Diana Wendell (name changed on request) struggles to restrain herself from cursing her former managers. An American expat and school teacher, Wendell recalls an incident where her school children had to rush her to the hospital during the early days of COVID-19. Explaining further she says, “As some staff got COVID-19 during the height of the pandemic, some staff had no choice, but to stay home. The skeletal staff that weren't given the option to take leave were put in the classes of the sick teachers and that is how the sickness spread.” There was a supervisor who compelled them all to add more to their already full plates, despite strong protests.
Overworked, Wendell was also told that she had to train students for a school play. She contracted COVID-19, but as there was no fever, she was told to still attend school. She managed to get a day’s rest, but that was all. Things took a turn for the worse, when the medicines she consumed were far too strong and she went into seizure and later woke up in the Intensive Care Unit. Later, she learnt that the school children had rushed her to the hospital, by calling an ambulance. She resigned the next day.
There are others who share Wendell’s emotions. The horror stories of terrible bosses, manipulative colleagues and tyrant managements start to pour in, quickly. Another who prefers to remain unnamed, relates the tale of a ‘bully and narcissist’ manager. “The company was rotten to the core. I mentally checked out. I handed in my resignation and never looked back,” she says.
If the job’s not working for you, quit, that’s the consensus.
‘Quitting isn’t about admitting defeat…’
There’s a sense of relief and pride among those who quit their job to save their mental health. “No job is worth your sanity,” explains Lavanya Rustagi, a marketing manager, based in Sharjah, who says she has quit numerous toxic jobs in the past six years. “My mother was furious with me for quitting toxic jobs and said it was leading to a chequered resume, but I am glad that I did. I am in a good place now, instead of handling irregular work hours and toxic bosses.”
“It was the best decision that I ever made,” says Stephen Matthew, an American freelancer from Dubai. Matthew recalls his days of working long hours at a marketing agency, with barely any time to breathe. “I quit after they tried to stop me from going to be with my family after my cousin passed away,” he says. “Enough was enough. I quit without a job in hand and I was terrified, but I would rather be without a job than to be in a place that has absolutely no respect for my emotions,” he says. “It has been a little difficult since then as a freelancer, but I have no regrets.”
Quitting a job isn’t about admitting defeat or demonstrating a lack of resilience, explains Scott Armstrong, the founder of Mentl Space, a Dubai-based wellness platform that addresses mental health issues. “It’s about recognising when an environment or situation no longer aligns with your values, aspirations, or mental well-being,” he says. Armstrong adds that when one continues to remain in a toxic workspace, it stifles their personal growth that can lead to burnout, stress and emotional exhaustion.
“Choosing mental well-being over stagnation means valuing oneself enough to prioritise personal health and happiness, even if it entails stepping into the unknown,” he says.
The answer then, seems straightforward, to most. Quit. But does it always benefit your mental health? When does it not?
‘A temporary fix’
Sometimes, it feels like a breath of fresh air to send in that resignation. However, that’s just the beginning.
Quitting a job may make us happy in the short run, as we focus on the immediate change and how it will make us feel but not what will happen a month later, says Shweta Misra, clinical psychologist at Aspris Wellbeing Centre in Dubai. “However, it may just be a day, a week, or even a month before we adapt, and new difficulties arise,” she says. Quitting a job that you find toxic can increase overall happiness in the short run, but it may jeopardise your future attempts at finding happiness.
Moreover, the reason for quitting a job can also affect your well-being. You need to ask yourself some questions as well. “Is it something about you or is it something about the job? Because if it’s you, you will likely bring that problem to your next job. What we have to ask ourselves is: What are you leaving? What do you no longer want in your work life? And more importantly, what do you want? Remember, we take ourselves with us to the new job and as they say you can run but you can’t hide,” explains Misra.
Is it something about you or is it something about the job? Because if it’s you, you will likely bring that problem to your next job. What we have to ask ourselves is: What are you leaving? What do you no longer want in your work life? And more importantly, what do you want?
For instance, are you the permanent ‘yes man’ and keep agreeing to take on more work, even when you can’t? Or do you keep answering phone calls after work hours and agree to work on weekends because you don’t want to upset your manager? If that’s the case, you need to examine how to reinstate your boundaries as well, while re-evaluating the job, adds Misra. How can you change yourself to survive at a workplace, and is the change worth it?
‘In the moment…’
Misha from Abu Dhabi (who prefers to have her name changed), recalls how she “rage-quit” her job at a bank, without a job in hand. “In the moment, it seemed like a glorious decision. I detested my job, the people, and my managers, because everything seemed to suffocating. One day I got into an argument with my manager because she belittled me in front of everyone. I was in tears, and I sent in my resignation. It felt so good at first, but days later, I started feeling even more anxious and stressed out. I didn’t have a job, and was relying on my parents and sometimes friends for money. It was horrible, and I felt so ashamed and embarrassed. For eight months, I was living like that, looking for jobs, getting into different debts,” she says.
Misha advises, “If you don’t like your job at all, quit for sure, but only if you have another job in hand or savings to support you. It’s a daring risk, be sure that you can handle it. Otherwise, you face a worse load of mental health issues. It’s not easy for everyone to just quit a job. I learned the hard way.”
Nathalie Kachouh, co-founder and managing director of Sparks of Art believes that a lot of factors need to be taken account before quitting a job. The circumstances are not always so simple. “It also depends on the situation. If you are responsible for a family, and if you leave without another job in hand, it will lead to more mental health issues, rather than alleviating your stress,” she says.
To quit or not to quit?
Sometimes, quitting might seem like the only thing to do. But if you feel conflicted about quitting, because it’s drastic and it could still give you that much-needed peace, start addressing the issues that are actually bothering you, before taking the step. First look inwards and look for ways to address the stress, says Kachouh. Find different and creative outlets to express tension, which could be in the form of music and sport. Lean on your support system, such as family and friends, as well, and explain how you’re feeling. On the workfront, work at being more vocal about providing feedback and requesting changes you deem necessary, so that timely changes can be made.
“When we’re in a toxic environment, we forget what we love. So we need to focus on what’s actually going right and practise gratitude at first,” adds Kachouh, saying that this slowly helps to center the person first, before they tackle the workplace. Take a few steps back, and practise some mindfulness.
When we’re in a toxic environment, we forget what we love. So we need to focus on what’s actually going right and practise gratitude at first..
Another element is how you handle people at the workplace itself. There will always be people who will try to overpower you, she says. That’s not going to change, no matter whichever workplace you go to. It’s about how you learn to defend yourself and assert yourself with dominating people like that. There’s no ideal office and ideal colleagues.
Here are a few coping mechanisms that you could employ at your current job
• List positive affirmations about yourself each morning
• Take breaks throughout the day as possible
• Reflect on the assistance you provide through your work
• Reach out to your colleagues or supervisor to process difficult situations
• Take mindful walks
• List three things you’re proud of from that day, before going to bed
• Strengthen your boundaries with work, whether that means turning your email notifications off or leaving at a specific time each evening
• Do something that makes you feel good after work, whether it’s a hot shower or walking a dog
• Seek out connections with co-workers
• Think about ways you can find greater meaning in your work
• Focus on people and activities you enjoy spending time with or exploring outside of work
(Courtesy VeryWellMind.com, a mental health website)