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How to Quit Gracefully

What to do when it's time to 'exit, stage right' - the right way
A client seeks work at an unemployment office in Jerusalem (Photo by Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
A client seeks work at an unemployment office in Jerusalem (Photo by Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

When you started at this job, you really wanted it to work. You did your best to make it work. But you have finally come to the realization that the time has come to move on.

Whether you have been at this job for ten years or two weeks, it is critical to plan your exit in a way that will reflect well on you professionally, and a way that you will feel proud of when you look back.

Quitting your job can be a very emotionally fraught event. You are often leaving for the unknown and facing financial insecurity, and at the same time, you may be leaving because of negative relationships or frustrating professional situations that can make clear thinking and responsible behavior difficult.

When to quit

Once you come to realization that the time has come for you to leave your current job, it can be very tempting to act on the decision immediately. However if at all possible, it’s a good idea to find your next job or at least begin an interview process before leaving your current employment.

Unfair as it may be, you will be more attractive to potential employers when you are employed than when you are not. Also, you will probably be able to leave your job with more grace and generosity if you have an idea of where you are going, and such a leave-taking has great value for your professional reputation.

Inform professionally

The most unprofessional way to leave a job is to let the fact get out through rumors and hearsay. Be respectful of your employer and colleagues, and let them know in a timely and professional manner. This includes telling the most senior people first, so that they have time to digest it and prepare for the questions and concerns of other employees.

No matter how angry or frustrated you are with your boss, giving the respect of informing him/her in person reflects well on you, showing you to be master of the situation and capable of professional behavior even under strain. A brief, respectful meeting, including or followed by the presentation of a written resignation, will do the trick.

Immediately following the meeting, personally inform your closest colleagues of your decision. Then send out a previously crafted email to your other colleagues and coworkers.  If possible, do it all in one day to ensure that most, if not all, of your colleagues hear it directly from you.

What to say?

Honesty is always the best policy – but that does not mean you have to say everything you think or feel. Most of us leave jobs for a combination of reasons, such as a dearth of opportunities for professional development and advancement, a need to be bringing in a higher salary, a micromanaging or otherwise difficult boss, and a desire for change.

You don’t have to go into all the soul searching that went into your decision; choose one or two more inoffensive reasons (even if they are not the central reasons for your decision), and use them consistently to explain your move. Sometimes just saying that you feel the time has come for you to move on and develop in other ways will be enough. This is not the time to place blame or call out your boss or colleagues for their role in your decision to leave.

Make sure to also emphasize the positive things you can say about your time at the job. Even if you are leaving with a lot of anger and sadness, you can probably find a couple of things that you did appreciate about the job, the company, or the working environment that you can mention. This will soften the blow and will also placate your boss or other colleagues who may feel hurt or offended by your desertion.

Give fair notice, and help transition your role

Especially if you are leaving because of negative professional relationships, it can be very tempting to just walk out and slam the door. It may even be tempting to sabotage the company’s recovery from your departure by deleting or taking home essential materials and information that you created or managed.

As sweet as revenge may seem at the moment, it’s not in your best interest. Poor professional behavior has a way of coming back to haunt us. In the end, you will appear to the best advantage and (after your anger has died down) you will be prouder of yourself if you act responsibly.

This means giving notice as required by law or by your contract; actually working during the time remaining to you; and taking responsibility for transferring the relevant information to your successor in a timely and professional manner. If your successor has not been found by the time you have left, either conduct the transition with another member of the team who will then oversee the onboarding of your replacement, or else commit to spend a few hours with your successor when s/he is found.

After you have left…

After leaving a job, some people feel that they are now free to criticize their former place of employment and employer, among friends, acquaintances, and even social media.

While it is important to have an outlet for your emotions and essential to work through your feelings about the job you have left in order to work towards a better experience in your next role, choose your confidantes selectively and wisely. Your closest friends, your partner, and close family members are all appropriate addresses for your pain, anger, and frustration at your previous workplace and employers. They will be focused on giving you emotional support and love as you go through your professional transition.

Beware, though, of sharing your critiques of your former workplace with a broader audience, and definitely steer clear of such comments on social media, which may be discovered by the wrong people at the wrong time. Potential employers may be wary of employing someone who has been known to lash out at previous employers in public forums.

Don’t do anything you would be ashamed to admit

When you are feeling angry and hurt, a good test of any planned action is to measure it by whether you will be comfortable admitting to it to anyone and everyone, including a future employer.  If you are tempted to do something, but you know that you will probably not be proud of it in the future, hold back. If you want revenge, the best revenge is to succeed professionally elsewhere; and the best way to ensure that, is to behave professionally now.

Quitting a job can rock your world, and leave you shaky and insecure. The best way to build up your confidence is to act in ways you will be proud of. Acting professional, responsible and even noble will enhance your self esteem and reinforce your best self. And that will directly help you to succeed in your next professional role.

About the Author
Gila Weinberg, CEO of Mikum Consulting, is a recruiter and a career coach. She helps organizations and companies find great employees, and helps great people figure out their next career move. Gila is also the author of Not So Grimm: Jewish Fairy Tales, a comparison between tales from the Talmud and classic fairy tales.
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