We all have a friend who hates her job, so I’m not really outing Brenda as a lone troublemaker here. Her situation was truly intolerable — not only did she always draw the short straw on group projects for zero recognition, but HR mixed up the pay stubs and she found out that the incompetent guy who rarely did any work was making 40 percent more than she did. One day when the soul-killing drag pushed her over the edge, she simply walked into the big boss’s office, made a profanity-laden speech and never came back. I am proud of Brenda, as I’m a firm believer that the secret to happiness is never feeling trapped. But there are a few practical steps to keep in mind before you tell your own boss to shove it.
Save three months’ salary in cash. The number is what matters. A lot of women hang onto bad situations because they’re terrified that they’ll starve before they find something else, so they just keep hoarding money and getting more and more miserable.
The fact is, most people who leave a job suddenly find work again within 14 weeks — technically, you’ve got a 50-50 shot at finding something in 10 weeks, but Brenda wanted extra wiggle room. Beyond that point, you can theoretically walk out tomorrow and feel relatively secure that your next paycheck will come before the money runs out.
Just the presence of that cash cushion lifts a huge emotional weight. You’re no longer beholden to your boss’s whims for survival. You could walk out the door any time. On Wall Street, we call this the “F.U. Fund” for a very good reason. It’s your license to utter the words behind those euphemistic letters one day and mean it.
Know what you want to do next. It’s great if you have another job lined up, but sometimes you just need to go. Start with a realistic vision of the kind of situation you want to be in three to six months down the road. It doesn’t have to be your dream job. It just has to be something attainable and better than what you have to deal with now. Plan out the time your cash fund represents so you can use every day to move toward that goal. And if you get discouraged, keep this in mind: The boys who seem so devil-may-care at work rarely put this level of thought into their career decisions. When they jump away from jobs they hate, it’s basically random. Jump toward something better and you’ll end up ahead of their game.
Max out your 401(k) match. A lot of office retirement plans have flexible contribution limits so you can grab a whole year’s worth of matching funds early on. If you can stand it, push your retirement saving before you leave to take advantage of this — not only does it feel great to grab every penny of free money the boss offers, but if you run into trouble you can always raid the account in an emergency.
Hold on until October. Don’t risk letting your health coverage lapse. COBRA is expensive, but Obamacare open enrollment starts Nov. 1, so if you can keep grinding your teeth until October you should be able to go straight into the marketplace without a gap. You may find it’s cheaper than what you were already paying into the office plan. In the meantime, take advantage of all the benefits your current policy provides. Get your teeth fixed. Stock up on prescriptions.
Volunteer as tribute. If layoffs are on the horizon, make yourself obnoxious enough to get the severance package plus eligibility for unemployment benefits. Otherwise, swallow your rage and have a sincere conversation with your boss when you’re ready to leave. You may be able to negotiate unemployment if not severance — and even if the government checks only cover 25 percent of your salary, that’s still enough to extend your cushion another six to seven weeks.
Go on a credit and spending diet. Your fund also stretches further if you’re not spending as much. Cut back on all unnecessary expenses now, especially habitual lifestyle frills, like restaurants or recurring online subscriptions that can add up to $100 or more in monthly drag. And free up as much space as you can on your credit cards in case your job search doesn’t pay off as fast as you hope. Try prepaying bills early, banking that cash for later.
Rehearse your exit speech. This is actually a big one because it lets you vent your grievances without necessarily burning any professional bridges you’ll want to cross later. Play it right, and you’ll be able to take down your enemies and make the office a better place for the people left behind. You can even parlay a really good exit into consulting offers or other opportunities down the road.
Pack early. Don’t leave an office full of memories behind. When you’re ready to go, the only personal property on site should be small enough that you can carry it out on your own power.