6 Subtle Warning Signs That It’s Time to Leave Your Current HR Job 

By Alan Collins 

Here’s a quick story a headhunter friend of mine likes to tell about a fictitious fisherman.

As his story goes, this fishing dude had just bought a brand new shiny anchor for his boat.

And as he went forward to tie it to the side of his boat, he slipped and fell overboard.

Suddenly, he’s sitting on the bottom of the river in fifteen feet of water, cradling his new anchor.

He paid a lot for it, didn’t want to let go…but he was running out of breath.

So, realizing his choice was either to drown or lose the anchor, he reluctantly let it go and swims to the surface.

And he lives to fish again.

Not one to waste a good story, the fisherman then shares his near-death experience with his colleagues the next day at work.

Everyone has a good laugh at his expense.

But then he shares something else that stops them dead in their tracks.

“You know something, sitting at the bottom of that river for an uncomfortable period of time, I saw my entire professional career flash before my eyes.

And, I realized that this incident was trying to tell me something. 

That something was this…

“Some folks treat their job as a
prized anchor, too. They hold on
to it for years and don’t want to
let go…until they have no choice
and just run out of breath!”

Think about it.

*   *   *

Does this apply to you?

If so, I don’t begrudge you.

From personal experience, I can tell you that one of the toughest things any HR pro does is deciding to leave the anchor of their current job…voluntarily.

Leaving colleagues you’ve built deep personal relationships with can be emotionally traumatic – even when you know it’s time to move on.

Figuring out which days you’re going to discreetly take off to interview for another job is a pain.

Polishing up your resume and interviewing skills is no fun.

Going through the gauntlet of interviewers you’ve never met can feel like getting a root canal.

So arriving at this decision point is not easy.

Libby Sartain, former Senior VP – Human Resources at Yahoo in her old classic book HR From The Heart, talks about clues that tell you when it’s time to move on to your next HR role.

She advises that it’s time to make this difficult transition when…

#1 — You’re not having fun anymore.

You used to get up in the morning anxious to get going.

But now you find yourself dragging your butt into the shower each morning, absolutely dreading the thought of going to work.

If you have to press that snooze button three or four more times than normal, then it’s time to dust off the resume.

*   *   *

#2 — You don’t see things improving.

You’ve talked to your boss about tackling more exciting projects or assignments, but they’ve resisted.

You’re doing more grunt work than you’d like and it’s sapping your passion.

You’re working with a toxic client who brings out your worst instincts.

And, you’ve tried to take responsibility for making things better, but with no success.

If any of these are the case, you face the tough choice.  You either stay where the conditions will continue bothering you or find a different environment.

*   *   *

#3 — There’s no way for you to move up.

Perhaps you’re an HR leader and you’ve worked hard to groom your successor.

But now things have changed either because of a re-organization or due to a COVID-19 downsizing…and there’s no place for you to go.

If this is the case, maybe your next step is to move on.

If you stay put, recognize that your growth and development may likely stop dead in its tracks for awhile…and you’ll feel the pressure that you’re keeping someone else (your successor) from taking that next step (into your job).

*   *   *

#4 — You’ve lost your influence.

People who used to hang on your every word, now aren’t listening to you anymore.

They aren’t laughing at your jokes anymore.

It could be that the joke’s on you.

If you notice that some of your best past supporters, now seem to roll their eyes and humor you — it could be time to make a move.

If you’re feeling ineffective, it could be that for some reason you longer have credibility to be that agent of change you must be as an HR pro.

If so, those aren’t good signs.

*   *   *

#5 — You have nothing new to put on your resume.

You don’t have any new epic, game-changing HR projects on the horizon.

There are no new assignments that make your pulse race.

Those new breakthrough, innovative HR initiatives or the high-profile corporate task force assignments seem to be going to other people.

You’re only there because you love the folks you work with.

Finally, and this is a big one…

*   *   *

#6 — You are physically reacting to your job.

You suffer from headaches and other stress related symptoms while engaged in your work.

Even if you’re working at home due to the pandemic, you seem constantly agitated.

You seek out confrontations, even in phone conversations, where none exists.

You take your job frustrations out on colleagues, family and friends.

Sleeping is tough and negativity seemingly spills over into every area of your life.

*   *   *

Here’s the bottom line on all of this…

Any of these six symptoms are subtle warning signs that it’s time to find another HR role.

Now let me tell something else we both know.

