The Way to Work

quitting job, leaving job

The Way to Work: Exiting Gracefully

August 18, 2008
by Rachel Balik
You spend the better part of your life at work. Our weekly feature, The Way to Work, offers tips and guidelines to help you succeed in the office. Sadly, sometimes, a particular job just isn’t working out for you, and either you or your bosses decide it’s time for you to go. Below, find guidance on how to handle your voluntary or involuntary departure with grace and dignity.

Fatal Faux Pas

Once upon a time, you could assume that you’d start at a company, prove yourself at the entry level, and just work your way up until a nice, comfy retirement. Today, most people don’t expect to remain at a single company throughout their working life. Gig blogger Nadira A. Hira says that job loyalty is a thing of the past. The economy is rocky, layoffs are happening left and right, and you simply can’t depend on job security. Any young person working at a big company has probably witnessed her superiors get the boot; it’s a good idea to realize now that your employer does not usually have your welfare at heart. You owe it to yourself to look out for number one, and seize a good opportunity when it comes your way. Of course, you don’t want to burn any bridges, so do end things on a positive note whenever possible.
That means no gloating. If you didn’t like your last job, you’re most likely inclined to celebrate finally quitting, and that’s understandable. But do it in the privacy of your home, not at work, and try to wrap up your current projects as best you can. If you find yourself looking for a reference in the future, or worse, you’re reunited with your current manager at a new company, you don’t want to be the jerk who quit with no notice. Deb Perelman at eWeek notes some other things to avoid, such as writing a sappy resignation letter, or giving too much information about your decision to leave. You can tell your bosses where you’re headed, but don’t mention all the times they annoyed you and made you want to look for a new job. And of course, don’t go outside the chain of command when you make your announcement. Your manager should be the first person to know about your departure.
Unfortunately, sometimes, your supervisor knows you’re leaving before you do: you’re getting fired or laid off. This is undeniably and unavoidably difficult, and often companies don’t offer you the same respect you’d give them if you were the one making the decision to go. It seems like there’s no right way to fire or downsize someone but some employers are less compassionate about it than others, reports The New York Times, telling the story of one woman escorted out of her office and denied the right to wipe off her tear-streaked mascara before passing her co-workers.

Learning To Fly

Although not all companies are so tactless, even the most delicately delivered pink slip is going to hurt, and your own reaction will likely be complicated. It’s OK to cry if you’re getting fired, but it’s even more likely that you won’t even know what hit you. Since you probably won’t be in a position to ask any questions, make sure that before you leave the office, you’ve confirmed that there’s someone you can follow up with later, if you need to understand what happened or tie up any loose ends.
After the initial shock has worn off, take some time to establish a balanced relationship with your former employer. Write a letter to your supervisor and say some constructive, positive things about your experience. Ask that it get put in your file; when you apply for new jobs, your dignity and maturity will be apparent. Also reach out to people at the company who were helpful to you, or with whom you worked well. These contacts can make good references, or may help you establish connections as opportunities arise.

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