Your Career Q&A: How to Recognize When It Is Time to Leave a Job

By Martin Yate Jan 31, 2017
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​Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column. 

Hi, Martin. I've worked in HR for several years and as HR manager at my current employer for 20 months. We're a medium-sized company with approximately 300 employees and a small HR department.

At first, senior management was very welcoming and eager to hear my opinions on issues the company had been struggling with. But over time, my opinion has been drowned out by long-time managers who don't want to see things change, even though their outdated practices are slowing down the company's growth.

I've accepted that I'll win some battles and lose others. But recently, I've noticed that one senior manager has stopped including me in department meetings where I'd previously played a big role. When I asked a department member I trust about it, she said that the manager didn't want to hear my new ideas anymore since they required changing processes and trying new approaches, so she just stopped inviting me. I'm afraid to confront the manager, since she carries a lot of authority and is close with the CEO. Any suggestions?

Sylvia,

Reading, Pa.


You could have been talking about the worst job I ever had, which was running an HR department in Silicon Valley. Our shared experience is far from unique.

[Need to learn more about Business Acumen & HR Strategy? Speakers at the 2017 SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition are exploring these topics.]

For me, it was a long-standing family business with 350 employees that happened to be in the right place at the right time. It was an engineering and machine shop with mostly older, tenured managers overworking the rapidly expanding, (sometimes) semi-skilled production staff to produce a high-margin product for an insatiable market. They ran 24/7 year-round in four shifts and were building facilities to quadruple manufacturing manpower within three years. Before I came on board, the HR department was run by one underskilled person who had held the job for 20 years.

Acquired by a major public company, the business was told to organize the HR function; this is when I came onboard. The division head, the vice president of engineering and the newly hired managers understood and supported the changes that had to be made. The old-line managers, mainly responsible for the production of this product in demand worldwide, liked things just as they had always been.

I relived those two years of my life when reading your question. Here are the things I tried once I noted the passive-aggressiveness you are running into and how it all ultimately played out. I know these ideas will help spark new ways to look at your situation and make the right decision:

  • I sought advice at the local Society for Human Resource Management chapter's monthly meeting.
  • I met with the problem managers, explained that I felt our relationship was becoming less productive and asked what I could do to serve their needs more effectively.
  • I delivered on those requests and followed up with a meeting to confirm that the results were satisfactory and met their needs, and if any tweaking was necessary I made sure it was done.
  • At a third meeting, I asked a highly regarded manager for advice on how to help the new corporate directives take root, noting that the entire company was being affected because these directives weren't being achieved.
  • I requested a monthly meeting with the division director to discuss goals and progress and to seek counsel on problems. I didn't name names unless pressed and then would be careful to note that this was not just a problem with a single department but a group of departments, which I would name. I would again share my concerns about the impact such problems could have on the bottom line.

Over time I tried to establish consensus with senior management on an approach that would attack the underlying resistance to change, rather than singling out an individual. Eventually, after all management ranks had been addressed on growth challenges and the need to change with the new business environment, I sat down with the division director to understand how he wanted me to adapt strategy going forward.

In his view, the managers who were resisting change—the ones who had been running the machine shop and production lines for years—were all approaching retirement, and he didn't think they were going to adopt any new practices anytime soon.

However, without them getting on board with the new strategies, we had no hope of keeping up with demand, and his job would be the first to go in that situation. I was assured of his complete support (we still keep in touch) and was asked to be patient; he felt they would gradually come around.

Management couldn't afford to offer them a buyout, and I was convinced that they would never do things the new way because they understood the power they held. At that time, I had worked two years in the job. Three months later I had secured a new job and I gave my two weeks' notice.

Your toxic situation must be affecting your skills development, work, attitude, personal life and health. You have to recognize when you cannot win, and when that happens you need to cut your losses and move on before you become the fall guy.

The good news is that we learn the most from our mistakes and bad experiences, and whatever difficulty you are going through today, it is incredibly valuable experience that you can reference throughout your career.

Have a question for Martin? E-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know. We look forward to hearing from you!

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