When Resignation is the Best Option

When Resignation is the Best Option

  • Posted by Stephen White
  • On December 1, 2018
  • back to square one, career roadblocks, overcoming career obstacles, resigning from a job, resigning from a job without lining up another, starting over in a career, when resigning from a job is the best option


I was listening to my favourite radio station the other day and they played a song I hadn’t heard for a very long time.  The song is entitled “Back to Square One”, recorded in 1988 by Canadian composer and songwriter Ian Thomas.


Oddly, there are four verses in the song that strongly resonated with me which I have reproduced below:

Sometimes people drift apart for no reason
No one thing to blame, just an accumulation
Of unintended things that you might say.

And when you finally realize you’ve got a problem
Oh and it’s all too real, you stand accused of all
The changes in you that you could not feel.

You might attempt to talk things over
And find there’s not a single thing to say

It’s time to move on, time to move on
Time to move to another track, it’s time to take
Yourself on back to square one.

Although ostensibly this is a love song I thought about it in the context of our modern workplace, and employees who, for whatever reason, sometimes find themselves locked into their jobs, frustrated, and are contemplating leaving.

Canadian singer and songwriter Ian Thomas.

Canadian singer and songwriter Ian Thomas.



Shedding Light on a Real Dilemma

Several times I’ve encountered employed individuals who have felt trapped, angry, bitter and frustrated.  They think their only option is to resign.  So, are there situations and circumstances when it is better to leave than to stay employed?  I would suggest the answer is “It depends”.  Here are some thoughts.

First, if you have a job it is usually easier to find another than if you are unemployed.  Sadly, this truism is still true.  Prospective employers look askance at someone who has resigned without another position lined up.  Many recruiters are still skeptical about applicants who will leave a paying position to search for another, and will often view it as reckless and impulsive.

Second, having money is better than having none.  Finding another position can take time.  If you have savings or another means of support then that can minimize the sting of not having an income.  However, if you don’t have that kind of support then you had better prepare for a job search that could last several months.

Third, explaining this on a resume or in an interview is challenging.  If you are fortunate enough to get past an applicant tracking system and secure an interview you had best be prepared for some pointed questions regarding your previous employment and the circumstances surrounding your leaving.  Without a convincing story your chances of getting past the first interview diminish drastically.


When Resignation is the Best Option

Having said this, are there situations when an employee would be wise to resign?  My answer is a qualified “yes”.  Here are examples:

  1. When you have been asked to do something illegal, and there is no one you can turn to who will defend you or intervene to correct this.  Your reputation is important, and if staying would require you to break the law or possibly face incarceration I would encourage you to leave ahead of time.  Doing this is a tangible demonstration that you recognize the issue, and that your principles will not permit you to stay.
  2. When you are being sexually harassed, physically abused, threatened or discriminated against, and management turns a blind eye to your predicament.  In this situation getting out is better than staying put and enduring abuse.  Before resigning though I would first encourage you to consult with a lawyer with a view to filing a lawsuit for damages or seeing what other options are available.
  3. If your physical or mental health is significantly impacted by remaining at work.  Again, before doing this I would also counsel you to consider taking a leave of absence first before making the decision to sever ties with your employer.  A medical leave provides a temporary respite, and can buy you time to think and reflect on your next career move.

“Moving to Another Track”

So, let’s say that for whatever reason you decide you want out, or, as the song says, you have a compelling need to “take yourself back to square one”.  How do you deal with these challenges?  Here are some ideas:

  1. Focus on contract employment.  Employers who hire contract employees invariably need people to start right away.  A workplace crisis or unforeseen event such as an unexpected medical emergency, a maternity leave or a sudden increase in business may compel employers to overlook a decision to resign from a previous employer.  Securing a contract position also puts distance between you and your unhappy workplace experience.
  2. Get your leaving story down pat, and make sure it is credible.  Rehearse possible questions or scenarios you may encounter during telephone or face-to-face interviews.  Make sure your story is believable, and refrain from criticizing your former supervisor.
  3. Network like crazy.  Reconnect with everyone in your network because in times of crisis they are your best source of leads and information.
  4. Make sure you have a support group.  If you resign from a position you will undoubtedly encounter periods of remorse or regret.  You need a strong support group to sustain you during this period of crisis.

A Personal Reflection

Earlier in my career I worked for an individual who was, to put it charitably, seriously mentally unstable.  Despite hiring me for reasons of which I was never certain she took an instant dislike to me early on. Nothing I ever did was right or good enough.  I used to go into the office early, sit at my desk, and listen to her as she walked down the hall.  The clicking of her heels on the highly polished floor held a clue as to the kind of mood she was in and the day I was about to experience.  Usually, it varied between overtly hostile to mildly condescending.

Over the course of my fifteen months employment I endured a torrent of yelling, screaming, insults, epithets and random acts of hostility.    Everyone in the company was afraid of her, but no one would ever confront, challenge or question her.  Her word was gospel, and she ruled with an iron fist.  One day, things came to a head, and after reflecting on events I did the unthinkable and resigned.

Was it a smart thing to do?  At the time I wasn’t sure.  Part of my unemployment occurred over the Christmas holiday.  It was an extremely difficult and emotionally gut-wrenching period in my life.  It took me five months to secure another position, one which, ironically, turned out to be  the best job and the best supervisor I ever had.  During the time I was unemployed I was frequently asked to justify my decision. I could see the doubts and questions in interviewers’ faces as I struggled lamely to answer their probing questions.

However, here’s the key point.  Sometimes in life principles are hard things to defend.  Sometimes, when your health, your integrity and your very character are being challenged, denigrated or diminished, you need to take a stand.  I could have stayed on and waited to be terminated, but by leaving I sent a very loud and unequivocal message.  A year after I left my former boss was terminated by the company President.  Unlike me, she never worked again in a corporate environment.  Justice?  Perhaps.


Final Thoughts

The term, “back to square one” actually has its origins in a child’s board game called “Snakes and Ladders”. In the game a player landing on a spot with a penalty has their piece moved back to the start.  Over time, the phrase has come to mean that if someone has failed in what they were attempting they need to start over again.

While Ian Thomas’ song will always be a romantic ballad I like to think of it as a reminder that in people’s careers, as in their love life, things are not always a perfect upward trajectory.  From time to time life throws all of us curves, and our capacity to adjust, the flexibility we demonstrate, and the resiliency we deploy, are what allows us to eventually “move to another track”.



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