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Can you just quit your job? What to know before jumping ship

November 9, 2022 - 16 min read

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How do you know that you want to quit your job?

Can you quit your job without notice?

Before you quit your job

How to be professional when quitting without notice 

You know yourself best

You aren’t meant to stay in one job forever. Your growth’s too valuable for that, and you can’t improve your skills from your comfort zone. 

And most people don’t. Americans typically last about four years in one job before they quit. 

You might’ve hit that four-year mark, or you might’ve only made it a month. Either way, you’ve probably realized this isn’t your forever job. Overwhelming work anxiety or your desire for a better work-life balance could lead to a little voice in your head asking, "Can I just quit my job today?" 

So many Americans have asked the same question — and followed through on it — that the movement now has a name. Nearly 50 million people took part in the Great Resignation in 2021 alone. 

Whatever your reason, we're here to help you look out for your family, career, mental health, and well-being — and quit your job without burning bridges.

 

How do you know that you want to quit your job?

Quitting your job isn’t something you decide to do overnight. The feeling that you need to leave likely spent months growing thanks to overworking, a lack of respect, or frustrations with team members. It takes a deep understanding of your career goals and current well-being to realize if quitting your job is the best option for you. 

But that’s not easy to do. You might feel lost and unsure of how to know when it’s time to quit your job. Change is scary, and once you make this choice, you can’t go back. 

Here are a few questions to ask yourself to decide if you actually want to quit your job:

  • Can anything be done to improve your current situation, like a raise or hybrid work option?
  • Are you at the wrong company or in the wrong career?
  • Does your current job make you feel safe and respected?
  • What does your dream job look like, and how does it compare to your current job?
  • Is your workplace toxic or a healthy environment?
  • Do you have opportunities to grow and learn at your current job?
  • How has your mental health been since starting this position?
  • Would you still want this job if money wasn’t a factor?

Take the time to reflect on some of these questions to see what you’re really feeling. There’s a chance that you love your job, but imposter syndrome is wearing down your confidence. Stressors in your personal life might be spilling into your work-life and adding new frustrations. 

Whatever the cause, take some time to decide if this is what you actually want.

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Can you quit your job without notice?

We all know that giving two weeks’ notice about leaving a job is customary — but do you have to give two weeks' notice before quitting? The short answer is no — there’s no law preventing you from walking out today. 

We wouldn’t recommend it, as you might burn some bridges with your colleagues and boss. Your projects might all fall to your already overworked team members, and your boss might need to scramble to find your replacement with no notice.

And legally speaking, what happens to your last paycheck if you abruptly walk out the door? 

Your employer still has to pay you for work you’ve done. It’s claiming any other owed wages that exist in a grey area. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Some states will pay you for your unused vacation time — some won’t. Check with your state laws to see if you’re entitled to that income. 
  • Some states give employers a limited number of days to give a final paycheck. File a complaint with your local Wage-Hour Division if your employer doesn’t pay out your last hours within the allotted time.
  • If you want to file any complaints or lawsuits over unpaid wages, check the statute of limitations in your state.

The law may be on your side here, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be fallout when you quit without notice. Your coworkers will probably understand that you’ve reached your breaking point. But they may resent you for putting more work on their plates if your team was already understaffed or overworked.

You probably won’t be eligible for rehire at the company, and your soon-to-be ex-boss might be unlikely to offer a glowing reference, depending on how you leave.

But if you feel that you don’t have a choice or that quitting is the best option for you, there’s likely a way to leave on good terms. 

And there are legitimate reasons to leave without notice. You should always value your health and safety over a job. Work is just that — work. Prioritizing your wellness is something your future self will always thank you for.

Here are nine reasons why you might quit your job without notice:

1. Someone has sexually harassed you

Inappropriate, non-consensual touch is one example of sexual harassment — but it’s not the only one. Suggestive notes, lewd comments, and inappropriate gestures all fall under the sexual harassment umbrella. If management and HR don’t have your back, you have every reason to leave.

2. The work environment is unsafe or hostile

Your office may be an uncomfortable or unsafe place to work. Don’t undersell the importance of emotional comfort. Toxic work environments arise everywhere, even for remote work. If you can't carry out your responsibilities, don’t ponder how long you should stay at your job. Prioritize your safety.

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3. An employee has physically or verbally abused you

It doesn't matter if you’ve held your position for a day or a decade — abuse is never acceptable. Whether the abuse is physical or verbal, report it. If the abuse continues or you still feel unsafe, it’s a clear sign that you should quit your job. Many employers value safety. Don’t work for one that doesn’t.

