The Stigma of Quitting: Why It Exists and How It Impacts Future Career Opportunities
In the mid-2000s, Dave Chappelle was arguably the biggest star in America. Comedy Central’s “Chappelle’s Show” was a smash hit and the man behind it all was one of the most beloved figures in show business — until he quit.
In 2006, Chappelle shocked the world by walking away from what was arguably the most influential show on television and the $50 million that went with it. He moved to South Africa and faded into obscurity for the better part of a decade.
In the public eye, he instantly went from being a courageous comedic genius to a mentally unstable sellout, a fraud and a failure.
According to Medium, Chappelle plainly stated his reason for leaving: “This show is ruining my life.”
The job required 20-hour days, robbed him of his privacy, made family life impossible and prevented him from trusting the people around him. But none of that mattered. In the public eye, he was ungrateful for all he had been given and he didn’t hold up his end of the bargain.
He was a quitter.
That same stigma hounds people who leave similarly unfulfilling, unhealthy jobs — whether they work behind a deli counter or run a corporation. Despite COVID, the Great Resignation and the rise of “quiet quitting,” people who prioritize their own well-being over loyalty to the boss are still reviled and ridiculed.
The following is an examination of the phenomenon, its consequences and what can be done to change it.
Society Celebrates Sticking It Out — ‘Quitters Never Win and Winners Never Quit’
Linda Shaffer is the chief people and operations officer at Checkr, a modern HR background check platform “aimed at building a fairer future.” In her view, there’s a simple reason why the stigma around quitting has been so hard to shake.
“We’ve been taught to believe that quitting is bad,” she said. “We’re told that it’s a sign of weakness, that it’s unprofessional, and that it makes us look like we can’t handle difficult situations. Many people still hold the belief that quitting is a moral failing. We’ve been taught to believe that we should stick it out, no matter how bad things are, because to do anything else would be giving up.”
Mental Health Stigma Is the Source of Resignation Stigma
In Shaffer’s experience, the suspicion and hostility toward people who walk away from work ultimately stem from false but widespread misconceptions about mental health.
“We’ve been taught to believe that our mental health is a reflection of our strength or weakness,” she said. “If we’re feeling bad, it’s because we’re weak. And if we’re struggling, it’s because we’re not trying hard enough. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Mental health is complex and dynamic, and it ebbs and flows over time. Just because someone is struggling doesn’t mean they’re weak, and just because someone quits doesn’t mean they’re a quitter.”
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Sometimes, Quitting Is the Best Thing You Can Do
If you’re thinking of walking away from a job that’s draining you, remember that resigning can be a testament to personal character.
“Quitting can be a sign of resilience and resourcefulness, especially when you need more than what your current employer has offered you,” said Kimberley Tyler-Smith, an executive at the career tech platform Resume Worded. “It can show that you’re invested enough in your future that you’re willing to leave something behind when it no longer serves you.”
She added, “In today’s world of rapid change, there’s so much uncertainty that any time we can make something better by changing our minds about it or just walking away from it, we should. The world needs people who can adapt to new situations and move on when something isn’t working anymore. So, when it comes time to quit, don’t feel bad about it. If your heart is telling you it’s time to move on, listen and act accordingly.”
No matter how noble your intentions or legitimate your reasons, be prepared for the consequences of quitting — a resume littered with resignations is almost certain to impact your career.
“While there are no hard and fast rules, generally speaking, quitting is not looked upon favorably by employers,” said Shaffer. “This is because it can be seen as a sign of instability or lack of commitment.”
It also hands all the leverage to the next hiring manager who interviews you.
“Candidates who apply for a new job after quitting are at a disadvantage in salary negotiations,” said Victoria Pearce, a career and personal branding expert who spent years working in corporate HR before founding Victoria Pearce Writing. “This is because employers recognize that the candidate likely needs to find a new job quickly and will start their offer lower in an attempt to take advantage.”
This reality only contributes to the cycle. Starting a new job from a position of weakness sets a bad precedent that’s likely to lead to ongoing exploitation, making you all the more likely to want to quit again.
Shaffer believes that three things need to happen for society to start viewing quitting as just another acceptable career/life move, like asking for a raise or seeking a promotion.
First, people need to reframe their beliefs about what it means to leave a job.
“Quitting isn’t a sign of weakness,” said Shaffer. “It’s a sign of strength. It takes courage to walk away from something that isn’t working, and it takes even more courage to do so when society tells us we should be sticking it out.
Second, people need to support those around them who are considering walking away.
“If you know someone who is considering quitting, be supportive,” Shaffer said. “Listen to their reasons for wanting to leave, and offer advice if they’re unsure of what to do next.”
Finally, we need to place a higher premium on communication.
“Quitting is still seen as taboo,” Shaffer said. “Part of the reason for that is because we don’t talk about it enough. We need to normalize quitting by talking about it more openly. This includes both the good and the bad. When we talk about quitting, we should focus on the individual’s reasons for wanting to leave, and not on the act itself.”
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