How Do You Leave a Job Gracefully?

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This topic contains 13 replies, has 10 voices, and was last updated by  Jerry Schmidt 7 years, 8 months ago.

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  • #166637

    Patrick Fiorenza

    I think we often spend a lot of time on the front end of finding a job, and not really on what to do once you are ready to leave. I have a colleague who is in the midst of leaving a job for a new one, what are some suggestions you could provide to leaving gracefully?

    This position they are leaving was not desirable for my colleague. Although there was never tension and arguments at the workplace, leaving will still probably come as a shock as my colleague was a high performer at the organization.

    What steps would you recommend in providing notification to your current employer? Anyone have experience and could provide some insights?

    Thanks all for the help!

  • #166663

    Jerry Schmidt


    The first thing I would emphasize is to maintain his professionalism. Give as much notice as is humanly possible; offer to work with whoever will have to pick up his work in the interim; make certain all contacts and archives are updated (that he is responsible for) and basically just go out as a high performer. He also needs to keep it quiet; he doesn’t need to act the part of the short-timer. If asked why he is leaving, he can simply say, “This is a good job, but it’s not quite the position for me.” DO NOT slam the department, boss, co-workers or anybody else. I had to leave a position I had for over six years and I performed highly in it as well. I kept it professional and parted on good terms. That’s it; just keep treading the upward path.

  • #166661

    Patrick Fiorenza

    Thanks Jerry, very helpful – forwarded along to my friend. I like how you framed it, “that’s it, just keep treading the upward path.” Can use that quote in a lot of different professional situations.

  • #166659

    Mark Hammer

    I regularly tell people that turnover is rarely a problem. You can always find a warm body to fill the seat. The REAL question is whether the replacement, or people who remain behind know what the person walking out the door knows. In other words, the big question is whether the functional continuity/capacity of the organization is maintained in the face of the departure, or compromised by it.

    And what that suggests is that the most graceful exit is one which strives to assist the organization in maintaining that capacity. That could include (but is not limited to):

    • Providing as much lead time to the hiring manager as possible (as opposed to “I’m starting another position elsewhere in two weeks. Have a nice life.”). If that permits a quick replacement hire with some job shadowing, so much the better.
    • Organizing your files, papers, e-mail, documents, etc., so they can be useful to, and searchable by, others.
    • Taking steps to actively transfer knowledge.
    • Preparing all those who have come to rely on, or interact with you for your departure.
    • Maybe providing your manager with some possible referrals for your replacement. That could even include people within the organization who are a little more prepped for it than the manager was aware of.

    As much as they prefer it not happen, managers have learned to begrudgingly accept departures and turnover. I think they said it best in Bye Bye Birdie (at least in our high school’s version) where Mama Petersen declares about her adult son cutting the apron strings and getting himself a fiancée “At last it’s come. It’s come at last. The day I knew would come at last has come come at last!”

  • #166657

    Henry Brown

    The first thing that comes to mind is “Don’t burn any bridges” …

    In fact I would suggest that the phrase “if you can’t say anything good don’t say anything” regardless of the subject while leaving probably comes even closer to the attitude/mindset which should be displayed…

    So much is dependent on the organizations policy with departing employees…. It is somewhat common in the private sector(at least it use to be) that when you inform your supervisor the policy is to escort you to the door. less so in the public sector… This policy will significantly affect how one gracefully exits stage left…

  • #166655

    Chris Cairns

    I definitely agree with the advice not to burn any bridges. It’s a very, very tiny world. As far as leaving gracefully, well that starts the very first day you start the job. Always conduct yourself as a professional and act with integrity. If your colleagues disrespect you there’s no such thing as a graceful exit. Before you do leave, make sure that you gauge how critical you are to the operation. Will the company collapse? If so, then give the organization plenty of runway to find replacement talent. Be sure to finish-up any big projects that you’re working on.

  • #166653

    Marc Overbeck

    I have left many positions in the public sector and one in the private sector. I want to share briefly about the private sector departure and then offer some insight around the public sector.

