So you wanna quit your job

I often get calls from people looking for work. And I’m happy to help. Over the past few years, I’ve written several posts on how to get a job in PR. You can find them, here, here, here and here.

But one thing that never comes up is the flip side – how to leave a job. That is, how to leave it decently without slamming a door on your way out.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while and now that I don’t have any employees I figured this is as good a time as ever to share my POV.

There are many reasons to leave a job including: you’ve been headhunted and offered a better opportunity, you’re griping more than usual, you’re going back to school, you’ve been-there-done-that, or you dream of trying something new. 

Or maybe you find the environment toxic and stressful and hate going in every day. If that’s the case, you need to be honest with yourself and your employer and take positive action as soon as you can. 

So… you’ve made your decision to start job hunting. 

Here are five things you should do:

  1. Talk to your manager and let them know how you feel.  Do it early, as soon as you make the decision even if you haven't lined up your next gig. No one gets fired for saying they’re looking.  And that gives your boss a chance to talk to you and try to fix the situation. At the very least they can start planning for your departure and will resent you less. 
  2. People: we know what it means when someone talks on their cell phone by the elevator every day, dresses up to go to a doctor’s appointment or suddenly has a lot of emergency repair issues around the house that takes them away from work at the last minute.  Schedule unpaid time off for your interviews (and try to book them on the same day).
  3. When you do give notice, be present in mind and body for the last week or two in the office. Don’t just coast, that’s demoralizing to everyone who’s staying. Do your work, clean up ALL the loose ends (even if that means staying late) and train people well.  Leave with everything crossed off your to do list. 
  4. Don’t be a jerk and make your colleagues feel bad about staying.  This is not a game of follow the leader. Don’t let your guilt push you into a silly argument to justify your decision.  And don’t countdown your days – nobody likes that. Just because you’re going doesn't mean you’ve left.
  5. And one last word of advice:  they will survive – and likely thrive – without you! Really.  Everyone’s replaceable. Even the boss.  Think about that to give yourself some humility.  You’re just leaving a job, not making a statement that will change the course of the world.

It’s not hard to walk away with class, good relationships and an open door.  It’s a small world and you never know when you’ll find yourself on the outside, trying to get back in.

Do you have any advice on how to make a graceful exit?

About Martin Waxman


Martin Waxman is a digital, social media and communications strategist, content marketer, social media trainer and instructor and co-founder of three PR agencies. He blogs at myPALETTE and hosts the Inside PR podcast.

14 comments
mikelleliette
mikelleliette

I found this post very interesting and very important. It's true, we always focus on getting the job and not on the appropriate way to leave the job. No matter who you are, young or old, you probably have had to leave one or more jobs, and it probably has been an awkward situation for you. This post was very beneficial to me and is something that I was not educated on before I read it.

Lindsay Chisholm
Lindsay Chisholm

I'm sure it will be no surprise to you that I love this post!

I would add: exit interviews. Exit interviews can be an important HR tool for an organization and while it is the company's responsibility to facilitate this, soon-to-be ex employees can certainly provide some value before they walk out the door. Why are they leaving? What could have been done differently? Of course, this feedback should be objective and add value (not an arena to vent about your colleagues or company policies - exit gracefully). A structured list of questions can help keep the interview streamlined and relevant.

I also really appreciate getting updates from former colleagues to let me know where they've landed. It's important to keep that connection because you never know when you'll cross paths again. As you know, Martin, a year ago, energi re-hired an ex-employee that resigned in 2008 for another agency opportunity. It happens!

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

What a great idea for a post!
#1 is tricky, and I don't disagree with you or @KensViews. It depends on your relationship with your boss (es). I became totally unhappy at a job and felt completely comfortable sharing it with my boss. We figured out a way for me to continue with them on contract, taking with me the favorite part of my job and leaving all the stuff I hated behind.

They were the first client in my new business, as it turns out....so it was a big win for everyone.

