Face it. You will eventually quit your job. It may be this year. It may be next. It may be ten years from now. But it’s inevitable. It’s only a matter of time. The only real question is how to do it in a way that doesn’t burn your bridges. You never know. You may want to come back. At the very least, you may need a reference.
Unfortunately, many people don’t always end their tenure at a company as well as they begin. The key, in my opinion, is to begin with the end in mind. As leaders, we should be intentional about everything we do—even quitting.
Let’s start with the outcome we want. Here’s how I would define it:
You want your employer and fellow employees to celebrate your contributions, grieve your departure, and eagerly welcome you back if ever given the chance.
Before you turn in your resignation—or even begin looking for another job—let me suggest that you consider the following seven actions:
- Determine to exit with dignity and honor. This is where it starts. It really is all about a decision. You really can leave on a good note. Take the moral high ground. Don’t speak ill of your supervisor, your co-workers, or the company. It will only make you look small and petty. It’s amazing how negative comments have a way of spreading—and moving up the org chart. It’s a small world. And the industry you are working in is smaller still. You never know when you may be working for someone you’re working with now. You never know when you may want to come back. Leave the door open.
- Count the cost of leaving your present job. Someone once said, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. But sometimes we forget: it still has to be mowed!” How true. Every job has it’s pluses and minuses. Even for me, there are days that I would give anything to go back to being an acquisitions editor. And then I remember what it was like. I had bad days there, too. The key is to be realistic. To me, it’s more important to be going toward something rather than moving away from something.
- Give your employer a chance to address your issues. You need to carefully identify what the real issues are. Is the problem your current job, your boss, a co-worker, the system, the whole company, what? If you don’t tell your supervisor, he or she can’t fix it. Of course, they might not be able to fix it even if they know what it is. But unless you give them a chance, you’ll never know. You might just be surprised at how different your experience can be once your key issues are addressed. If you can’t work it out, then make sure you give your employer ample time to find a replacement and plan for a smooth transition.
- Honor your commitments to your current employer. Whether you have an employment contract or not, you have a “duty of loyalty.” This means that you are expected to provide an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. Don’t grow slack in your work or let things fall through the cracks. You want to turn your position over to your successor in tip-top shape. You don’t want your successor to say, “No wonder she left. It’s a miracle she wasn’t fired. She left us with a mess.” Like it or not, your successor will be the primary steward of your reputation at the company. You want her to say, “Wow! She left some big shoes to fill. If I can do the job half as well as she did, I will be a success!” or “She left everything in great shape. The files were well-organized and I knew the status of every project. The transition was seamless.”
- Don’t look for another job on company time or with company email. In essence, this is stealing. Your employer is paying you to work for him. Your time—at least during work hours—belongs to him. He provides you with an email account to use for company business. It doesn’t belong to you. Worse, everything you ever send or receive via company email is retained for years—even if you delete it locally. This includes complaints about your boss or co-workers, discussions with prospective employers (or competitors), fights with your spouse. Everything. And believe me, it can come back to bite you.
- Don’t share proprietary information with prospective employers. This is a simple matter of honesty. Company data, reports, contacts, etc. are assets of the company. Using them for your own benefit is no different than stealing physical property. Providing them to a prospective employer is worse than theft; it’s treason. As an employer myself, I would instantly break off discussions with any prospective employee if they volunteered to give me information from their present employer. They may think they are enticing me to hire them. What they are really doing is revealing that they have no moral compass whatsoever. These are not the kind of people I want infecting my corporate culture.
- Don’t conspire with others to leave the company. In 1986, Robert Wolgemuth and I left Thomas Nelson. We ended up starting a new publishing company called Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Publishers. We left the company within weeks of one another, but we did not discuss going into business prior to our departure. We wanted to be able to say with integrity that we had not left with plans to start something else together. But I have seen others take a different path and usually with disastrous consequences. You want your current employer rooting for you. You want to be able to use him or her as a reference. If you are any good at your job, your employer will hate losing you. If you attempt to take other employees with you—especially good employees—it will only add insult to injury. More than likely, it will burn a bridge that you may well need later.
Finally, if you are determined to quit, then don’t discuss your decision with other employees until you have discussed it with your supervisor. This is a simple matter of respect. The last thing you want is for him or her to “hear it through the grapevine.”
With a little planning, anyone can make a graceful exit. Life is short. The world is small—and cold. You don’t need to create any unnecessary enemies. You’ve already made an investment in your job. Now make one in your career. Think of the future and keep the end in mind.