Saying Sayonara: 5 Ways to Leave Your Job With Grace

Maybe Steve Ressler’s discussion about how long you should stay in one position got you thinking. (Catherine Andrews sums the main points up nicely here.) Maybe you’ve been daydreaming about moving on for the past year – or maybe you already have another offer on the table.

However you’ve gotten to this point, you know it’s time to move on. But how do you do so with grace, class, and without burning any bridges?

Give your boss a heads up

Don’t leave your employer in a lurch – make sure to give proper notice before your final day. Two weeks is still the norm, although if you’re in a highly specialized or senior position you may want to give more notice so there’s enough time to replace you. One rule of thumb I’ve heard is to give as much notice as you’re earning yearly in vacation time. That’s a good indicator of how valuable you are to the company. (Speaking of vacation time, don’t give your two weeks on the day you’ve started a two week vacation and expect not to burn bridges.)

Be careful about giving too much notice, however. You may think you’re doing your boss a favor by giving her a hefty lead time, but some employers could drop you on the spot, leaving you out of work sooner than you planned for.

Write a professional resignation letter, and schedule a time to talk with your boss and deliver it personally, rather than surprising him with a drop-in meeting. Above all, make sure your boss hears about your departure from you, not from a third party who’s overheard your plans at the water cooler.

Get your ducks in a row

A few months ago I learned a friend’s husband was taking a position with a small musical instrument manufacturer in Seattle – the same position my cousin had held over five years ago. Talking to him later, I learned that my cousin’s documented procedures and systems were still the gold standard for how to do things at the company. She’d been so thorough that these documents were not only used to train the person replacing her, but everyone who’s taken the position since!

Make sure it’s easy to step into your shoes. Write down your systems, get your files cleaned up and organized, and tie up any loose ends that you can. If you’re in the middle of a big project that can’t be finished before you go, leave detailed notes on the project’s status, and which next steps still need taken.

Don’t burn your bridges

After I agreed to stay on part time for a month to help my old company through a busy time, my boss said: “I think the way a person leaves a company says as much about them as the time they spent working there.” The world is smaller than you think, and word gets around – particularly if you’re staying in the same field. Be as gracious and flexible as you can during your last few weeks, and don’t let your frustrations with your boss or the company lead you to sabotage your future career.

In your resignation letter, exit interview, and announcement letter, be sure to take the high road. This isn’t the time to air your list of dirty laundry, or trash talk the entire organization – a simple “Thanks for the opportunity, I’m moving on,” is all you need. As Thumper says on Bambi, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”

Show your gratitude

Let your coworkers know just how much you appreciated working with them. Even if things at the office have been strained, be sure to find the silver lining and leave on a positive note. Managers and coworkers can act as references, and you may even cross paths again at a future job. Be sure to exchange contact information and connect on LinkedIn to stay in touch.

Single out anyone who acted as a mentor to you, or who was particularly influential in your career. Tell them what their involvement meant to you, either verbally or by writing a thoughtful note.

Make a strong last impression

And, no, I don’t mean making national news for your spectacular exit, like this Jet Blue flight attendant.

We’ve all known coworkers who simply checked out after they gave their notice, skipping meetings, missing deadlines, and taking two-hour lunches. You only get one chance to make a good last impression – do you want to be known for your enthusiasm and work ethic, or for your lackluster final weeks? Finishing strong shows respect for your colleagues, helps ease their transition, and will win you better references in the future.

If you have trouble keeping a smile on your face and a spring in your step, just remember: everything that irritated you about your old job will soon be ancient history.

Good luck moving on!

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Darrell Hamilton

I agree wholeheartedly with your synopsis — in theory. I would like to be in the position of being able to leave graciously. However, it is hard to do so when you have no idea what to expect. Twice I have been at companies who ALWAYS walked people to the door as soon as they gave their two week notice. Both times, I was asked to stay to finish out my two weeks — even once when I was being laid off. I did the best I could, but it is hard to be the gracious exit person when everyone is looking at you and wondering why you are being treated differently. Both times I felt like someone walked me into a fog bank and told me to stay around, but did not give me any direction as to what they were expecting of me. It was like I was a ghost. People were surprised when I showed up to meetings — and refused to continue with the discussion. I eventually just had to ask my boss to either give me a final project or let me just go home. Exiting is a two-way event. You can only be as gracious as the company will let you.

Roderick Santiago

I agree with your comment, Darrell, that leaving graciously is a two-way street. However, I think the benefits of leaving graciously outweighs the risks of being walked to the door sooner than expected or being ostracized, in terms of maintaining contacts with colleagues and even management. In highly-specialized fields, the playing fields might vary but the players, especially the really good ones, are still highly-sought after. Even if one is not in a specialized field, those contacts could still be valuable job leads and/or references down the road.

On the other hand, leaving without notice could potentially leave colleagues and management picking up the pieces. It definitely burns down bridges which would be very difficult to rebuild. I think a good number of us have experienced extra workloads and expectations due to the unexpected voluntary departures of colleagues or even management. It is a very uneasy feeling when one of those ex-coworkers reach out and ask for help later. To me, the question becomes, “Do I help someone who has shown a history of burning bridges?” If so, do I put myself at risk by doing so?