Managing a Departure Professionally


Given that most people no longer stay at one company for life, it continues to amaze me how unprepared leaders are when a colleague tenders a resignation. And given the state of the economy, it also surprises me how many employees' exits range from clumsy to inappropriate.

So let's look at this from both sides of the desk, starting with the departing employee. Now, I know we all secretly wanted to be Jet Blue flight attendant, Steven Slater, who told off a plane full of passengers before grabbing a beer and exiting the plane via the emergency chute. We all wanted to be him until the police showed up. And then there's Marina Shifrin, who quit via a video taped interpretive dance. Afterwards she penned an article with advice for others who want to quit in an equally epic fashion: don't do it. So what's the right way to quit?

If you're leaving the organization...

  1. Don't burn a bridge. Whether you're in hospitality, finance, retail, healthcare... the world has always been small. Social media has made it miniscule. Save your venting for trusted friends. Save the airing of grievances for Festivus. Publicly complaining about the organization you are leaving, and that includes at happy hour with colleagues as well as on Facebook, will come back to bite you. Maybe you don’t care about your current organization, but chances are good there’s a connection to the one where you’re going. Not cool.
  2. Give a reasonable amount of notice.No matter how tempting it is to walk out, don't (see #1). Two weeks continues to be the standard however take into consideration your role in the organization. If you are at a senior level, you will know best how much time is needed to properly wrap up your tenure. Be careful about giving too much notice as well. No one enjoys a long goodbye. Discuss your departure date privately with your boss. Come to an agreement and manage your exit accordingly.
  3. Work until the last day. Nothing’s worse than a short-timer. You’re still being paid to do you job, so do it. Be helpful; write a turnover document giving details of where your projects stand and what loose ends are out there. You may not think the organization deserves it, but your reputation does. It doesn't matter if you have been there for 1 year or 10 years. The first thing people will remember about you is how you left.
  4. Leave the drama at the door. Another baffling mystery to me is the attitude exiting employees often take when they are the ones who have resigned. I’m not naïve. I get that people leave because they are unhappy, usually with their boss. If you’re unhappy then you’ve made the right decision to go. So why are you walking around like you were fired? Knock it off.
  5. Don’t play games. I’ve had more than a few employees use a resignation as a negotiating ploy, thinking that they’ll receive a counter offer to stay. (Tip: don't ever try this with me. I do not counter.) This is a dangerous game. If you want to renegotiate your terms then grow a backbone and have the conversation. Don't hold your boss hostage. It won't end well.
  6. Let the organization manage the message. Talk with your boss about when and how the news of your departure will be managed. This is particularly important for senior level roles. Give the organization time to formulate and communicate a transition plan. It is not up to you to send an all-colleague email blast out to the company.

I recognize there might be bad blood, disappointment, or just high emotions attached to a departure. No matter the reasons, it’s always best to manage your exit from the high road.

The next post will sit on the receiving end of the resignation...

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