Thinking of quitting your job? Here’s how handle the transition smoothly, with the utmost respect from your soon-to-be former colleagues
Admit it: You’ve had those frustrating moments at work when you fantasise about leaving your job Jerry Maguire-style, airing your grievances to the entire office before a hero’s exit out the door. Or maybe you’ve dreamed of doing it more subtly, like Anne Hathaway’s character in The Devil Wears Prada, simply chucking your constantly-buzzing phone into a fountain and disappearing into freedom.
While those movie scenes realise our greatest office discontentment dreams, in real life, the good ol’ tactic of “not burning bridges” is essential when leaving a job, especially in our age of social media. In fact, the more you can slip out of a job quietly and respectfully, the less people will associate you with your exit and any negative thoughts that might come along with it (not that you did anything wrong, but maybe some people will feel betrayed by your exit). And you never know who you might work with again in the future.
Read more: 6 ways to create a major life change
And nowadays, Americans are quitting their jobs at record levels. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that a steady 2.3 percent of employed Americans having been leaving their positions by choice every month since June 2018 — the highest level since April 2001.
While low pay and unfair compensation accounted for 19 percent of those who quit, according to Jobvite Job Seekers’ 2018 Insights Survey, 13 percent of younger employees cited lack of growth opportunities.
Whatever your reasons for leaving, whether it’s to quit your job to travel the world, start your own freelance business and work from home, or simply that you’re on the edge of burnout, the exit strategy is as important as your next step.
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to quit your job gracefully:
1- Put on your Graduation Goggles
The term “Graduation Goggles” was coined by the American sitcom How I Met Your Mother — meaning that when you know you’re leaving a place, suddenly you’ll look at things more longingly and lovingly, even if they made you miserable.
Steal that term and put those goggles on in your day-to-day work life. Are there certain things that drove you crazy that you might miss? Might there be a task that was annoying for all the wrong reasons, but actually isn’t that bad? Or perhaps it’s just the personal habits of a supervisor that are troubling you more than the actual objective of what the company is about?
After a few days with the Graduation Goggles on, you just might realise that the benefits of the job outweigh the negatives and you simply are in a slump. But if you can go through a few days and not have a single thing you’d miss, then it’s time to leave the job — and move onto step two.
2- Work through an action plan with your supervisor
Once you’re confident in your decision to leave, it’s time to voice that intention to your direct supervisor. If you’re leaving for another position, then that makes this step easy. However, if you’ve decided to quit your job without another role, then it’s worth a more open discussion with your boss.
Without taking on an accusatory tone (even if your gripes are with this person), simply state that the job is no longer the right match for you and you’d like to discuss your exit plan.
This could lead to several different scenarios: Perhaps your boss will ask you what it will take to keep you, or perhaps they could ask what your career ambitions are and help map out a new career path in the company more in line with what you were thinking. Or maybe you’ll come to the mutual decision that it’s time to part ways.
No matter how this goes, keep an open mind. The more willing you seem to make it work, the more graceful of an exit it’ll seem if it simply just didn’t work out for both sides.
3- Give plenty of notice
Two-weeks notice is the standard here in the US. Of course there are times you may be asked to leave earlier (for instance, if you’re going to a competitor or a client) or asked to stay longer (if the company has a need for you for a specific project or event).
Definitely stick with the common courtesy of hitting at least a full 10 work days to fulfill that two-week standard. But if you do have some flexibility, offering more than that can be seen as a courteous move (for instance, I gave four weeks at one job and six weeks at another) — a good note to go out on.
4- Tell your closest colleagues first
While announcing your intention to leave to your boss and HR can be the hardest steps to take, more often than not, the more important step is telling the colleagues you work with the most.
Before the rumour mill starts, make a point to tell your closest and most meaningful co-workers — those who you can still see in your life a few years from now — and ideally tell them yourself one-on-one.
That will give a personal touch to show that you cherish their relationship as a trusted coworker. And it also signals to them that you see them beyond just the company walls… and perhaps even as a future colleague again, or even a friend.
5- Save the bad-mouthing for your friends
Once you give notice, your attitude may be put under a microscope, so it’s always a good time to be on your best behaviour (after all, the end is finally in sight now). Of course, this doesn’t mean that your frustrations will suddenly come to an end. But the last thing you’d want is for someone to overhear you talking negatively about the company or a co-worker on your way out.
While venting is essential, try to hold that outside of the workplace in those final weeks and instead save it for your personal friends. That way there’s no chance of a bad taste being left behind after your final day.
6- Send a thankful farewell email
Farewell emails have turned into an art these days. While some people use inside jokes, rhyming poems, or a clever twist on company jargon, the safest way to go is to stick to one message: gratitude.
You never know how someone might take an attempt at being funny or an off-the-beaten-path email, but no one can argue with pure thankfulness. So express your how much you’ve enjoyed the experience and you’ll keep those bridges nice and strong.
7- Be honest — but only to HR
But wait, there is one opportunity to express your grievances — and that comes with the one-on-one exit interview with HR. These are meant to be confidential and to help improve the company culture going forward, so you’re actually doing them a favour by being honest about your experience. Anything you don’t report or don’t mention will continue, so in order to truly leave the job on a graceful note, give them a fair assessment of your time there — and then turn around and look to the future.