No one wants a grumpy grumpster at the workplace so it's in everyone's best interest to work it out. Just start those wheels in motion before you burn any bridges. Then you won't burn any bridges. :)

KeelanGreen
KeelanGreen

Nice post Martin.

Frankly, over the years, I have been shocked at how poorly people handle departures. I have seen very senior people who are managing both teams and projects give two weeks notice, with zero indication that they were even looking. Some of those same people only days or a few weeks before have actually stated that they were committed and not looking. Some even just completed and signed off an annual review and compensation process.

I think point 1 works if the person has been with the company for a while and are successful and productive. While the employer is unlikely to walk a person out that comes to them openly and honestly, if they have been an underperformer for a while, the employer may not be open to having them stay around for an extended period while they look for something else. That said, if the employee is sure the the employer values them and their contributions, this is definitely the right approach. If you only have one foot out the door, this may spark a discussion on some changes that can be made to keep you. Employees would likely be surprised that employers don't always realize they aren't fully satisfied at work.

Points 3, 4 and 5 are spot on. WRT point 5, people often panic when someone, particularly if they are senior, quit. Departures allow an opportunity for other employees to step up and seize the opportunity left by a more senior person moving on, and it also allows the company to hire someone that is even better.

With all the discussion and reality about how frequently people change jobs nowadays, I continue to be surprised by how shocked and upset employees are when a colleague quits and at how poorly people handle resignations.

Lastly, if you feel you are of any value to the company, enough with the two weeks notice - you can offer that, but also offer to stay longer and be open to discussing an appropriate exit plan and date with your employer.

sherrilynnestarkie
sherrilynnestarkie

You are correct. Everyone is replaceable. And, it's kinda scarey how easy it can be.

KensViews
KensViews

Martin I agree with the last four, but not sure about #1. Some managers/firms will start to write off those they believe have made up their minds to go. And some will indeed replace those who enter into this kind of conversation. I'd recommend, as an alternative, that the employee create a vision for what it would take to make their current job more fulfilling, turn it into a plan and then bring it to their manager. Said manager may not have realized what the employee is looking for, or how ambitious their vision is (in a good way). and will actually meet them halfway. (And I'm not just talking about money, but responsibility, type of work, etc. ) This might might actually result in the employee wishing to stay. And if the manager can't meet them halfway, if the employee leaves, it's less of a shock. (And the vision/plan helps the employee determine what they really want in their next position. Respectfully submitted.

TorontoLouise
TorontoLouise

All good points Martin. They should be common sense really but sadly, they're not anymore. The last one is particularly true. I remember when I quit one job, I was sure that the whole department would fall apart without me there. I was so convinced that I was the only person keeping it together. But of course it survived, maybe even better without an unhappy person in the mix and it's still thriving today, long after I left.

martinwaxman
martinwaxman moderator

Thanks @mikelleliette. I guess the key is to be open and have some respect on the way in and the way out.

martinwaxman
martinwaxman moderator

Thanks @Lindsay Chisholm. Great point about exit interviews - hopefully both sides can be honest and avoid petty gripes. And you're right, people can come back and be successful and everyone is the better for it.

martinwaxman
martinwaxman moderator

Thanks Lisa. You're so right about the grumble factor. It's especially hard in a small workplace where a couple of people can really set a bad tone. @lisa Gerber @KensViews - I was thinking about your comment again, Ken and I think you need to have a good relationship with your boss to have that first conversation. I do think it's so important to be honest and transparent, but it's easy to shy away from that.

martinwaxman
martinwaxman moderator

Great points @KeelanGreen. I like your suggestion about more notice, which in a way, ties in with my first point. And as tough as it is for people who feel they're losing a friend, when one person leaves, it gives those who are talented and committed a chance to shine and take on new opportunities.

martinwaxman
martinwaxman moderator

I remember leaving one place and thinking that all the clients would follow... Was I ever wrong. They all stayed, but it was a good lesson for me... @sherrilynnestarkie

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