The Lookout | 8.31.08
By Alan Dowd

The author of Ecclesiastes reminds us that “there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven”—a time to die and live, a time to mourn and dance, a time for silence and speaking, a time to build up and tear down, even a time for war. And the passage reassures us that there is also “a time to give up.” There is a time, in God’s perfect plan, to quit a job, a time to move on.

Last year was such a time for me. Leaving a stable job to weather the ups and downs of writing wasn’t an easy decision to make, but it was the right thing to do. Perhaps what I have learned will help you avoid—or at least navigate—some of the pitfalls of moving on.

Rights and Wrongs

First things first: Scripture makes it clear that work is an essential part of life. Without God’s work, after all, there would be no life. Jesus reminds us, “My Fatherisalways at hiswork to this very day, and I, too, am working.”[i] 

As Christians, we are called to imitate Christ, and one way we imitate Him is by working. At our best, we can actually glimpse traces of His creativity in the work we do.

Another way we imitate our creator is by how we work. “Whatever you do,” as Paul told the Colossians, “work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.”

That certainly puts the day-to-day grind in a new light. Even when your supervisor isn’t looking, even when your clients and customers are oblivious, the One you serve is always present, always watching, always interested in the quality of your work.

We should also imitate our creator in how we move on.

Quitting is not a pleasant subject. Perhaps the only thing less pleasant, at least when it comes to work life, is being fired.

But quitting is a part of working nowadays. In fact, a recent labor survey found that 75 percent of workers in America are looking for a different job,[ii] which means they are prepared to quit their current job.

This relatively new phenomenon of job-churning is especially challenging for people of faith. After all, as Christians, we are called to persevere and overcome. Plus, we know the value the Bible places on loyalty. And so, when we contemplate moving on, we hear Paul’s words challenging us to keep at it.

But there is a time to move on, and there is a right way and a wrong way—a smart way and a dumb way—to do so. As an executive, incoming hire and outgoing employee, I have found that the right way and the smart way usually overlap.

It’s right and smart to…

Talk with God before you leave your job.

Proverbs promises, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” Regardless of His answer—a burning bush, a whisper, even silence—talking with God will help. And you never know, He might actually send you a burning bush. Some time ago, I was struggling with whether I should transition to a different job, when I opened up The Wall Street Journal to find the following headline: “How to Keep Your Job or Decide to Leave if New CEO Arrives.” The kicker: I was waiting outside the new CEO’s office. After a year of wrestling and worrying, I finally had the confirmation I needed.

Of course, God doesn’t usually send me burning bushes—or Wall Street Journals. That’s why before I begin a new chapter in my work life, I always ask God to guide me to the right choice. And if it ends up being the wrong choice, I ask Him to make lemonade out of the lemons I give Him. I think God honors this posture. It presupposes that a) He knows more than I know, b) He knows what’s best for me, c) even if my motives are good and my methods are sound, I may end up making a mistake, and d) He has the power to fix my mistakes—or to carry me through them.

It’s wrong and dumb to…

Trust such an important matter to people as flawed you and me.
Talk with trusted friends—friends who know you and know the Lord—about your plans. Solomon was considered the wisest man on earth, and yet he said, “Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still.” Perhaps he was so wise because he was also willing to listen.

It’s right and smart to…

Look for new career opportunities from time to time.

There is nothing immoral about building a career or protecting your family from downsizing and all the other euphemisms for firing. Firms simply are not as loyal as they once were. I am reminded of Jesus’ surprising advice to His disciples to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”[iii] 

It’s wrong and dumb to…

Lie about looking. It’s a sin, and when you finally do find the next job, your boss and coworkers will know you were lying. Even so, be shrewd.

It’s right and smart…

Help your boss and coworkers through the transition.
Institutional knowledge is the hardest asset for an employer to replace. Your boss can find another salesperson or programmer, accountant or secretary, but your boss can’t find another you. No one knows all the nooks and crannies, headaches and hiccups, of your job the way you do. Sharing this information with your boss or, even better, your replacement will make your boss’s life easier and it will reflect well on you.

Marshall Loeb, who writes a career-management column for The Wall Street Journal, encourages those who are moving on to offer to train their successors. It can make a big difference—and leave a great impression. When our webmaster told me he was ready to move on, I asked him if he would be willing to help me recruit and train his replacement. It was a great relief when he said yes. He developed a testing tool to help select the best person for the job and then spent a day training him. It made the transition smoother, and it made me indebted to him for going the extra mile.

It’s wrong and dumb to…

Check out as soon as you give your two-week notice.

Sadly, we all know departing coworkers who effectively stopped working as soon as they informed the boss that they were moving on. Loeb calls it “senioritis.”

I encourage people to give more than a two-week notice, if at all possible. I have given anywhere between four weeks and ten weeks lead time to employers. This allows for a more thorough search process, makes room for better training and contributes to continuity and stability.

On a related note, it’s wrong and dumb to give a two-week notice and then use vacation time so that the transition period is more like two days. As Christians, we are called to say what we mean and mean what we say. Two weeks means two weeks. To you, those two weeks may not mean much. But to the boss and coworkers you are leaving behind, they may make the difference between a healthy quarter or a sour one, a hellish month or a smooth one, a reflection of Christ’s character or just another empty, windy witness.

It’s right and smart to…

Work as hard your last week as you did your first.

Paul’s admonishment to the Colossians is helpful here: Whatever we do, we are called to work at it with all our strength, remembering that we are working for the Lord, not for men.

God knows if you are working at half-speed or full-speed. He knows if you are shaving a few minutes from closing time or adding a few minutes to lunchtime. And the odds are good that your boss and coworkers will notice too. If it’s hard to change a first impression, it’s impossible to change a last impression.

It’s wrong and dumb to…

Leave in a hurry or a huff.

If you think that leaving a mess behind will prove some point or send some message to the CEO, think again. In most cases, leaving in such a manner only hurts your colleagues and coworkers. They are the ones who will pick up the pieces and clean up the mess.

When and if your former boss finally finds out about the time bombs you left behind, it will only make him or her think less of you and perhaps less of the One you call savior—the One whose book is on your desk, the One whose cross is on your neck. 

[i] John 5:17

[ii] Marshall Loeb, “Before calling its quits, know how to exit a job with grace,” Wall Street Journal, April 30, 2007.

[iii] Matthew 10:16