27 September 2023

The surprising reason why some of us are more likely to quit our jobs

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Itching to quit but can’t quite build up the nerve? Meg Walters* says new research shows how it may be due to how you perceive time.

Working 9-to-5 has never really had a great reputation. As Dolly Parton put it: “It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it.”

Overly demanding bosses, tedious workloads, draining Zoom meetings, exasperating co-workers.

If your job has started to feel unbearable, you aren’t alone.

In 2021, we entered a period dubbed the Great Resignation as the UK saw the most resignations since 2009 and a further third of workers are thinking about quitting.

It seems a lot of us are frustrated with our jobs.

But while we’re all sometimes tempted to throw in the towel and hand in our notice, not all of us actually build up the courage to do so.

A new study outlined in Psychology Today from psychologists at Hiroshima University in Japan and the University of Warwick in the UK shows us why.

According to their research, the likelihood of someone actually quitting their job is directly related to how they perceive the passage of time.

Wait – don’t we all perceive time the same way?

While you may think that the experience of time is the same for everyone, psychological studies have shown that we all relate to time in different ways.

We’ve all heard phrases like “Stop living in the past” or “Be in the moment.”

While these pithy quotes may look like something from an influencer’s Instagram feed, they hint at what we mean.

It turns out, some of us have a tendency to place more importance on the past while others spend their time thinking about the present or the future.

It’s a phenomenon known as “temporal thinking”, and while you may not realise it, we all have a tendency to do it.

Some of us tend to dwell on the past.

Others live for the moment: these people may seem unable to learn from past experiences and unable to think about the consequences of their actions.

Then, there are the planners, who are constantly thinking about what the future holds.

Do you live in the past, present or future? It might influence your decision to quit

So, how does this all relate to whether or not you’re a natural quitter?

According to new research, all three types have the potential to think about quitting, but one type is more likely to follow through and actually quit.

While you may think that present-tense thinkers are more likely to react to current injustices at work and quit on the spot, it turns out that present thinkers are actually more likely to stay in their job roles.

In fact, present thinkers showed greater happiness and job satisfaction as they were less likely to dwell on old work problems or contemplate what the future of their role might look like.

Future thinkers, on the other hand, tend to have a clear career trajectory in their minds.

While quitting may be tempting to these people, it will probably also feel too risky.

Instead, the study found that past thinkers were by far the most likely group to follow through with their intention of quitting.

Past thinkers tend to relive their experiences over and over again in their minds.

If you tend to think in the past, you’ll find it harder to let go of that time your boss asked you to do overtime or that meeting where no one listened to your ideas.

Instead of focusing on the reasons why the job may suit you currently or why you may need the job in the future, your fixation on the past could very well lead to your resignation.

Can you – or should you – change your temporal thinking if you’re thinking about quitting?

Based on studies so far, our perception of time isn’t something we choose – it’s something that happens in our brains on a subconscious level.

But this could prove problematic if you find yourself thinking about quitting a job.

Maybe you end up focusing too much on the past and quitting right before a big promotion.

Or maybe, you find yourself focusing so much on the future that you stay in a toxic workplace.

Perhaps the best way to use this study is to start noticing how you tend to think about time.

And maybe next time you feel the urge to quit, you can evaluate from all three perspectives – past, present, and future – before making your final decision.

*Meg Walters is a British-Canadian freelance writer based in southeast London.

This article first appeared atstylist.co.uk.

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