    I took a management job in the private sector which required a move out of my native state, after serving in the public sector for over 15 years. The job was challenging, frustrating, exhilerating and exciting and a real opportunity to be innovative. Ultimately I did not meet all the expectations of my managers when they hired me and after two years I was told I would be replaced. This was hard to swallow for me, given how much I had invested in the position and the organization. For a few days I was really upset and even started scheming about “how to make sure no one knew it was my fault.” What I did instead, however, was take total responsibility for the situation, and while it was not about “blame or fault” I resolved to operate with the professionalism and the level of performance and performance outcomes that I someone in my position would be expected to fulfill. I used the next two months to really make sure that people around me were acknowledged for their contributions, I did everything I saw I could do to make sure the office was really in great shape for my successor, who had been a member of my staff. Not only was senior management delighted, they asked me to stay with the company longer than they had planned…and my final quarter as the manager was my best quarter ever–and out of 42 offices ours was in the top 5 when I left. It was a real triumph for me and for others who knew about the situation.

    Now, applying this to the public sector–totally still fits. Whether you leave for a promotion, a termination, to go do something else…my advice is:

    * Be great with people

    * Perform in your job with grace and professionalism

    * Make sure to thank people around you and leave them with a sense of their contribution to you and to the organization. I agree with others that you do not need to go into details about why you are leaving, unless you are leaving for a promotion, in which case you can say “this job really enabled me to succeed and move on to what’s next.”

  • #166651

    David B. Grinberg

    Well put, Henry. Or, as Benjamin Franklin said:

    “Speak ill of no man, but speak all the good you know of

  • #166649

    David B. Grinberg

    Question, Jerry: what’s wrong with just saying one is leaving for “career advancement” if asked? Isn’t that the truth anyway? Some may say it sounds “snide” but the employee is leaving to advance his/her career –especially if the person is a high-performer. Isn’t that usually, or at least sometimes, the case? Unless, of course, they really are leaving for other reasons, such as spending more family time or whatever other reason it may be.

  • #166647

    David B. Grinberg

    Great comments and advice by everybody. I would just add this: try to have a goodbye party in your office or organization. Hopefully, this will happen without your initiating it. Also, never decline a farewell salute if offerred by your colleagues. This is just smart office politics and human relations when leaving on good terms or exiting gracefully. Even if it’s just an office goodbye lunch, that’s better than nothing. This is just the icing on the cake — that is, assuming you get a cake.

  • #166645

    Eric L. Poole

    Even before you begin your job search for the next step in the ladder, you should be considering who will pick up the load when you exit. Never work in a vacuum. Identify a capable person, bounce ideas off them, and regale them with stories about the people with whom you interface. Keep your files and notes organized. Then, when the time comes, the transition period can be short but effective. The old two week notice is plenty of time to go over the current status of your work in detail, and to introduce the replacement to your contacts. The boss may override your idea of a replacement, but at least you tried.

    The other key is to make a clean break. Just like any relationship, if you are going to end it, end it decisively. If your replacement calls with factual questions, such as where did you store some files, what is the name of this contact, go ahead and give the answers. These calls won’t go on for very long. But if they call for advice, provide non-answers. It’s not your job anymore, you don’t make the calls, they need to take over the work and be in charge.

  • #166643

    I agree with most of Jerry’s point except for “[g]ive as much notice as is humanly possible.” Depending on the position and the level of access to sensitive company information this can backfire spectacularly.

    My husband gave 5 weeks notice at a previous job and, due to the nature of his position, found himself out of work the next day. The company was kind enough to acknowledge he was trying to be helpful and paid him two-weeks severance pay. Also, he was able to begin sooner at his new job so it was not a financial hardship. Regardless, it was quite a shock and a lesson well learned.

  • #166641

    I agree with the need for a goodbye party. I was a very high performer at a private sector job a few years ago. When I left, no one even said goodbye to me let alone had a lunch or party. I have always been a little bothered by this because I put so much into that company.

    Whenever someone I know leaves my current office, I make sure they are acknowledged in some way. I hope that my concerted efforts are remembered down the line when I decide to make a career change.

  • #166639

    Wow Marc. What you did took a ton of both courage, humility, and tackfulness. I’m so glad it paid off for you. Your experience really shows just how important it is to “treat others as you would ilke to be treated” and not burn bridges. You actually didn’t just not burn your bridge, you built another one and as a result you left with more dignity and respect than you may have otherwise left with. Thak you for sharing your experience with us.

    ~ Ebony

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