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The canary in the coal mine—how to tell when it’s time to make a change at work

A favorite colleague of mine at Introhive has resigned. Introhive will not be the same but one thing I have learned, after this brief pause and reflecting on their resignation, it will be back to business quickly. Soon it will be as if they were never here. Things will continue to move forward whether we wish it to or not, and that’s not a bad thing.

The canary in the coal mine

Years ago, when I was at Xerox, I can remember a colleague of mine resigning and thinking, “if Kevin is jumping then I really need to analyze the fact I am staying.” I considered Kevin to be my canary in the coal mine: that amazing colleague who you thought would never leave and the organization couldn’t do without. 

I was wrong. Kevin wasn’t my canary.

It took time and experience to understand why I was wrong, why Kevin wasn’t my canary. Because I am the canary in the coal mine, my family is the canary, my health is the canary. If any of these things stop singing then I know it’s time to review why I am in the place I am in and make changes. 

Only I know when a company is no longer a fit, when the culture does not align to my own personal values. When I have outgrown the position I’m in and there isn’t the room for the growth I need. When my family is being impacted by my work. When I prioritize my work over my health. That is when the canary goes quiet and I know something is wrong.

Sometimes that means just getting my work life balance back, and sometimes it means it’s time to go.

Long ago I learned what it meant to work in the corporate world, you work two weeks, you get paid two weeks and you and the company are even. I am as ruthless about business as the companies I work for are. Business is business. 

Now when people leave the company I work for I wish them the very best in their next chapter and I do not let it alarm me. It allows me time to reflect that I am in the right place for the right professional growth and cultural fit, but it doesnt give me cause for concern. I see it as an opportunity to grow my network, and when there are those colleagues that I appreciate, I make sure we stay in touch—you never know, they could be colleagues again one day.

When I left Xerox it was right for me. When I left PwC it was right for me. And when I left Marsh it was right for me. 

When colleagues leave I only hope it’s right for them.

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