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Quitting with dignity
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Don't burn your bridges: How to quit your job with dignity

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Knowing when to quit and doing it properly can stand you in good stead for your future career. Here are some tips on how to exit with grace.

31st Aug 2022
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There has been extensive reportage around ‘The Great Resignation’ and retention is something that is having increased analysis and attention paid to it as identifying the WHY someone is leaving can reveal some interesting trends which reflect upon organisational culture – especially when particular demographics of people seem to be more likely to leave. Covid has also brought other conversations to a head around what people want and expect from where they work and how they can balance their work/life balance. 

When it's time to quit

Leaving a job can come about for many reasons. We know that sometimes it’s because of a manager or it’s about a specific opportunity that prompts someone to leave.  It’s not always in a negative circumstance yet I’ve found it fascinating how people leaving can sometimes behave as well as their colleagues too. 

Throughout the Employee Lifecycle, it’s important that all aspects are taken into consideration and allow reflective feedback to understand why people are leaving and if there are any structural or systemic changes that may enable a person to stay but at the same time, an open and pragmatic approach should people want to leave.

I am someone who has become well-versed with knowing when to leave or knowing when to put in my notice. It’s not a reactionary thing for me though but it’s born out of ambition of knowing where I need to be in life and career. I’ve also not had a very linear career route but more specifically a stalled and squiggly one. 

Having the level of psychological safety in place was critical to this as well as being able to have a very open and honest conversation

In my most recent employment, I was really happy and actually had one of the most supportive managers I’ve ever had as well as getting to work with an inspirational role model and leader. 

I was on a contract that was going to expire and I had been offered a permanent role but I turned it down, I also think I uttered the words ‘It’s not you, it’s me’. From working through the pandemic I find 100% remote working doesn’t quite align with me and I also was very keen to have more face-to-face working opportunities as well as being in a global role. 

Having the level of psychological safety in place was critical to this as well as being able to have a very open and honest conversation. With Charlotte Sweeney OBE I knew I had this. I also knew that for my wider development and aspirations I was someone that does suit an office for some of my working week and also I wanted to be able to concentrate on one brand, one set of stakeholders and see the impact of what happens next. 

Consultancy is fantastic and I’ve really enjoyed it but I feel for the current stage of my career I needed a return to in-house, people and feel more connected to my work.

The 'conversation'

Having the conversation wasn’t too hard but I did feel that it was a risk.  I have my values and I try and live them – also from a people perspective I wanted to ensure my manager had enough notice so we could discuss what the next few months would look like and also how I am feeling. I don’t like keeping secrets and didn’t want to feel I was sneaking around either. I also knew I wanted more and there were certain opportunities that my current employer couldn’t offer me. 

We did discuss and put in some workplace adjustments but overall we conversed around being open and honest and working on what my development points are and how I could be supported. The other thing I was told was that there would always be an open door for me and that there would be opportunities to collaborate in the future if I wanted to return to consultancy. 

I asked Charlotte Sweeney OBE about her perspective on the subject and she notes that there are many reasons for deciding to leave a role and an employer as people’s aims, aspirations and requirements of work change over time. “The vast majority of people in the workplace are pragmatic human beings and only want the best for their colleagues, even if that means moving elsewhere. Keep this in mind when planning to share your plans, the majority of colleagues will be delighted for you (even though they will miss having you as part of the team),” she explains.

There’s no point acting like someone doesn’t exist or being weird around them or ghosting them. People will sometimes move on and go to other companies

The long goodbye?

Notice periods should be taken into account – it’s important that there would be adequate time for a handover or time for any existing projects to be delivered during this period, yet it’s critical that companies are realistic about what should be delivered. In many cases, when someone has entered their notice period they may have started to ‘check-out’ which may impact some of the quality of the work and also how critical are some of the deliverables. 

Once someone resigns it would be advisable to ensure there is a process that will promote consistency and also agree on a leaving date that is mutually agreed and full clarity is shared amongst other logistical issues such as what final pay, holiday, bonus entitlements will look like or process or ways to hand back company equipment especially when internal company email will no longer be used. 

In addition to this other areas to have discussed and planned are:

  • Project deadlines
  • When to tell colleagues/clients
  • Agreed workload 
  • Handover – does the company have a template or preferred form of communication
  • Final meetings with key stakeholders
  • Workload and phasing out of unnecessary meetings 
  • Exit interview – early planning and booking on of that
  • Last meetings and goodbyes

Doing it with dignity

Once conversations have been had and resignation dates agreed upon – work hard and be nice to each other! It sounds very simple to say but I’ve witnessed many times some of the ways people and organisations behave when someone is leaving and in some cases, it’s very similar to what happens if people are experiencing a breakup. 

There’s no point acting like someone doesn’t exist or being weird around them or ghosting them. People will sometimes move on and go to other companies.

For the person leaving it's important to make sure you still don’t completely check out and leave lots of outstanding items if you can avoid that, it’s good closure to have projects finished and leave on a high wherever possible.

Top tips when leaving:

  • Communicate within agreed plans for when and how to tell stakeholders
  • Maintain consistency with what your message around leaving is
  • Don’t be a smug or bad leaver – saying things like “I can’t wait to get out of here” isn’t going to help any existing people in the organization and can impact morale
  • Be sincere around who you will be maintaining contact with
  • Leave feedback when leaving but also ask for feedback or remember what your development points are upon leaving a company
  • If your job is very technical ensure there is a handover or relevant stakeholders know where to find relevant pieces of work or are aware of any processes
  • Check in with colleagues leaving and ensure they have the right support and feedback to empower them

We’ll meet again (maybe)

Overall maintaining relationships is really important your colleagues of yesterday may be your colleagues in the future or you may cross paths again so don’t burn bridges as the world is increasingly smaller in certain industries than we would imagine and people talk. 

Be honest, transparent and treat people with respect all the way through your exit from the company

Leave feedback around the organisation structurally but seeking feedback or a refresh on development is also useful so that any areas of focus for a new role may be established and also helps to be set up for success.  

“One of my previous bosses, very early in my career, said you could tell a lot about a person’s character by how they leave a relationship and how they leave a company – that comment has stuck with me for years. Be honest, transparent and treat people with respect all the way through your exit from the company – your career paths may well cross again in the future and, ideally, you don’t want their last memory of you being a negative one,” adds Charlotte.

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