Most people deep down inside know when it’s time to move on.

But they hang on to that anchor anyway.

There are lots of reasons.

Fear of failure or just fear of the unknown are two of the most common ones.  And making a move it’s a lot easier said than done.

But making a move may be the wisest decision you’ll ever make.

So this presents a real dilemma.

My suggestion:  Take some time and carefully consider it. 

Also read through the comments below of others, like you, who are thinking through this question as well. 

If you DO decide to move on…then DO IT and don’t look back!

Cherish the rich experiences you had with your colleagues and the organization.

Be grateful for the deep personal and professional relationships you’ve built.

Have a great going-away party…even a virtual one…and laugh, cry and roast each other about the good times you’ve had.

Capture the phone numbers and email addresses of those you’ll want to stay connected with.  Make sure they’re part of your LinkedIn network. Give out virtual hugs and make a heartfelt promise to them that you’ll stay in contact.

And then leave.

With absolutely no regrets.

And then look forward to your new, exciting and enjoyable challenge ahead.

All that said, right now, you have an important decision to make. 

If your job is operating as an “anchor,” will you hang on to it?

Or will you let it go, like the fisherman did?

The choice is yours.

Onward!

I’d love your thoughts on this article.  Please add your comments by clicking HERE.

###

For even more tips and strategies for handling tough career dilemmas and advancing your career in HR, check out:  UNWRITTEN HR RULES: 21 Secrets For Attaining Awesome Career Success in Human Resources. featuring

For more details, go HERE.

____

When the time comes to change jobs and polish up your interviewing skills, check out:  HR INTERVIEW SECRETS: How to Ace Your Next Human Resources Interview, Dazzle Your Interviewers & LAND THE JOB YOU WANT!

For more details go HERE.

About the author:  Alan Collins is Founder of Success in HR, Inc. and the author of the a variety of best selling books for HR professionals. He was formerly Vice President – Human Resources at PepsiCo where he led HR initiatives for their Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana businesses.

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37 Responses to “6 Subtle Warning Signs That It’s Time to Leave Your Current HR Job ”

  1. Esther R Says:

    Dear Alan,

    This is the first time I’m writing to you, but I love your blog and hang unto your every word.

    I absolutely agree with your article. It took me a long time to move on and I took a conscious decision to quit and move to another country.

    Fear of failure and unknown were the prime reasons. But, If we take that first step with courage, I’ve realised you gain not only a step up in your career but also a major amount of confidence in yourself.

    I think we owe it to ourselves to move once we are not growing any longer.

  2. Sholihin Aziz Says:

    Great articles !!! Yes you’re right, when all the six symptoms appears…don’t look back, decide and leave the company. I decides the same too when any of those symtoms appears. Now, I have landed a new job again and this is the 8th job in my HR career 🙂 and still thought to change job again when mission accomplished later.

  3. Pam Says:

    I took a position in Human Resources with a privately held firm and I knew within 6 months that I had made a terrible mistake. The culture of the organization was toxic and there was a lot of mistrust and infighting. Needless to say, the company’s business was struggling s well. I stayed for 2.5 years and the damage to my health and well being was tremendous. If ever faced with this situation again, I will leave sooner rather than later. It is better to be in the job search mode looking forward to your next assignment than to be drowning in a situation that you are unable to positively impact.

  4. millicent Says:

    This is true and great. But the more you change jobs often leaves the HRMs with a doubting minding on you that you are always a job hopper and you still not stay in the organisation you are being interviewed. This might send a bad image on you and may be a cause of not being hired. My option. Advice….

  5. Tiffany Says:

    I am currently searching for a new role for the very reasons you list in this article. Hindsight is 20/20, and it is definitely hard to admit that you may not have made the right decision when you accepted an offer. When I recently took my role, I was excited about all of the prospects, growth, and personal reward. I now realize that this is not a good fit, and I am coming to terms with the fact that it is time to move on. I always tell friends and colleagues to never underestimate themselves, their dreams, or hold themselves back from what truly makes them happy. Now it’s time for me to take my own advice and go back to being excited to go to work, learn, and blossom.

