‘I want to quit my job’: How to support a client considering a change

The Great Resignation. Epiphany-quitting. The Big Quit.
We’ve all seen these phrases pop up in recent headlines. As a career development professional, you may be hearing about them in your sessions, as clients seek guidance before or after leaving a job.
Over the past few decades, globalization, modern technology, enhanced access to education and training (we have a long way to go!), and other shifts have influenced people’s career mobility. The current COVID-19 pandemic is a more recent factor contributing to the trend of job switching or job leaving.
Recent reports show that 52% of Generation Z and millennials in Canada say they would think about quitting their jobs this year, while rising numbers of people say they will look for a new job if their employer requires them to return to the office full time. This article will explore how you can work with a client who comes to you for support regarding leaving their job, including key questions and strategies – and a couple of things to avoid.
For the undecided client
If your client is contemplating quitting but hasn’t made a decision yet, there are several steps you can take to help them find greater clarity.
Evoke awareness
It is essential to help your client explore any underlying issues behind the issue. Is their intent to quit really about the job? What else might be going on in their lives? If it is about the job, is it the job itself or are they facing a situation where they feel the only option is to quit?
“Ensure that you cultivate empathy, compassion and curiosity to really understand what your client may be experiencing.”
Often, I have clients come to me thinking the job is the issue, when after some discovery, it may be something outside of their work. Their thoughts and interpretations of a situation may be affecting their job satisfaction to the point that they want to quit.
Get clarity on their goals
What exactly do they want to walk away with after their time with you? Is it to help them decide whether to quit or not, to explore alternative options, to make a career change, to enhance job satisfaction?
Process the emotions
If a client is making a decision based on an immediate emotional reaction, acting on these feelings could lead to undesirable results and outcomes. Their decision then becomes a reaction rather than a well-thought-out, rational plan. I often see this happen when a client is experiencing burnout.
For instance, a client might feel inclined to make an emotion-driven decision after a poor performance review or an argument with a colleague, or due to negative self-talk about their value as an employee. In this case, it is important to check in with the client and explore if working on one of these areas might be a more suitable option.
Ensure that you cultivate empathy, compassion and curiosity to really understand what your client may be experiencing
Use strategic questioning
To support a client’s analysis and decision-making, and also challenge their current beliefs about what leaving their job might or might not do for them, you can raise key questions to help them reflect on their situation, such as:

In what way would no longer being at that job affect you?
What problem in your life would quitting your job solve?
What might be the benefits of staying in your current job, short term or long term?
If this was the only job available to you right now, what one thing would you change to make it work for you?

Explore all possible options  
Once you have clarity on the actual issue, encourage your client to brainstorm all possible solutions, options and opportunities they feel they may have. Only if they are truly stuck might you add to the list.
Some common options I have had clients come up with include staying until they have another job lined up, taking their vacation before making a decision, exploring work accommodations (e.g. going part time, changing tasks/duties, work flexibility, etc.), taking a leave, exploring ideas to enhance job satisfaction, building on capabilities and competencies, and exploring a career change.
For the client who’s decided to leave
After going through the above steps, you may find your client is 100% certain they want to leave their job. In that case, you could bring the following considerations into your sessions:

Ask the client about what supports and resources they have in place and what additional resources and supports they may need. This may include further services you may provide (or refer them to) such as how to write a letter of resignation, job search strategies, career exploration or grief counselling for job loss.
Ensure the client has a self-care and well-being plan in place.
Be mindful of judging. It does not matter if you disagree or agree with your client’s course of action. You need to support them through a non-judgmental approach.
Watch out for burning bridges: This goes back to processing the emotions. It is best that your client gets some counselling and coaching rather than taking a step that may hurt their future opportunities.

Two things to avoid
Your role is to help the client get more clarity into their situation and partner with them in working toward a healthy decision that will align with their values, priorities and well-being.
Unless you are qualified to do so or it is part of the contract you have set up with your client, refrain from:

Telling the client what to do. No, you cannot tell a client whether you think it is a good idea or bad idea for them to quit their job. Your client may ask you, but this is not your role.
Giving them legal advice. It is best you give the client resources (e.g. a government website, or refer them to an employment lawyer or their union and/or management, if they feel safe) where they can get the necessary information to help them make a decision.

However, if you feel a client is making a decision that you believe may negatively affect or harm them, there are ways for you to support them while still following ethical guidelines and professional standards. “Stepping in” is not synonymous with telling a client what to do. Stepping in means using tools and techniques to challenge the client’s current decision so they are able to broaden their perspective and understand the potential negative consequences of their actions, possibly leading them to reconsider or re-evaluate their decision. This can be done through the coaching and counselling processes, including some of the strategies outlined above.
The goal is to help them move toward a positive and safe outcome.
Working with a client who is contemplating leaving their job can be challenging and this may be an issue you encounter more often in your work going forward. I will end this with one powerful way to help your client: Ask yourself, if it were you in their position, how would you like to be supported?
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