Should I Stay or Should I Go?

It may seem crazy to consider leaving a job when some may have only recently found a position or are still looking to land any job, especially in government. But the declining retention of millennials in the workplace – particularly the public workplace – is real. For a more free-spirited generation hungry for purpose and keen not to waste our time, it can be difficult to determine whether a job is worth leaving or sticking out.

Recent studies have shown millennials to be the happiest government employees of any generation, because they feel their work is important and that their bosses invest in their personal growth. But despite being happy, young people on average tend to leave government jobs after 3.8 years. While millennials are attracted to the idea of serving the public, they may feel discouraged when faced with government’s perceived preference for rewarding long-term employees over performance. Millennials tend to be more comfortable with achievement-based awards and so when they see this type of bureaucracy, they choose to leave.

The overall workforce shows millennials have quite the turnover rate. According to a recent study by Ernst & Young, more than three-fourths of American millennial workers quit their jobs because of minimal wage growth. Additionally, lack of advancement opportunities, excessive overtime hours, environments that don’t encourage team work, and bosses who don’t allow flexibility were also cited as top reasons that millennials quit their jobs.

It’s expected that people come and go in the private sector as opportunities arise. But in government, the decision to leave a secure position with benefits can be especially difficult because there’s little guarantee that you’ll ever get another coveted government role.

The question is, when is it worth leaving and when is it worth staying? Consider these points:

  • Search yourself. It’s important to critically consider why you’re thinking of leaving. We all have those days where we just don’t feel like going to work. Try not to confuse that with the idea that you need to quit. If you find, however, that you’re miserable and your job is even making you physically or emotionally unwell, then it might be time to look for something else.
  • Watch for signals. These are signs to watch for if you find you lack excitement about the bigger picture or day-to-day activities. They signal unhappiness, dissatisfaction with the job, and feeling of going nowhere. Maybe you find that you can’t stand the thought of having your boss’s job, which means you don’t see yourself at the organization for the long-term. Another signal to look out for is consistent underperformance. If you feel like you keep trying to get better but you’re not seeing results, it may be time to consider if you’re right for that job, or if your boss and colleagues value what you have to offer.
  • Test the waters. It’s difficult assessing whether a job is really taking you where you want to go versus feeling like you’re just being a quitter. If you’ve been considering quitting for at least three months or more, then it’s important to gain some insight from mentors and peers. Talk to loved ones, and talk to your boss to see how you’re perceived and what you’re capable of achieving in your role.

If your boss isn’t open to that, ask to see a performance review. Do the comments make you feel empowered or disheartened? If you’re doing pretty badly, it might be time to leave before you further damage your representation. You may also be pleasantly surprised by seeing that people at your workplace really believe in you and it could be worth staying.

  • Know the risks. Make sure you’ve addressed all the pros and cons before deciding to leave. You know how hard it was to get to your position, and there are lists of people who’d be more than happy to take your place. Consider the downsides: you may burn bridges, lose needed income, or hurt your resume.

In government, it can be difficult to navigate with lost relationships or a “quit” mark on your resume. Remember, you’ll have to explain that for every interview thereafter. You also need to consider if you’ve quit jobs before or have been let go. People usually get ten chances to quit a job in their lifetime, which works out to an average of one every four years. If you’re seen as a serial job-changer, that can definitely hurt your professional reputation.

  • Always leave toward something. It’s always better to have at least an idea of what you want to do, or have something lined up if you plan on leaving a job. Quitting should be based on a decision to secure a positive role, not on an emotional whim or to avoid a negative situation. Don’t leave without having a plan or strategy in place. It’s also important to consider your financial situation. You wouldn’t want to leave if you haven’t saved up enough, especially since you don’t know how long unemployment can last.

Note to all interns
If you are currently in a temporary internship position and are thinking of quitting, don’t. Because your internship would span three months to a year, it’s definitely worth sticking it out. Leaving an internship can be seen as a serious lack of maturity. Unless you need to leave for personal hardship, extenuating circumstances, or you got an offer from your absolute dream job, I would never recommend leaving an internship you’ve already started. It’s especially important before accepting a temporary position that you consider whether it’s paid as well as whether it will conflict with your coursework if you’re enrolled in school. Leaving an internship is a great way to lose mentors, relationships, and burn bridges. The advice above is for those in entry-level jobs that will last for at least a period of two years or more. For those just starting their first few internships, as much as you may hate the position, it’s only temporary and always worth sticking it out.


Check out this GovLoop Forum for govies’ thoughts on leaving federal positions.


Have you felt like quitting a job? What was your experience? Did you go through with leaving or did you stick it out? What advice do you have for millennials and leaving government jobs? Share your thoughts in the comments!


For more reading about millennials in public service, check out this weekly GovLoop series, First 5: Advice from millennial to millennial


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What about term positions? Is this similar to an internship? A term position can typically be hired for a specific project where the length of the term is determined by the time needed to complete the project. How is it likely to be viewed if you leave a term position for another job prior to the end of the term. On one hand, they cannot promise you employment beyond the term of the position, and so most employees would likely be looking for the next gig for a seamless transition. On the other hand, in the event that you leave a term early, you have left a project prior to its completion.