  6. Melanie Says:

    Thank you for this article. I personally experienced a devastating nervous breakdown as a result of staying too long in a toxic and unmanageable culture. During my 8 years in a progressively responsible HR role and eventual rise to VP of the department, I was able to make considerable progress in many areas. However as the company grew, the fundamental (and very poor) management style of the CEO (to whom I reported and who, while I disagreed with many of her decisions, had great respect for) did not evolve to suppor the company’s needs. I personally spent almost 100% of my time the last 2-3 years of my tenure responding to legal claims and trying to make up for very poor choices made – against my advice – by executive management. The damage to my health – both physical and psychological was severe. It took a doctor forcing me to take a medical leave of absence for me to understand I could not return. That was in August 2012. I resigned in November 2012 (while still officially on leave. I have only recently felt well enough to begin interviewing again. I love my work in HR, but I will never again ignore my gut. I will never again accept that I am meant to work in culture that toxic.

  7. Vaishnavi Says:

    Dear Alan,
    Im only a student looking forward for HR job. Its worth reading your points and stories which u set as example… I love ur blog.. Keep it going and my best wishes…

  8. Blanche Cordero Says:

    You are right on most points. I don’t believe. though, that we just stay at a job to fill a resume. There are levels of need and they change at different points in our lives.

    For exmple, having a job close to our home and children, may be more important than having something new to put on our resume and may top monetary gains. A leader, you believe in and trust, who encourages a culture of family first, may be more important than all the other items on the list.

    I believe your personal status in life has a great deal to do with why you start listening to those recruiters, why you move and when you finally make the decision to move.

    I think when you things aren’t going well trumps all other items on the list. Unfortunately, to many of us with loyalty to the company stay long after it was time to go. With this current recession, when the time came, there were no jobs to be had. I know I got caught.

    It’s a new day with new realities and a new hierarchy of needs. I believe with all my heart that I will find my top requirement. A company that values their employees. Not much to ask for.

    Right I am experiencomg more damage by not working and constamt looking for work, then I would find working in an environment that may not be my ideal. One becomes realistic as one matures and realizes that nothing is perfect. As I tell my son, I must take the same advice. You have been dealt a hand, now play it to the best of what you have been given. Take it and turn it into gold.

  9. Pete Says:

    Great advice!!! The kind of advice I always give and seldom take!

  10. CC Says:

    This article was excellent. I relate to every point. Time to move on.

  11. CCK Says:

    Thank you to those of you (and Alan as always) who encourage you to do what is best for you individually. I have recently accepted what I thought was the job I had been working for my entire HR career of 20 years. It turned out to be anything but. I am doing lower level administrative work that I ever did before, despite the big title and increase in pay. I am concerned for my mental health and for my future job prospects if I stay in this job for too long. There is no way that I can discuss this with my boss as I have seen what happens to others who “complain.” But only being here 6 months I am concerned that other companies will consider me a job hopper. I just have to be positive that other HRMs will understand how discouraging it is to be doing the work of an administrative assistant when you have 20 years of HR and a master’s degree.

  12. Oscar Says:

    Alan,
    You are such an inspiration!
    This is an awesome piece, please keep doing the good work..

  13. deepti Says:

    heyyy, vry vry thnks for sharing this useful information, its really helpful for those who are not able to decide whetr to move on to stay.

  14. Tiffany Says:

    CCK, I can relate, as my current situation is very similar. It’s nice to know that I am not the only one in this situation. I don’t have nearly as many years of experience as you do, but I recently got my Master’s degree and PHR, left a full-time job that I outgrew to take on a contract role that I thought was the next stepping stone in my career. Boy was I wrong! 90% of the work and “projects” I am given are administrative level (when we have an HR Admin.). I am working well beneath my capabilities- at a level I haven’t worked at since I was a teenager. It’s insulting, and as someone else mentioned, I am wondering what exactly I am going to have to put on my resume, since I am not gaining very much from this experience. Every experience has a lesson to teach us, so I hold on to that fact, but disappointment doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel in this current role. I am glad I gave it a few more months just to make sure I was making the right decision, but I have decided to move on, and I am taking the next step to reclaim my career with a role that will be stimulating, challenging, and aligned with my education and experience.

  15. Ersin Says:

    with having so much responsibility in your life it’s a little bit to hard to leave even if all the situations mentioned above occures. For two weeks ı was thinking of leaving my cuurent job as a HR specialist and have to say that this article had encouraged me.

  16. Nasser Says:

    Dear Alan, I find your article touches deeply a lot of HR professionals. I’m sure that most of us would like to take this step when few of the symptoms appear! However, in my opinion what hinder us from taking this step is that we tied with our loans and financially unsecured for most of us! i.e. the need of the monthly cash! Moreover, we know that if we leave our current job and stay at home, our chances to get another job is nnihilistic. You are always considered if you are working but being jobless it is very difficult.

