People change jobs for all kinds of reasons, some of which have little to do with the job itself. You or your partner may have decided to relocate. Maybe you’re leaving a job to go back to school full-time, or to focus on being a stay-at-home parent, or have to take care of an ailing parent.
Other times, the change is very much about the job, whether its a move prompted by juicier career opportunities, pay, and benefits, workplace culture, company mission, or some combination.
In a 2015 study, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that Americans under the age of 48 had worked 11.7 jobs since turning 18. That’s a lot of goodbyes.
Whatever the circumstances, it’s important to leave a job on good terms. Saying goodbye gracefully to an employer is the best way to maintain your professional reputation as well as career contacts that may be useful in the future. And, no matter how challenging the events surrounding your departure, leaving on a positive note (i.e., taking the high road), being the person who handled a challenging situation with grace and left on a positive note, will boost your self-respect, not to mention your future job prospects.
Keep in mind that geography, industry, or simple happenstance could bring you back in contact with someone, somewhere down the road who remembers this moment. You might even end up working for the same company later or the same manager at another business. So how do you say goodbye gracefully and leave on good terms?
1. Be Prepared for Your Handoff
Give some thought to what a new person stepping into your role might need, in terms of operating procedures, workflows, documentation, and resources. Even if you’re not changing jobs, it’s good practice to regularly document your recurring tasks, status of current projects, and your favorite tips and hacks. This can be helpful when you’re out on vacation and need to handoff to a colleague—but it’s extremely valuable to pass along when leaving a job.
Regularly clean up your workspace: organize your email; shred any notes, articles, or memos that are no longer needed; and do the same with electronic files and records. Keep in mind that the standard two- or three-week notice of leaving a job isn’t nearly enough time to prepare a handoff for your replacement and you don’t want to be rushed or stressed in your last few days at work. Delight your employer by leaving behind a road map for an orderly transition and you’ll be remembered well. And speaking of notice…
2. Give Your Employer Adequate Notice
Two weeks notice to an employer is standard, but if you’re in a leadership position, part of a very small team, or engaged in a critical project, three or four weeks notice is better when possible. Most employees are defined as “at will” which means they have no legal obligation to give ANY notice when leaving a job. But you should know that some employers have policies and consequences for workers who leave without notice, which could mean losing any accrued but unused paid leave. (Such policies would be spelled out in your employee handbook – and you’ll find information on state-by-state laws in this article from the Society of Human Resources (SHRM) website).
As far as breaking the news —ideally, you’ll have a face-to-face conversation with the manager and then follow up with a formal letter (via email is fine) that is copied to HR. Workplace communication has gotten more casual, so it’s not uncommon for people to send an email to their manager and copy HR nowadays—but if you have a good relationship with your manager, face-to-face is a good way to show courtesy.
Once you’ve given notice, most employers won’t pile on more work; instead, they’ll begin to transition your projects and tasks to other people. Managers generally appreciate having extra notice, as it gives them time to start searching for replacements, and time for the team to adjust and review projects and workflows. Adequate notice gives you plenty of time to answer questions that come up from co-workers about where you saved such-and-such password or important document so you don’t have to do it when you’re busy onboarding at your new job.
3. Communicate Graciously
After your official notice is given, be sure to send your boss, and any colleagues who were especially helpful, a thank you note. Make the note personal yet professional, and include a story, if you can, about how that person impacted you positively and what you will carry from that as your career progresses.
Respond in writing to each written goodbye you receive, no matter how briefly. Let the senders know how much you appreciate them and that you’ll miss working with them.
Finally, no matter how trying the circumstances may have been during your tenure or surrounding your departure, don’t badmouth your boss or any coworkers as you exit. Keep in mind that you’re leaving a job, and you can afford to be gracious. If a company or supervisor didn’t treat you well, that’s on them. They’ll learn soon enough that while no one is irreplaceable, humans are not expendable.
4. Help Ease the Transition
If you feel comfortable doing it, offer your availability to colleagues to respond to questions about processes or handoff projects by email, text, or phone. If you’ve already started your new job, be sure you respond during breaks, or in your off-hours. While it’s flattering to know you were an MVP at your old job, but you want to be clear that your attention is fully focused on the job you have now.
5. Be a Cheerleader for Your Old Company
Whether you stay in touch via email, LinkedIn, or socially will depend on your relationship, but assuming your experience was generally positive then dropping your former boss a line now and then, commenting on something they’ve shared on LinkedIn, or writing a recommendation for a former colleague about whom you can share some helpful insights are all nice gestures. Provided it’s not a conflict of interest with your new employer, share resources that can be of help. Be a source of job referrals to your old company if you think it’s a good fit for someone you know. If you can do so truthfully, say nice things about the company within your professional network, or leave a positive review on sites like Glassdoor and Salary.com.
Many companies consider former employees strong candidates for future hires, and it’s not at all unusual to leave a stagnating position only to find that, years later, things have changed and there’s a new opportunity at your old company that fits you just right. Leaving behind a positive and professional reputation not just during your tenure, but as you wrap up and exit a job, will enhance your chances with that employer, and with others as well.
Additional Job Exiting Resources:
- Everything You Need to Know About Putting in Two Weeks’ Notice – The Muse
- Sample Resignation Letter – The Balance Careers thebalancecareers.com:
Crystal Spraggins, SPHR (Senior Professional Human resources), SHRM-SCP is an HR professional and freelance writer born, bred, and living in Philadelphia, PA. Crystal has more than 20 years of experience as an HR leader helping small- to mid-sized for-profit and nonprofit companies develop policies, programs, and procedures that increase profits, maximize efficiency, and enhance positive employee relations.