There are many reasons why people leave employers. Sometimes the reason is due to a difficult work environment thanks to disruptive workers or a micromanaging boss. In other cases it’s the job itself – either a new and better opportunity comes along or the duties have changed so much that the very thought of sticking around is like nails on a chalkboard. And of course there are other personal reasons like illness or moving to a new area. Whatever the reason, leaving a job in most cases requires a bit of planning and preparation to make sure that the transition from employee to former employee is smooth and a positive reflection on your professional standing.
One of the most important tasks you can complete is to create a punchlist of any outstanding items you have. The list can be as detailed as required, but essentially the act of writing down things like open customer issue, project management deliverables, key contacts, or anything else that allows your boss or other designated people to pick up where you are leaving off is important. Even if you are in a situation where you are bitter and don’t feel you should leave a to do/follow list, do it anyway because the act itself carries more value than how you feel about doing it.
The people you work with might have mixed feelings about you leaving. They might fear more work, or have a sense that a major connection or bridge to information (through you) will be gone. Regardless if your contacts are immediate peers or cross-functional colleagues, make sure that you remain accessible and willing to help with transition concerns important to others. Offer to do a few extra tasks if appropriate to show that you are not intending to leave people high and dry.
Presumably, you want people to know how to get a hold of you if there are questions related to your former job duties or for general help. This can be a difficult decision especially if you are over the company. But the professional thing to do is to acknowledge that you can’t document everything and that you are open to receiving a quick email or brief call for assistance. Typically this act of generosity is assumed for about thirty days, after that, you are within your rights to decline further assistance or request consulting fees.
Everyone appreciates a tidy workspace, so both physically clean and organize your materials. If you have time, label your files and folders both paper and electronic. And most important – remove any personal (not company proprietary) files, photos or related information ahead of your last day. This also means removing bookmarks and saved passwords used to access bank account or personal information.
If you experience a bad working environment, the temptation is to just leave and teach your boss or the company a lesson. Or you have a new job and the employer is demanding you start immediately without notice. A notice period is a courtesy gesture and in most cases an assumed action by an employee who is leaving voluntarily. This period also sets up the parameters for transition activities and allows the department, team, and organization some space to adjust. Two weeks is typical and longer periods might be required depending on the circumstances.
Sometimes the hardest thing to do before you leave is to not speak disparagingly about your job experience or about others. Every company has strengths and weaknesses whether it’s how the business is run or the behaviors of its people. The main focus you must have is on your professional conduct and not leave a bad final impression with others. You could have been at the company ten years and considered a great employee, but you could unravel that sentiment in just a few days of negative interactions. Simply focus on what you have to deliver before you leave and don’t burn bridges.
As more people hear about you leaving, you might find yourself going to lunches, having long hallway conversations, or encounter similar distractions. While the pleasantries and conversation about your future are nice, if these distractions prevent you from completing your transition activities, it’s a problem. Part of the impression you leave is the diligence and dedication you give to your job until the final day. People see your actions as a sign of respect and that while you are still an employee you remain accountable to your goals.
Sensitivity to revealing information about your next steps is highly personal. Some people are open with the details, but others might feel uncomfortable. Point is you don’t have to tell people what you are doing or where you are going. Since the does question come up, it’s better to have a statement prepared to respond. For example, “I’m taking some time to think about what I want to do next.” You might already have a new job, and people might think it’s strange that you are quitting a job without a new one lined up in a tough economy, but that doesn’t matter. The main thing is you leave people with a sense of what you are doing without needing to share too much.
A big temptation when leaving a job especially if you are in a negative environment is send a company wide email about your departure. In the email you let loose with all the fodder and vitriol you have bottled up, which is definitely not a good idea in terms of your professional reputation and potentially corporate legal actions, depending on what you say. Disparagement of your employer is typically frowned up even though it feels like a good idea at the time.
The reason people leave companies will always vary. One constant, regardless of reason, is your conduct. The more professional you are, even in circumstances that make it difficult to do so, the better you come off as a person and in the minds of those who might be your future employers or employees.
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