There is an art to quitting your job.
When you are a business owner, you know that some employees will stay with you for thirty years, and others will leave after three months. And when you are a driven achiever in your career, you may find one company you can work your way up for decades, or you may leapfrog from opportunity to opportunity, year after year.
Coming and going is part of working in the busy world of business.
However, what is far more important than deciding whether or not to stay in one role or move on to the next is how you make the transition. If you leave on good terms, your previous employer may actually be your key to unlocking your next big opportunity — maybe they know someone, or are willing to be your glowing reference. I’ve even heard of previous employers turning into angel investors, willingly funding their former employee’s new company.
But if you leave on bad terms, then not only do you opt out of all these benefits of having someone in your corner, but you may actually make things harder for yourself. Consequences can range from not having anyone to vouch for you (no references), all the way up to word getting around your industry and no one wanting to hire you. (Or, for an extreme example, look no further than the self-driving car IP lawsuit that emerged when an employee from Google went to work for Uber.)
I’ve personally noticed a change in professional etiquette over the years (not for the better). I “grew up” believing that nothing was more important than relationships as you’re building your career so I’ve always been sensitive in how I treat them.
While remote life and sweatpants are acceptable today, consideration, thoughtfulness, and care for relationships shouldn’t be thrown out the window.
Here’s how to leave your job without burning bridges.
1. Not everyone has a job — so if you have one, be thankful for it.
If you are feeling ready to move on in your career and think it’s time to quit, that’s totally fine.
But say “thank you” on the way out.
Sometimes, we take for granted that “a job” quite literally means someone else is taking money out of their own pocket and putting it into yours. Yes, you are being hired for a role. Yes, you are earning that money with your time and experience. But still, it is a gift. It is not something every single person on planet earth is entitled to. It’s a privilege, and an opportunity everyone should be grateful for when they have it, regardless of whether it was your “dream job” or not.
Plus, you’ve likely gained experience in your role. Oftentimes this is because your coworkers or manager(s) have invested time and energy training you. This is one of the reasons you’re equipped for your new role so don’t forget to acknowledge that.
2. Do not resign over Slack or email.
2020 and the coronavirus pandemic changed a lot of things about how we work and communicate with each other.
But one thing that should never be treated lightly is your departure from a company.
If it’s time for you to pursue another opportunity, schedule a meeting with your supervisor or employer. If a meeting can’t happen (or we’re in the middle of a global pandemic), schedule a video or phone call. Make the effort to connect on a personal level, thank the person who hired you for the opportunity, and let them know you would like to remain in touch.
Anything less is considered lazy and disrespectful.
3. Leave things better off than when you started.
Another aspect of leaving a job I find most people don’t think about is how the company will need to adjust after the fact.
If you have ever worked in a small company before, then you know that when someone leaves, that means someone else has to pick up the slack. It’s a challenging time. How you choose to leave your previous position is often the defining factor in whether the relationship you have with your former employer remains positive or negative. If you give very little notice or don’t work hard at the end to help prepare the company or the next person with the transition, you are going to leave on bad terms.
Similar to the rule most of us were taught by our mothers when going over to someone else’s house to play, “You should leave the place better than you found it.”
4. Plan ahead, and be vulnerable.
There is something to be said for giving your employer insight into what’s happening in your life.
Before you take a new job, it’s appreciated if you sit down with your manager or employer and let them know you are planning on taking a new opportunity. You never know…your employer might be able to offer you something that motivates you to stay.
It’s also appreciated to discuss what would be most helpful for your current employer in terms of departure date. For example, if you are in the middle of a big project, and you know it’s going to be difficult, if you leave in the middle of it, you should talk about what that might look like in advance.
Sure, two weeks’ notice may be “industry standard,” but when you play a pivotal role in a small company, your departure takes a meaningful toll. So if you want to pay respect to your boss or the company, you can easily ask for three weeks or a month before you accept another offer — kind humans at other companies, no matter how much they need you, will likely respect this thoughtful treatment of your current employer.
These are not formal job description requirements, but they are basic life skills.
And the kinder and more respectful you can be when leaving your job, the more likely you are to build long-term relationships that are meaningful in the long run. Paths often cross again in the future.