I've waited on answering this because I wanted to take some time to formulate an answer I felt was helpful. Hopefully I've done that, even though this question is now getting fairly old.
For me, what I think it boils down to is that just do X answers ignore the reality that workplace problems are rarely black and white. There are rarely situations that have a single right answer (and everything else is wrong), or even a single best answer among many right answers. Most workplace problems have a bunch of possible solutions that may or may not be valid given intricacies that aren't described in the question, and/or the personal preferences and strategies of the asker. Different people may ask the same question but need or want very different answers. Further, employment situations aren't exactly repeatable experiments where you can iterate through options until you've discovered the solution. People generally get one shot at trying something, and then live with the results.
Basically, answers that are framed as if the problem was black and white aren't helpful because the problem is gray. Or it's mauve, or chartreuse, or an entire rainbow. Answering a gray problem with a black and white answer flattens the reality of the problem.
This flattening means that the question and answers are less valuable for a variety of reasons:
- The asker may be left unsatisfied. A polarizing just do X answer may feel either too obvious (as others have stated, it's pretty obvious that quitting is an option to any workplace problem. Saying so doesn't add anything). Or, it may seem out of touch (the asker may feel like the answerer didn't really read the question, but rather just gave a knee-jerk reaction to someone complaining about work).
- The asker may miss opportunity for personal growth. If someone quits their job every time they face an obstacle or a situation they don't like, they will miss opportunities. At the least, it can lead to a trend of running from problems. Even if the nature of the asker's problem is pretty clearly unsolvable, running from it at first blush may still cause a loss of opportunity. Sometimes, by facing problems (or deciding to live with them), you can help yourself mature as an employee and learn to work with difficult people. Early in my career I switched jobs when faced with some severe problems. After doing this a number of times, I ended up working for a mentor who was incredibly skilled at working with (or, at least, around) people he didn't like. He helped me learn to deal with people I butted heads with, and it was transformational for my career. I was able to advance when faced with difficult peers, instead of just looking for another job. Telling people to just quit may be robbing them of similar learning opportunities.
- It weakens the value of the question to future readers. Part of our mission at SE is to build a library of questions and answers that are valuable to future readers. We put a lot of effort into closing questions as duplicates. To me, this means that we also need to put effort into building valuable and diverse answers, beyond just satisfying the asker. Even if a specific asker decides that they are best off if they quit their job, their question and it's answers will be more valuable to future readers if the answers include advice besides just "quit your job." Having a variety of answers that suggest pushing the boundaries or which give techniques for problem solving are arguably more valuable for future readers (especially those who have had their question closed as a duplicate).
So, as participants of The Workplace, what do we do?
This linked question gives good advice about how to post a "just quit your job" answer that is more relevant than a single line. I think it provides good criteria on how to answer, if you feel that quitting is the answer.
However, I do still think that even a well-framed "just quit" answer is still just one alternative to answering these questions - mainly because, as stated, it's pretty obvious to most people that they can quit. So, in addition, I always try to think through the following when someone asks a question where quitting might seem like a valid answer:
- Are there things to consider before (or after) quitting, unique to this situation? If someone is struggling with X and might quit because of it, does X have any impact on the quitting process? If we are going to suggest quitting, how can we coach someone in this specific circumstance on the best way of quitting?
- If they decide to quit, how can we best help the asker to move on? If someone is complaining that they don't like their boss, what can we say to them to hopefully keep them from hating their next boss? If someone is complaining that they don't like the work they're doing, what can we say to keep them from hating the work at their next employer? Sometimes these issues are not directly addressable, but at the least, we can coach the asker on how to work through their job search to make sure they don't end up in the same situation again (i.e. coach them on how to ask questions of potential employers so they can get a job that they're better suited to).
- If the asker may end up staying, how can we help them deal with the situation? Even if it seems clear that the asker may quit, it is helpful to answer in a way that includes staying as an option, and gives advice on how to stay. In other words, even if quitting is part of an answer, I like to write as if quitting isn't an option. If someone had to stay at this job, what are some suggestions for dealing with the problem? Pretending as if quitting isn't an option can lead to creativity in answers that may be helpful for both the current asker, and future readers.
- Regardless of whether they quit or not, how can the asker learn and grow from this situation? Even if you decide your boss is intolerable, and you need to quit, what can you learn? Maybe the relationship has been slowly declining over time, and there are early signs that could be picked up on, which the asker could have acted on to make things go in a better direction. Although this sort of hindsight may not be immediately applicable to the asker's current problem, it may help the asker avoid falling into the same situation in the future, and it may help other readers avoid falling into the same situation themselves.