4. Fear of retribution

You might’ve noticed a trend — coworkers turn in their two weeks’ notice only to be sent packing the same day. Worse, your boss might grow aggressive and confrontational. Retribution comes in all shapes and sizes.

If the situation has the potential to turn emotionally unsafe or volatile, have a backup plan should you be asked to leave immediately or at risk of being belittled for your remaining days.

5. Your mental health has had enough

Workplace stress builds and builds until it threatens to take over. American employees are some of the most stressed in the world — and the impacts of chronic stress on physical and mental health are massive. If your employer brushes off requests for help and support, that's a big red flag and a completely valid reason to walk away.

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6. Your employer isn't paying you

Purposeful, meaningful work is great. But you’re there to make money. If your employer withholds your pay or doesn’t give you the agreed-upon compensation, it’s time to take action. When your efforts to rectify the situation hit a wall, move on and find someone who respects your time — and your employment contract.

7. You've witnessed or experienced unethical behavior

Values matter. You should never feel obligated to carry out a task that goes against your ethics — and you shouldn’t put up with other people behaving badly. Do you value diversity and inclusion but witness workplace discrimination? Report it. If it becomes clear your current job doesn’t value ethics, fairness, and inclusivity as you do, it's time to leave.

8. A family matter has come up

You can’t control unexpected crises. But you can choose how you show up for your loved ones. Maybe someone you love has a critical or terminal illness, and you need to care for them or say goodbye. That’s time you can’t get back, so don’t feel guilty if you need to prioritize family over your career.

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9. You’re physically unable to keep working

When an accident or illness makes it physically impossible to do your job, you have no choice but to quit or take leave. Reasonable employers will understand that you need time to heal.

Before you quit your job

You’re on the verge of walking away, but another little voice creeps in: "I'm scared to quit my job right now." That’s completely normal — giving up a job isn’t easy for most people. 

Quitting your job without a plan is especially daunting. But you can be sure you’re making the right decision by following a few steps before telling your boss you're quitting

  1. Talk to human resources: Your human resources department might be able to help you sort out paperwork and make your departure quick and easy. 
  2. Lean on your support system: If you need support, lean on your friends and loved ones. They’ll support you. 
  3. Reach out to your professional network. People who have been in your shoes may be able to offer helpful career advice, so don't hesitate to reach out in person or via LinkedIn. A few conversations might lead you to a job opportunity that’s a much better fit. 
  4. Sort out a financial plan: Financial security plays a big part in emotional and physical wellness. Losing that security can wreak havoc on your nerves. In 2022, 52% of Americans surveyed were worried about maintaining their standard of living — the first majority since 2016. Stress levels are skyrocketing again as inflation continues to increase. Protect your future well-being by establishing a financial plan before quitting.
  5. Understand your "why": What’s driving you to quit your job without notice? Understanding the motivating factors will make answering exit interview questions easier, and you’ll also have a clear idea of what you do and don’t want in your next role.
  6. Begin your job search: Set yourself up for success. If you're making a big career change or looking for something different, don’t wait until you’ve quit starting looking. Figure out what you’re looking for — do you want to be part-time, full-time, or freelance? In-person or remote? Tighten up your resume and learn your way around the many job-hunting tools available to you before walking away from your current job.

How to be professional when quitting without notice 

Quitting without notice can and should be done professionally. Just because you aren't giving two weeks' notice doesn't mean you can't leave on good terms. 

man-waving-goodbye-while-riding-on-a-bike-can-i-just-quit-my-job

Professionalism and kindness go a long way. Unless you’re escaping a toxic or unsafe workplace, be sincere and respectful of other people's emotions. 

Keep these tips in mind when delivering the news:

  • Share your decision with your boss directly, not through coworkers. They should hear it from you personally
  • Regulate your emotions — don't raise your voice. Speak calmly and avoid inappropriate or unprofessional language
  • Do what you can to leave on a positive note. Be as helpful as possible in your final hours, and say goodbye to your coworkers
  • Be honest about why you're leaving
  • When possible, give honest feedback in exit interviews or surveys

You know yourself best

If you’re still asking, "Can I just quit my job?" know that the decision is ultimately up to you. Don’t feel pressured to stay at a job that makes you feel unsafe, disrespected, or just plain miserable. 

Now you know how to quit a job without notice. And you know that it’s possible to do it respectfully and professionally. Leaving on good terms goes a long way and keeps your network strong. 

The job you’re leaving wasn’t meant to last forever. The next one probably won’t be, either. What’s most important is that you find a balance between your career development and well-being. And that means knowing when it’s time to walk away.

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Published November 9, 2022

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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