columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

A reader asks:

I took a new job just less than a year ago that I was incredibly excited about. It wasn't exciting for the pay or benefits, but I really wanted to work at this organization that I had very strongly admired for years.

Since day one, I have felt deflated by the job. I am disconnected from most of my coworkers, I have no team, and I don't feel connected to our mission at all - which is such a blow considering my excitement from before I started. On top of the frustrations I have with my role, a lot of our cultural issues bother me a lot. We're not transparent, and respect between coworkers and from management to coworkers is often lacking.

I've been struggling for 10 months to make this job feel right, but it just doesn't. I'm now exploring other positions, and one or two look promising and would pay more. I have never left a job before one year before, but I feel like this might be it. Should I hold out longer, or should I take a new opportunity even though I haven't reached that very important milestone?

Green responds:

I often hear from people who have internalized the idea that you should never leave a job before a year is up -- but that's not quite right.

Leaving a job before a year is up is not a horrible sin that will instantly render you unemployable. There are times when it's reasonable to leave a job after a short period of time -- like when you were offered a job doing X but have ended up doing Y, when the terms of the job change significantly (location, pay, etc.), when your health or safety is at risk, when you're moving to a different state, when a health crisis (yours or a family member's) requires you to quit, and even when you're miserable and it's clear that's not going to change.

The catch is this: You can only do it once with impunity. If you do it a second time, then yes, employers are going to start wondering what's up with you.

But you get one freebie. You get it because things happen, and employers know that. It's when it's a pattern that they start wondering about the real story and you start looking like a risky bet.

You don't want to use that freebie lightly, though. If you leave a job quickly, you're pretty much committing yourself to stay at the next one for a solid chunk of time in order to avoid these perception problems ... which means that you need to be really careful about the next job you take.

What's more, making it to one year isn't a magical mark where you'll no longer look like a job hopper if you leave. One year actually isn't very long in most fields, and if you have a string of multiple one-year stays, you're going to look like a job-hopper. Job hopping means multiple stays of under two or three years (whether it's two or three depends on your field), in jobs that weren't designed to be short-term (contract and temp jobs don't count as job hopping).

So whether or not you should jump ship now depends on what the rest of your job history looks like and the norms in your field. If you have a stable job history with reasonably long stays before this one, it's much easier to leave this one now. But if you have a history of a bunch of short-term stays (less than two years), then leaving this job any time soon is going to add to a worrisome impression. That doesn't mean you can't do it, but you'd want to be factor in that it might make your future job searches harder.

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