Ok, let’s put it bluntly: You hate your job and can’t wait to bid adieu to the toxic work culture, the lack of opportunity to move up, that creepy co-worker, the tone-deaf diversity initiatives. You’ve got that seething “I quit!” email languishing in your drafts and you're this close to hitting send.
But before you do, think about a little someone named Future You. Future You may gravely regret said seething email. In fact, let’s just state it definitively: Future You will be desperately googling “how to unsend an email.”
It’s true, when it’s time to go, it’s easy for emotions to get the best of you. But as Amelia Ransom, senior director of engagement and diversity for software company Avalara puts it: “You only get to leave this job once, so set yourself up to leave well.”
So whether you’re transitioning to a more challenging role within another organization, leaving to further your education or taking some time off to Eat, Pray, Love, how you handle your relationship with your soon-to-be former employer can make — or break — your chances of future success. Here are some guidelines for navigating the final days of your job the right way, without burning bridges.
Do: Start by talking to your direct supervisor.
It turns out that managers don’t love hearing about a report’s departure plans at the water cooler. Whether you're quitting an office gig or a shift job, pay them due respect by scheduling a one-on-one chat to talk about your intentions. “You shouldn’t leave a position until you have spoken to your manager and perhaps your manager’s manager about why you are thinking of leaving,” says Andrew Gold, VP, Talent Management and HR Technology, at Pitney Bowes.
Whether you’re thinking of leaving due to lack of development, an opportunity for more money, a higher role or the need for more flexibility, Gold has found that people are often surprised at some of the outcomes that result from these types of conversations.
That said, sometimes no amount of chatting can make a miserable job worth keeping. That’s what Tessa D’Agosta, a recently transitioned social media manager, learned early in 2020. “It was a year that taught me quite blatantly about what I value and what I want,” she explains. “It both confirmed that my current situation was no longer working for me, and sort of paralyzed me against doing anything about it. So when something good arrived via my network, I took it.”
Don’t: Slack off as soon as you give notice.
Until you descend the elevator for the last time, you’re still an employee of your current company. And if you start rolling in at noon, skipping meetings or bad-mouthing your boss, your reputation as a reliable employee may suffer. (Future You will not be pleased). Plus, you’ve been there: When someone leaves, their co-workers are left scrambling to pick up the extra load. So when your impending departure creates chaos, do your best to ease the transition.
“Try to complete as much outstanding work as possible and document the work you do to make the situation as easy as possible for the next person in the role,” suggests Gold. A written summary of the work you perform, how you get the work done, who helps and a detailed listing of where files are stored can help, he adds.
Depending on where you work, closing the information loop can look quite different. However, it begins with solid communication with a superior, says Lessie E. Askew, Chief People Officer at New York’s Callen-Lorde Community Health Center.
“Have a formal transition document with the supervisor that serves as both a negotiated document and an accountability document,” she recommends. “Use it almost as a table of contents to the projects you’re working on and ensure the team has access to it.” Askew urges people to outline key project deadlines, forthcoming milestones and progress to keep the team on track.
Don't: Insist on giving two weeks' notice.
In the Handbook of The Working Adult, the two-week rule is as ingrained as the ban on tuna fish lunches. Sometimes, employees even give more notice, hoping it will make them look good. But that’s not always ideal, says Askew.
“You have to think about the continued value add of giving extra notice and when does it become a value negative,” she recommends. Askew notes that if your relationship with an employer is toxic or strong feelings are involved, it’s best to stick to what’s in the handbook. If you’re leaving on good terms, the added time may be appreciated to get your replacement up to speed.
At any rate, if you are leaving, you must mentally ready yourself for the unexpected. “Be prepared to pack your things and leave once you inform your superiors that you will be voluntarily terminating your employment with the company,” Ransom says. They might not want you around once they know you're leaving.
You’ll also want to give yourself some breathing room before your next opportunity begins, adds Askew.
“Sometimes you need to shake off the energy of the last place,” she explains. “You don’t want to project your past experience in your new place of employment. Take as much time as you need to reflect on what you learned or how you grew in your last role.”
Do: Make your exit interview count.
Perfecting an exit interview is like baking a cake: It’s important to add all the right ingredients, but don’t turn up the heat too much.
These chats with human resources about your time at a company are a prime opportunity to share candid insights, challenges and areas of growth for an organization. But the key is to be constructive.
It’s easy to spout off a laundry list of petty complaints and grievances, but a better use of time would be to bring up larger challenges and benefits you navigated during your time within the organization. “Those that use them well see them as a great moment of reflection,” says Ransom.
“I said things in my exit interview that, in five years, I’d never voiced in any official or meaningful capacity,” says D’Agosta. “They were things about team structure and ways of working and client relationships — things that affected people other than myself and would continue to do so. So I do hope it makes a difference, and even if it doesn’t, I feel like I did an important duty.”
If your HR department doesn’t set up an exit interview, reach out to them and set one up yourself. If you remain constructive and honest, it may open the door to future exit interviews — and positive changes — in the future.
Don't: Go out in a blaze of glory.
A word to the wise: Those zingers you've been crafting to tell off everyone who did you wrong on your last day at work aren't nearly as satisfying in reality. In fact, throwing a tantrum, or even just dishing out cold shoulders could have a negative impact on your future employability.
HR circles are small, warns Askew. Be mindful of how your behaviors or actions will follow you. “One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not thinking about your future. Don’t let emotions drive your decisions during a resignation.”
You should always assume that you may work with someone from your current employer again; they could be a co-worker, a client, a hiring manager or in another position to help you advance your career.
Future You says thanks!
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