Safety nets and security are usually at the top of the list of things that make us sleep better at night.

But what happens when the job that provides that is put in danger because the workplace environment you’re in becomes unbearable? What if you feel that you’re stagnating, or that the politics in the office or other factors have become toxic?

Can you really put yourself first and walk away when your job is: a) not making you happy, b) making you sick, and/or c) leaves you feeling undervalued?

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We spoke to Elizabeth Mamacos, freelancer and former head of content at Careers24.com and asked her what advice she has for people who feel they can no longer cope at their current workplace.

How should they prepare when they have no plan B:

Have you exhausted your options?

The first thing you should do before you leave, Elizabeth says, is to consider whether you’ve done everything you can to change the situation at work.

Have you done the following:

  • spoken to HR?
  • addressed difficult issues that have contributed to how you’ve been feeling at work?
  • taken a leave of absence to help you get a little distance and gain perspective of your situation?

A good rule of thumb before making such a life-changing decision is by using your leave to determine whether or not it’s actually a break you needed or whether that absence has only made you feel nothing but relief.

If it’s the latter, along with the previous steps taken, then that should cement your decision.

I reached out to our followers on social media, and got an overwhelming response. Interestingly, many people responded by saying that leaving without any options while difficult at the time, ultimately became the best decision they made for themselves:

*Note: responses have been edited for length and clarity

Ntombi left her position because she was called lazy for not wanting to do double the amount of work over weekends:

I was employed on a contract basis by a company where my task was to keep track of production. The information was used by a committee and it affected market prices so accuracy was essential.

I was doing so well, that when one of the ladies had to go in for an operation, they asked me to do her tasks as well.

It was a lot of work, but I coped. I had to work evenings and on weekends but I managed to make all my deliverables.

When she returned I was asked to continue doing both mine and some of her work. This was when I informed management that I was willing to help on a short term, but because I had had to work long extra hours I felt that this was an unreasonable expectation.

I was then called in by management and scolded for being lazy.

The next day I gave them 24 hour notice. I was called in and they begged me to stay until the end of the month. I agreed but told them I would only do my work otherwise I would leave. I didn't have any other opportunities at the time.

Three days before I finished at the company, I got a call from someone looking for someone with my expertise. This person had gotten my number from someone and that same afternoon I went for an interview. The gentleman asked me immediately after the interview when I could start.

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Chantelle resigned from a situation that became unbearable, but thankfully had the support of her parents:


Mandy, another user on Twitter revealed she quit with no plan B – here’s why:

Another reader who asked to remain anonymous said she left her job but had a safety net:

I resigned from last agency with no plan two years ago. I was nervous but have the support from my husband. We have a bond to pay off so that just meant we had to adjust our lifestyle and cut down unnecessary expenses.

So now that you’ve quit, what’s the next step?

So there’s the relief of no longer being in an environment that’s been making you unhappy, but what do you do now that you have no fixed income structure?

And how do you get on track when it comes to getting back into the job hunting game?

Elizabeth says that one of the biggest challenges you have to face, besides the issue of not having any solid financial security (unless you’ve got family, friends, or a spouse to help you out) is dealing with “a potential lack of motivation to get going again, as well as the blow to your confidence or sense of self worth.”

Doing something for the sake of saving yourself and putting your psychological needs first is a pretty big deal, so when inevitable feelings of self-doubt crop up, remember why you left in the first place.

A key strategy to help you combat any negative feelings about your decision is to find a new purpose in job hunting. Before you do, Elizabeth adds, make sure you give yourself a chance to take some time to rest first.

READ MORE: This is what retrenchment feels like in your 20s

Do the kinds of things that you felt you couldn’t do while being stuck in a job that drained every ounce of your energy. Recovery time is an important step in the process of getting back into the job searching game.

When you feel like you’ve had enough time to rest here are some tips to help you find that new job:

  • Make it your next priority
  • Spend your time networking, putting yourself out there. Find events in your field and look for ways to attend where you can meet like-minded people.
  • While you’re searching (and waiting), spend time brushing up on your skills. There’s a wealth of resources that offer free online courses, so identify key areas you want to improve on and focus on brushing up your knowledge.
  • Be prepared that the job hunt might take a while and sometimes what you’re looking for won’t be available immediately, but the time you have now, can be used to build your profile and market yourself.
  • Freshen up your CV and make sure you’ve got good references. Don’t feel like doing yourself? There are people who, if you do have the funds available, can help you polish up your CV and help you build a profile that makes you look super attractive to recruiters and business companies alike.
  • Find ways to supplement your income losses. Offer to freelance, place an ad on Gumtree offering your service in whatever capacity you serve – whatever you do to make up for the money that you’ve lost, do it on your terms and don’t be afraid to charge for your services on your terms.
  • Make sure to also submit your CV on portals like Careers24 and Bizcommunity.

Many people think it looks bad if someone is searching for a job while they don’t have one, but a good way to battle this is to make sure you have a solid reason about why you left your last job.

Mamacos notes that it’s important that while you’re doing this, you should never, ever under any circumstance “bad mouth the previous company in interviews,” since you never know when you’ll run into them or have them as one of your future clients in whatever capacity.

Finally, the most important thing here is to allow yourself to be choosy. You left your job for a reason so don’t be afraid to go after something that won’t just add value in terms of utilising your skills but has a dynamic that’s suited to your needs.

“Decide where you want to work, what the culture might look like, and don't be afraid to ask questions about the management style and employee dynamics, to ensure you don't find yourself in a bad environment again.”

Have you walked out of a position with no backup plan? How did you deal with it?

*Not her real name

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