. What matters most to you will shift through your career, and the economic, business and political climate will, too. If now isn’t your time, it’s OK, because you will continue to reassess. Then when your time does come, you’ll know it, and you’ll be ready to act.

I want to close by acknowledging something important – the question I explore in this post is a luxury not all have. For some people, “should I leave my job when there could be a recession?” is not something they would even consider because they simply lack the resources to take a financial risk in an uncertain economic climate. A reminder we still have lots of progress to make to truly improve conditions for many.

Unlock your potential and align with what matters most to you. 

It’s that simple.


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