It’s over. Between you and your job, that is. You checked out psychologically months ago, and now, finally your body and mind can check out, too.
This is not the moment to tell the organization how you really feel, nor to let HR know all the company policies that need fixing. Exiting is not synonymous with venting or even truth telling, and definitely not with burning a departure trail of fiery rage.
“Resist that urge,” says Anthony Klotz, associate professor of management at Mays Business School at Texas A&M. “People who burn bridges are not bad people. They’re good people who have been treated poorly by their organization.”
Evidence-based guidance on how to leave is in short supply, because little formal research has been carried out on the topic. Employers tend to focus on onboarding and retention, not exits, and researchers take their lead. We turned to the experts to find the best exiting advice.
Do I need to submit a letter of resignation?
Always. Typed and printed. “It can be really clinical and simple,” says Parker Ellen, assistant professor of management and organizational development at Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business. State that you’re leaving, the date of your last day, whether that date is tied to the end of a contract or fiscal year, a line about your availability for transition responsibilities, and a sentence of gratitude. No need to say why you’re leaving or where you’re going.
How much notice should I give?
Look at your company’s policy, and follow it. Consider quietly telling a trusted boss ahead of time, particularly if you’re leaving for neutral reasons unrelated to her, such as applying for graduate school. “Letting people know before you put in your formal resignation can really strengthen your relationship with those people,” says Klotz, who analyzed the exits of 300 resignees. But it can backfire if, say, word gets out and your influence wanes, or graduate school doesn’t pan out. Proceed with caution.
Who do I tell I’m leaving?
Your boss, face-to-face, letter in hand. Though it may fill you with joy to go over your boss’s head, don’t do it. Your boss may feel rejection, loss, anger, frustration. It’s OK. No need to react.
My boss doesn’t like me. Can I text or email?
Nope. “In almost all cases, bosses and organizations respond more poorly to resigning over text or email than face to face — it makes you look avoidant, and doesn’t seem very respectful,” Klotz says. Your tone can also so easily be misconstrued.
What should I say to my boss?
Not much. “She’ll want to know where you’re going, and so tell her, but not lots of detail about it,” Klotz says. Conversations about your next steps can happen later. Express gratitude for the organization, co-workers and your boss, as appropriate. Think brief.
Anything I should be prepared for in the conversation?
Yep, four things:
1. Names of who you’d like to tell face-to-face. You can ask your boss to please wait a day or two to announce the news, so you can tell a few people personally. Your boss doesn’t need to honor this, but might. If you’ve already told people, be honest about that with your boss, who still needs to manage the team.
2. Transfer of duties. Have a proposal in mind.
3. Your response to a counteroffer. Think ahead in case your boss says, “What can we do to keep you here?” or “I’d like to raise your salary by $X.”
4. Mild trauma. If you’re decamping for a competitor, be prepared to be asked to clean out your desk immediately, and have security escort you out. “You have access to information that they no longer want you to have,” Klotz says.
Who else should I tell?
“Personally tell as many people as possible within the organization that you have worked with or had a friendship with, and make sure they don’t first hear it at a staff meeting,” Ellen says. People rise, fall, come and go in unexpected ways. Anyone at the employer you’re leaving could wind up being crucial to your career later. Treat them all like future bosses.
I love my job/boss/organization. Is there anything I can do to make it easier on them?
Yes. Klotz calls this a “grateful goodbye.” “Ask yourself, ‘How can I most minimize disruption?’” You could offer to train your replacement, or give extra notice.
My company wants an exit interview. What do I say in it?
Very little. Klotz suggests going with, “It’s me, not you. This place that I’m leaving is wonderful, but there’s this other opportunity that I need to do.” The exception is if you need to report a toxic or abusive situation. “You are potentially burning your bridge with that person, but sometimes you need to do that just to be a decent human being, and to protect the people you used to work with,” Klotz says.
How will the organization ever improve if I don’t articulate every policy and person who needs to change?
You’re funny. If the company really wants to know why you left, they’ll interview co-workers or your friends, who will bluntly explain. Your goal here is a smooth exit, not a bonfire. No words of complaint need to exit your lips.
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