  17. Anne Schubert Says:

    I totally agree with this article, My “TaDa moment” was the week before my position was eliminated.
    My CEO asked me, “Do you know the best quality I admired in a past HR Manager? I said no.. he stated, he knew a CEO who was sleeping around in the company and when the CEO was done with a particular employee, the HR Manager would discreetly terminate the employee and no one was the wiser for it.”
    I sat there and said really? The HR manager termed the employee and not the CEO?… a week later I was without a job, and I knew in my heart, my HR position with the company had run its course.. The CEO and I had a huge ethical and moral chasim that was not going to be bridged.
    I should have handed in my notice at the end of the conversation, however, I kept thinking, can we work around this?
    Apparently, not…

  18. Crystal Cook Says:

    It is so interesting to find that others have experienced the pain I have in my HR career. There have been times when I have taken a job simply because I needed it and it was offered. When the honeymoon phase fades you discover that you and the powers that be are so far from aligned you’re not even in the same universe. Folks that work in HR, love and take pride in what they do can see the big picture far beyond the CEO and his/her idea of the bottom line. We tend to forget that an organization is not worth much without the human talent to make it run and grow.

  19. Natarajan Says:

    A Good story to illustrate the point and an eye opener for many of us who keep holding on to the anchor.

    Thanks

  20. Tessa Says:

    An excellent article, what is interesting is that the people who do have the courage to move on can run the risk of having lots of jobs on their CV’s. Maybe voting by your feet may remove you from toxic HR departments (usually run by people who are protecting their turf) but does that really address the problem? HR departments tend to have a bad reputation and it is usually because the people in them put hanging onto their jobs above all else. I have witnessed HR Directors hiring and firing people who have different opinions or more experience, and to this end drive out talented people who want to avoid political conflict. Do these HR leaders demonstrate people skills? and protect the organisation from litigation? just look at the turnover/ sickness and exit interviews not to mention court appearances to see how much risk they really avoid.

  21. Ranjit Shinde Says:

    Hi Alan,

    All the reasons which you mentioned are so absolutely true for people who get into a comfort zone in a job and refuse to leave inspite of the ominous signs ahead. Loved it.

    Rgds,
    Ranjit

  22. mina Says:

    I think when we realise that its time to leave, we would like to do thst but like some of us in Africa its difficult to leave without knowing where you are going. its not easy to find another Hr job. thats why we opt to stay on so that we can take care o our families even if our work environment is no longer onducive until such a time when we will hopefully get another job.

  23. Augie Says:

    Great story and actually I just expereinced this in my own professional career. The ability to let go was not easy, but with some planning, soul searching and God’s will, I found a new , exciting, growing and welcoming position that is capitalizing on my broad experiences to bring leadership to a great organization. My motivation , focus, passion ,joy and lower stress levels have all improved significantly. Just sharing to let others know that if you take control, it will happen !!!

  24. justy Says:

    Thank you Allan for this eye-opening topic. It has given me courage in my searching for next level HR job.

  25. Dudu Says:

    I have been so in denial but after reading this article its now very clear that my time has come. I hid behind a lot of reasons but the hiding has got to stop, especially that even the security of my job is on the line. Thanks for this wake up call.

  26. judy Says:

    Oh my goodness! This article was written for me!!

  27. Phil Says:

    Yep. Been there and done that! Alan is so right.

    Sometimes it is better to leave on your own that be asked to leave. There are many unconscious clues you give out when you are not engaged. They are subtle, and you may not even be aware you are doing it. Take charge of your situation.

  28. Chickie Says:

    Hi Alan,

    Great article for sure! This happened to me a few years ago so it was very easy to relate. However, I wish I had notice these signs earlier. I am now with a different company that I am currently happy to be a part of…..great posts as always. I really enjoy reading these. As I discussed with my supervisor during a review, I signed on to grow in many ways….job jumping isn’t for me. It’s true, but I will now have the insight of this information to keep me grounded so I truly am moving forward in growing as an HR professional. Great posts from others as well.

  29. Sanobar khan Says:

    Great article Alan,

    I had been through not one, not two, but all the signs to tell me that it’s time to leave. Indeed as mentioned by you it was extremely difficult decision to leave a job after 11 great years in one single company. But I had to first drive away all my insecurities and fears which helped me to take my decision.

