Keys to Knowing When to Leave Your Job

Management Consultant Bob Nelson talks with Renee Montagne about disgruntled employees in the workplace. After many years of service in the same company, employees can become bored, even bitter. Nelson offers some tips about when it's time for both employer and employee to move on.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Of course, your boss doesn't have to be outright evil to get to you, over the years. Spend enough time at a company, and employees will have piled up enough small grievances and minor disappointments for some of them to turn bitter.

Every office seems to have one or two: someone for whom the dark cloud of negative expectation never seems to lift. Bob Nelson teaches at the Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego, and he co-wrote, Managing for Dummies.

Good morning.

Mr. BOB NELSON (Author and President, Nelson Motivation): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: You know one has to build up, by definition, build up to bitter.

Mr. NELSON: We all start jobs excited. And if you have a good boss, you've got a good job, for most of us. But more times than not, our expectations aren't met and over time we become more and more cynical and can become bitter.

MONTAGNE: Is there a personality type or a workplace type that lends itself to this?

Mr. NELSON: Well unfortunately, the longer you work in any position, the research shows, the more likely you will become that type. It means that you stay in one place, after awhile you feel stuck and your attitude reflects that.

MONTAGNE: So there isn't a bitterness gene?

Mr. NELSON: I don't think so. I think in fact there's, a lot can be done to create a motivating environment that heads that type of thing off.

MONTAGNE: So, could a manager spot a bitter employee in the making?

Mr. NELSON: Yes. You spot that or you hear about it. My advice would be to go towards it, not to shy away from it and say, well that's their problem, or they've got an attitude. But to talk to them about it and say, what's going on? What's up? You used to be really excited and now you're kind of dragging in here. I need you. I need the best from you, and we've got to get you in the game, again, and get you excited.

MONTAGNE: It sounds like a bitter employee could really poison the workplace.

Mr. NELSON: Absolutely. It's contagious, as the same way as being positive can be contagious. If you're excited about what's going on and you spread that message, other people catch on. And I think that is as possible, as having it just be controlled by one person that's negative.

MONTAGNE: At what point, though, does the manager have to simply move a disgruntled or bitter employee out the door?

Mr. NELSON: Well, Jack Welsh, former Chairman of General Electric, says you want to hire slowly and fire quickly. To take the time to find the right people, and if someone isn't working out, to try to nail that down as soon as possible. You might, for example, give someone a career day. Just say, take tomorrow off, Tom. I'm going to, still going to pay you, but I don't want you to come to work. I want you instead to think about one question: is this really where you want to be with your life, right now? Because if it is, some things have got to change for you to keep this job, and if its not, let me help move you to somewhere else.

That's, to me, part of the responsibility of management. That if it's not working out for someone, to take it on, to help get them in the game or off the team.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much for joining us.

Mr. NELSON: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Bob Nelson is President of Nelson Motivation, a management training and consulting firm.

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