How To: Leave your job with grace

National Post

National Post

Sarah Treleaven, Financial Post
Published: Saturday, September 05, 2009

If you’re thinking about leaving your job, here are some tips from the pros on how to avoid burning bridges.


Storming out of the office and never coming back is not the best way to secure a stellar reference. Two weeks’ notice is standard, but try to give a month, and don’t quit in the midst of an important project. Claude Balthazard, director of human resources excellence at the Human Resources Professionals Association, cautions against providing too much notice because it might limit your access to information and new projects. Also, your boss should be the first to find out you’re quitting, so don’t update your Facebook status until it’s official.


Sit down with your boss in private and provide him or her with a short (preferably rehearsed) speech, and then provide a typed letter. You can be as specific or as general as you want about why you’re leaving, but be sure to spell out your last day of work and thank the organization. Career coach Colleen Clarke says that people often use coded explanations: “If you’re leaving because your wife has cancer and you need to stay home, you’re leaving due to personal reasons. If you’re going to another company, you’re moving on to new opportunities.” Regardless, it’s best to keep things short and sweet.


Just because you’ve given notice, it doesn’t mean you can spend your final weeks coming in late, sleeping at your desk and coming back from lunch smelling like three martinis. “You still work there until the minute you leave,” Ms. Clark esays. “Your behaviour is going to affect other people’s ability to perform at their jobs. If you’re screwing around, they’re going to remember you as the colleague who screwed them over.”


If you’re leaving because you’re unhappy, you have to weigh the pros and cons of telling the truth. Tammy Sturge, of HR Transformations, says the No. 1 reason people leave a company is because they’re leaving a manager. If you are unsatisfied, try to work things out with your boss; if he or she fires you, at least you’re entitled to some severance. If that doesn’t work and you’re part of a mass, disgruntled exodus, tipping HR off about your manager’s maniacal tendencies might help the people you’ve left behind. But it’s a small world, and you have to consider the potential consequences.


It’s common for companies to hire people back as consultants, so don’t be afraid to articulate your desire to work with the company again. To stay in the good books, tie up all lose ends and make yourself available by email after your official end date, which will help keep the lines of communication open and ingratiate yourself even further. “Facilitate transitions to make them as undisruptive as possible,” Mr. Balthazard says. In other words, be a team player until the end — even if you have to fake it.


If you’re in a management position, Ms. Sturge recommends extending yourself beyond simply tidying your desk and transitioning files. You can demonstrate leadership by looking for someone you think could step up to the next level: Make requests on their behalf or give them some coaching. Also, acknowledge people for what they’ve done for you and for the organization. “People are often too busy calling in sick and not finishing that report to do this,” Ms. Sturge says.

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