You’ve decided to leave your job and you’ve told your boss. But once you’ve gotten through that difficult conversation, you have to figure out how to tell others. Perhaps you’ve got a mentor who has been integral in shaping your career. And what about team members with whom you’ve worked for a long time? Do you need to tell everyone in person, or will an email suffice? How do you inform people in a way that keeps your relationships intact and is respectful of your organization’s office politics?
What the Experts Say
Just as you worked hard to make a great first impression when you started the job, you need to make a graceful exit on your way out. “Business is about relationships,” says Jodi Glickman, author of Great on the Job and a contributor to the HBR Guide to Getting the Right Job. “Even if you are heading to your dream job, there’s no benefit to burning bridges or creating negative feelings when you’ve got your foot out the door,” she says. Leaving requires careful planning, ranging from how you tell people to the timing of when you hand over your responsibilities, says Karen Dillon, author of the HBR Guide to Office Politics and coauthor of the forthcoming Competing Against Luck. “You want to roll it out in an appropriate manner, so that it’s business as usual and it feels under control,” she says. Here’s how to leave with class.
Strategize with your boss
You can unnecessarily create a lot of uncertainty by announcing your departure before plans have been made for your succession. “It’s important to have a rough game plan” that you’ve discussed with your manager before you begin to let the world know you’re leaving, says Dillon. That way you can address questions about what might happen to your portfolio, your team, or your clients. It’s always better when “it feels like there’s a plan in place,” says Dillon.
Tell people in person
Email may feel like second nature these days, but there’s no substitute for telling people face to face, especially those closest to you at work and those who work under you. “If you have a team of direct reports, you owe them the courtesy of telling them in person,” says Glickman. The same goes for work mentors, close friends on the job, and peers whose jobs may be affected by your departure. In each conversation, outline whom you plan to tell next and when. “It’s hard to ask people to keep a secret for you,” says Dillon. “Feel free to ask them to respect a few boundary days as you tell people. That gives you the time to have more one-on-one conversations without the news getting out.”
Focus on the future
If the reason for your departure isn’t the most positive — perhaps you felt you weren’t advancing quickly enough or you were clashing with a superior — resist the urge to vent or bad-mouth people on the way out. “It’s just not worth it,” says Dillon. “It taints your relationship with colleagues and their sense of you.” When people inevitably ask why you are leaving, respond with answers like ‘It was just time for me to move on’; do not bring up past grievances. “You want to be seen as the person who is seeking new growth opportunities rather than as someone who is leaving because they are disgruntled,” says Dillon.
Leverage your influence to benefit others
Your departure “can be used as a strategic opportunity for people,” says Glickman. “If you have someone on your team that wants more responsibility, you may want to tap them and say, ‘Hey, this is now up for grabs. Why don’t you raise your hand?’” But be sure not to make any promises you can’t keep. As Glickman advises, “Talk to your boss and have a real sense of who’s doing what so that you can be truthful.” If you don’t know the answers to questions that arise, such as who will be taking over your portfolio or doling out assignments in your absence, pledge to find out. But “recommending people for pieces of your work or different opportunities is a great way to leave.”
Get over the feeling that you are irreplaceable
The window of time between the moment you let people know you are leaving and your actual departure date can be awkward. We like to think we’re irreplaceable, but all of a sudden you may not be invited to meetings or included in important discussions. Don’t get distracted by feelings of exclusion. “You can’t have it both ways,” says Glickman. You’ve chosen to leave and you have to remember that business goes on. “It’s amazing, really, how quickly you become a lame duck,” says Dillon. “Try to focus less in those final weeks on being in all the meetings and focus more on making sure you’re saying goodbye to people you care about and that you find ways to stay in touch, so that your relationships come with you.”
Work hard until your last day
Don’t sully your hard-won reputation by slacking off in your final few weeks. Go out on a high note by making sure that files and clients are transferred in a timely and organized fashion and that deadlines won’t be overlooked in your absence. And take the time to express gratitude for the opportunities you’ve had there. You may see former managers and colleagues again at other companies, especially if you remain in the same industry. “You want to have doors remain open to you,” says Glickman. “Your career is long, and you never know where the next opportunity is going to come from.”
Principles to Remember
- Tell those closest to you in person rather than over email
- Resist the urge to feel left out of meetings and decisions in the weeks before your departure. You made the choice to leave.
- Recommend colleagues for new responsibilities and roles that will become available when you leave
- Make your announcement unilaterally. Discuss a rough game plan with your boss so that everyone is on the same page about how to handle your departure.
- Slack off once you’ve made your announcement
- Sow feelings of discord by venting frustrations or bad-mouthing people on the way out the door
Case Study #1: Encourage peers to raise their hands
Antonella Pisani had worked for seven years in acquisition marketing at a major flower e-retailer, and although she loved her job and her team, she felt it was time for her to take the next step in her career.
After landing a new managerial role at a large musical instrument chain, she gave her bosses a month’s notice. She waited until after an important business period, Valentine’s Day, had passed so that people wouldn’t be distracted, and then she sat her team down one by one to let them know the news.
Antonella says one of the best things she did in her final weeks was approach a peer and suggest he take over her role to expand his skills and provide more continuity for the team. “We were both VPs at the time and had complimentary roles,” she explains. “Both he and I had gotten involved in digital very early on, and I wanted to see him continue to grow. I thought it would be great for him to have a shot at expanding his portfolio, and I suggested he go after my old team and position in addition to the one he currently held.”
The peer made his case to management and got the job; he and Antonella remain in touch today. The best part? “The team I built continued to thrive,” she says.
Case Study #2: The perils of checking out early
Sia Mohajer was feeling increasingly frustrated by the management practices at an online marketing firm in Taipei where he worked. Because he was confident in his ability to quickly transition into freelance consulting, his decision to leave wasn’t a difficult one. He told his boss he planned to quit, and turned down a substantial raise to stay. After making plans for his final day to be about four weeks later, Sia told several close colleagues.
But then he got sloppy. “Once I knew I was ‘done’ I started to care less and less,” he says. “I mentally checked out and did things just to get them done. It tainted my reputation because I was way too careless. And when I left, a new hire went through all my reports from my last month and informed my supervisors about the shoddy work I’d done.”
“A myopic focus on just ‘finishing’ clouded my judgment, which hurt the reputation I carefully built over years of hard work,” he says. “The worst part is I never got to apologize for my sloppy exit.”
He offers this advice to anyone suffering from the “I want to get out of here” feeling: “Think of how you first felt when you started the job. The excitement, the possibility, and how much you learned and grew while in that position. As much as you want to leave by the end, there was something that brought you there in the first place. Just because you’re sick of your current work environment doesn’t mean the entire experience wasn’t valuable in your professional development.”
This article is about PROFESSIONAL TRANSITIONS
by Carolyn O'Hara