Don’t Quit Without Asking For What You Want

Indian people don’t give a damn about set prices in stores. They are masters at getting deals almost anywhere.

In my quest for bargaining, I have vanquished department stores, car dealers, and landlords. But the one place I haven’t been able to bargain with is McDonald’s. To me, their golden arches represent the ultimate aspiration: To strike a deal with the very symbol of of America, bridging East and West. And getting a free cheeseburger in the process.

Anyway, until that day, maybe I can share some of my thoughts about quitting. I’m talking about quitting from a job, or giving up on getting a raise, or being resigned to cold fries. Warning: THIS ESSAY IS NOT JUST ABOUT JOBS. THAT’S JUST AN EXAMPLE. IT’S ABOUT QUITTING ANYTHING. (I have to put this warning in for people who have been emailing me, taking my previous posts a little too literally.)

Anyway, the reason I’m interested in this is that a bunch of my friends just got jobs, and–within a few weeks–a couple of them are already unhappy. It’s the money, the commute, the work–all the stuff you’d imagine.

Being unhappy at a job in the first weeks isn’t too shocking. It’s probably happened to all of us. But I’m surprised by their response. They are planning–very seriously–to quit right after the holidays.

“What the hell?” I asked them, using even more choice expletives that I’d rather not have my mom read on this site. And this is what they told me: “I’m just not happy, so I’m going to quit.”

It wasn’t just one of them. It was both of them. And two is enough to be a disturbing trend to me.

I don’t think we should quit without asking for what we want. Every good boss wants you to stay at your job. If it would just take a few dollars extra per week, most bosses would happily pay you. One of my friends, for example, was unhappy about having to pay the toll every day for her commute–a very understandable complaint. But she didn’t tell her boss about this, who I guarantee would have moved heaven and earth if he’d known an employee was close to leaving. $6.00 per day is nothing to companies.

There’s a right way to bring this up, too. You need to tell your manager two things: What you’re unhappy about and what you need to make it better. As a manager, there’s nothing worse than someone who says “I hate my team!!!!!!!!!!!” and then stares blankly at you. WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO!?! Tell them what you’re not satisfied with, and then what your suggestion is for fixing it.

You have more leverage than you think. When I wrote about negotiating with banks, I noted how banks’ customer-acquisition cost is over $350, meaning they don’t want to lose you over nickels and dimes.

Now think about your job. Can you guess how much your company spent recruiting you?

Here’s the answer: Companies spend around $6,000 recruiting the average college candidate. No, that’s not a typo. And that number isn’t just Stanford or Harvard students–it’s everyone.

Think about this. Think about how much leverage you have, and how far companies will go to keep you. $6.00 for your commute (or whatever) is nothing.

Bottom line: Managers aren’t stupid. It’s much cheaper and easier to give you small enticements and keep you happy, rather than sending you packing–which just creates more work for them.

But you have to ask.

“But Ramit…”

  • You say $6.00 is nothing. Maybe that’s true for your fancy-pants technology companies, but I work for a small/poor nonprofit and they can’t spare any money. You are wrong!! Everything you say may be true, but my response is simple: Have you asked? We love to make assumptions, but the truth is that you have to measure the $6.00 in terms of how much your nonprofit would lose if you quit (recruiting costs, training costs, costs for stupid mistakes of the new person, etc) versus your paltry $6/day. Maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m right. Who knows? Certainly not you until you ask.
  • I am really unhappy at my job and it’s been two years. I know nothing is going to change, so I’m going to quit. Well, ok. 2 years is a long time. But whether you’re unhappy on the first day or the 2nd year, the point is still the same: You need to tell your manager two things: What you’re unhappy about and what you want to change. And if nothing changes, then maybe it is time to think about another place.
  • I don’t think my workplace would give me these special perks, because nobody else is getting them. That is a very fair point. Besides your needing to check by asking your manager, this raises a whole bunch of of issues about perks. I might write a whole other essay about this, but the bottom line is this: To expect any unusual perks, you better be very, very good at your job. “But Ramit,” you might say, “I just started 2 weeks ago!” This starts before you’re hired. It starts in the way you get your job (through the front door or through a trusted contact?), the way you negotiate for your salary (did you negotiate, which is even more important than whether you were successful or not?), etc. Just remember the main point: It almost never, ever hurts to ask if you are polite and respectful and approach it as a constructive process that you can both work together to find a solution to.

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