Quit Your Job with Grace

We have all fantasized about it at one time or another.

We accept a new job, set sights on the future, and compose a few choice words to share with a frustrating co-worker, boss, or client when we are ready to announce our departure. In reality, most of us (with a few notable exceptions) know that burning bridges is dangerous business.

Although it has been an ‘employer’s market’ for some time, you might be surprised when your current employer reacts more aggressively to your resignation than you were expecting. Resignations can lower morale, reflect poorly on the immediate superior, and disrupt productivity. It is no surprise that companies would react with the following retention tactics to prevent (or at least stall) your departure.

Reactive Retention Tactics: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

The Ugly: the guilt trip is an effective first line of defense since superiors can rightly exclaim, “You can’t leave now! We need you!” Indeed, some folks may succumb to this dull hook of guilt.

The Bad: extracting reasons for leaving or information about the new employer. This gives the current boss ammunition to sow the seeds of doubt; “Oh, I have heard ‘bad things’ about that company.” We are patently trepidatious with change, and the economic turmoil has not done our confidence any favors.

The Good: “We are poised for growth and you are a key player on our team. You have unlimited potential here. If it is a higher salary/position you want, let’s see what we can work out…” I have seen companies double salaries and create new positions just to retain top talent.

Even the most burnt out and resolute are susceptible to these reactive ‘retention tactics’.

Giving notice can be harder than you expect.

There is no good time for companies to lose an employee unexpectedly. For employers, it is better to scramble for retention reactively, prepare for a transition, and then ‘let go’ when it suits them. For candidates, a ‘retention raise’ or promotion tends to attract more scrutiny, and more stringent accountability.

Announcing a departure irreversibly changes relationship dynamics and brands you as a liability. What’s more, over 50% of people who accept counter-offers end up leaving or getting fired within twelve months.* So, once you have let the cat out of the bag about your decision to leave, there is no going back. Before handing in your notice, consider a little preparation.

Tips for making a graceful exit.

Keep it positive

It was true when we were children, and it is still true today: ‘If you do not have anything nice to say, do not say anything at all.’ A job change is a personal choice, and it is okay to withhold additional reasons. Prepare phrases such as: “I have really appreciated the opportunity to work here. However, I am ready for a new challenge.” and “I am excited to develop my career and expand my breadth of experience elsewhere.”

Keep it professional.

Co-workers may want more information in an effort to understand your decision to resign. This is an opportunity to voice pent-up frustrations, and, therefore, is best left alone. Your reputation -a hard-earned and highly valuable career asset- can be tarnished by such spontaneous, unprofessional choices. Develop talking points ahead of time, stick to that ‘script’ at the moment of truth, and you will be fine.

Facilitate the transition.

Go the extra mile to ensure a smooth transition. Wrap up loose ends, provide a solid summary of all work and projects in process, and help your successor hit the ground running. Leaving a mess could tarnish an otherwise gleaming track record.

It is cliché, but well worth repeating; people are more connected than ever. Social Media amplifies gossip. Leaving a sour taste with an ex-employer could come back to haunt your palate. At the executive level, and in some industries, it is a small world. For that matter…

Stay connected with co-workers.

Maintaining relationships is key to long-term success. Who knows whom you will want to connect with in the future. As mentioned above, easing the transition for co-workers left behind shows initiative, consideration, and professionalism. Such demonstrations of integrity will keep the door open with your chosen contacts. You may end up working with old co-workers in the future, and your considerate actions will be remembered much longer than a ‘few choice words’.