    Though I knew my decision was apt and there will be no regrets further what so ever, your article helped me in strengthening my belief.

    Thanks so much for this article.

    Regards
    Sanobar

  30. Crystal Says:

    I really enjoyed reading this article and everyones comments. I have been in my current hr role for roughly 6months and I feel like I made a horrible mistake. The place I am at now is set in their ways and no one is willing to change. I have tired taking it further up the latter, but they feel as though it has been working fine for this long, so let it be. It is truly upsetting. To top it off my boss admitted that he said whatever he had to to get me here. I was at my last job for 9months and it was a retail manager. I felt as though I didn’t want to continue my career with retail aftermy store closed and came to my current role which is a nightmare. I dont want to be seen as a job hopper, but I am miserable here. Then…to add insult to imjury I was told 40-45 hours a week and I am madatory 55 and am non exempt salary so there is no overtime. This is killing my family. I am at a loss and frustrated.

  31. Diana Says:

    Thank you Alan, again, for another great article. I enjoyed very much reading the comments as well. The fact that this article has positioned many of us HR folks, on the reflection mode, validates the truthfulness and rationale of the article:)!

  32. Jennifer Says:

    This article resonated with me. I just moved to another position about 6 weeks ago and I am so happy that I did. I didn’t realize just how unhappy I was in my previous role than I am now. I got to the point where I no longer felt compelled to offer ideas to change or improve things as I was always told that the ideas were great, but the company couldn’t afford them. It’s hard to be the cheerleader for an organization, when they treat all employees bad. I was literally having a physical reaction to coming to work and was no longer motivated. So glad that I made the decision to move on.

  33. Ghousuddin Mohammed Says:

    Indeed these are of the signs to look forward and move on. At times it gets very difficult to change. One want to but the opportunity doesn’t come on his/her way and responsibilities are some thing always be a fear to take that first n courageous step .

  34. Ayman Says:

    Hi Alan,
    It’s first time for me sharing my comments however I storing all your articles as references for any motivations needed. Your subject in this article is really concerning for any individual needs to move forward but when you have the chance to move you should go ahead unfortunately the chance is very rare specially when your age move up as well the chance became almost not existed that made you accept the current situation and however accepting some tasks may be done when you are in your 30s, the most important thing now that I need you to write some articles about the HRians in their 50s and above. Thank you.

  35. Nyla Nanlal Says:

    These are indeed all signs that change is required. I am a big advocate for changing jobs for personal and professional growth, having done so 8 times in an 18 year career.

    However, we must be very careful not to write off a workplace too soon, sometimes we can be suffering from mental fatigue, which if not addressed will spill over into our shiny new job.
    Take a time out, to rest and reflect before making big decisions.
    Number 1 & 2 are the big influences for me.

  36. Josephine Winfrey Says:

    Great advice as always Alan. Early in my HR career I was with a large well known organization where I “grew up” in HR. I was of the mind, then, that I could probably work at 1 or 2 companies until retirement. Boy was I wrong! I’ve learned over the years that it is not the quantity but quality of your experience. My average tenure for the last 12 or so years is 3.5 yrs. I now reassess where I am in a position at the 2 year mark. I ask myself the question, How do you feel? about where I am in the position and about the company. Piggybacking on everything that has been discussed, I would add. 1. Listen to your gut. Just like applicants can sell themselves in an interview to get the job, so can company’s sell themselves to get you. If on Day 1 you feel like this is not the place for you, plan your exit strategy. 2. Your health is important only to you. Safeguard it at all costs. It will pay dividends later on and you’ll sleep better at night. 3. Job hopping is so underrated now. The key is the experience you gain. If you are in a job that is relegating you to lower level duties without being able to make or influence decisions, look for outside opportunities that will help you do that. Get involved in HR organizations and take a leadership role, take Alan’s advice and write a blog or a book or get a side hustle. Use the “extra” time you’ll have from doing those ‘lower’ activities. You are the Master of your HR destiny. Build your own road map.

  37. Wesley McKenzie Says:

    Just last week, I hit my 20th anniversary with my organization. But I’ve been there in a past job, where after 5+ years, I just knew; that gut feeling. And I was right.

    The great author/pastor Chuck Swindoll once wrote: “you’ll never look back 10 years and regret the chances you DID take.” Sage advice.

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