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Pay It Forward

How to quit a job you loathe

About the author

Kate Ashford is a New York-based freelance journalist who writes about personal finance and health. She has written for Money, Real Simple and Redbook magazines.

(Thinkstock)

(Thinkstock)

Three years ago, Terri Caldwell quit her job at a leading internet company when the stress started to take a toll on her life.

“I had reached a point where the benefits were not enough for the high price of not being able to sleep at night,” said Caldwell, now 53, who lives in Indiana in the US. “You had to stay on the leading edge, which is great. But behind the scenes, that means the people are working longer and longer hours with no sense of accomplishment. I was always ‘connected’ to the job. I was thankful for the job, but I hated it.”

Caldwell chose to leave the company, but many of us only wish we could quit. In the UK, nearly seven of 10 employees say they work at their current jobs for the money, not because they love what they do, according to a survey by tutoring site Learncliki.com. Similarly, in the US, 70% of surveyed workers say they either loathe their jobs or are totally disengaged, according to a Gallup poll.

Disengagement drove discontent globally. In China, only 6% of employees say they are “engaged” by their jobs, according to a Gallup survey, whereas in Australia, just 22% of workers are happy with their current jobs and say they don’t want to change careers, according to a survey by Martin College.

“Too often people feel duty bound to stay in a job due to family or financial commitments, despite disliking it,” said Stephen McKean, managing principal of Insight Career Management in East Victoria Park in Western Australia. “If you are not challenged, if you feel undervalued, or Monday mornings are…the worst part of the week, it’s time you moved on.”

Here’s how to quit a job you just can’t stand to go to any longer:

What it will take: Changing jobs requires networking skills and a successful job hunt — or at least three to six months of living expenses before you turn in your resignation. You will also need the guts to leave the known (the job you have) for an unknown (a new job, unemployment or your own business or freelance pursuits).

How long you need to prepare: Unless you have a sizable nest egg, take long enough to line up another job or save enough for several months’ expenses before you jump ship. The time to do this will vary dramatically by industry and location. If you already have a financial cushion that allows you to take time off between jobs, it may only be necessary to give notice — and then walk away.

Do it now: Start the search for a new job. “It is always easier to find a new role when you are currently employed,” said Helene Larson, a career coach and director of Right Start Career Counselling in Sydney.

Keep in mind, too, that employer-provided benefits — such as life and health insurance in the US — will cease when you quit, so staying employed may be necessary. And in some countries, such as the UK and US, you may not be eligible for unemployment benefits or jobseekers allowance if you quit without good cause.

Lining up new employment means reaching out to contacts and attending networking and industry events, where you can. You never know where you’ll find the next opportunity.

Give plenty of notice. Unless there is some aspect of your job that requires your immediate exit, two to four weeks of notice is customary — but if you can, stay on to finish or hand off your projects.

“If you have not yet identified a new role, an extended period of notice can work in both the company’s favour and your own,” McKean said. “This allows them time to recruit well and it provides you with more time to locate the new dream job.”

Keep up the good work. Once you decide to leave, keep doing your job to the best of your abilities. “Leave on the best possible note, so they can only say good things about you,” said Teri Hockett, CEO of US career site WhatsForWork.com. “Staying in the moment is very important.”

Protect your assets. You may be eligible for a retirement savings match or pension payout based on your time with the company. If that’s the case, make sure you don’t leave before hitting an eligibility deadline, if it’s close. Similarly, if you have any use-it-or-lose-it accounts, such as a Flexible Spending Account for healthcare or dependent expenses in the US, try to use as much of that as possible before hitting the road.

Do it later: Embellish a little bit. Don’t feel the need to be brutally honest about why you’re leaving.

 “Always be gracious and professional, and thank your employer for the opportunity,” Larson said. “However, advise them that this was not the right fit for you.”

You could explain that the nature of the work was not challenging enough, the cultural fit was not right for you, or you received another offer that you are very excited about. You may need your boss as a reference in the future, so it is not necessary to tell him all the things you hate about him.

Don’t badmouth your former boss or colleagues. The same rule goes for interviews with prospective employers: Be nice. “If you left your previous company because you didn’t get along with your colleagues, you thought your manager was a fool and the company was not run well, don’t share,” Larson said. “A great response to this question is that you decided it was time for a new challenge.”

Do it smarter: Reflect. Before you quit, take some time to determine where your job is going wrong. Is it the company? The job responsibilities? Your boss or colleagues? Has something about you changed? Have you made an attempt to fix the issue?

“If you don’t (reflect),” said Ros Toynbee, a UK career coach at TheCareerCoach.co.uk, “you run the risk of repeating the same problem in the new job.”

Have you felt stuck in a job you loathe? Did you make a switch? To comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Capital, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.