Updated: Nov 23, 2022
"NEVER MUDDY THE FIRST WATERHOLE YOU COME TO – YOU MIGHT JUST HAVE TO GO BACK AND DRINK THERE!"
Rubertha Thompson (my mum)
An old Military tactic was to destroy resources you've had your fill of, so the pursuing enemy doesn't get the opportunity to also refresh themselves...but what if you have to double back?
There can be any number of reasons why someone needs to move to pastures new. Sometimes a move is necessary to develop your career; other times the environment has proved unhealthy because of stress or sometimes even abuse. Whatever the reason, you wake up one morning and say to yourself... ‘I need to leave!’
Questions like, ‘when or how should I do this?’ soon follow. Truth be told at this point we are rarely thinking about the impact our departure might have on our current employer. So does it matter how you leave? Yes it does! I can think of at least 3 reasons why you should leave well.
Reason 1: You may think to yourself “I will never work for that organisation again!” but remember organisations are made up of people, and people who upset other people, leave too! Going back to an organisation you’ve left is not unheard of especially if the person who upset you has gone.
Reason 2: People who treat other people well, also leave and may cross your path again. If they see you or hear of you down the line, it is better if they remember good things about you.
Reason 3: You don’t know how many people, the people you plan to leave behind know, and how much influence they have in the world beyond your current place of employment! You may never bump into the people from your old company again but you need to consider who else they know. People tend to continue working within a specific industry. It is entirely possible for an ex-employer to influence your future with a single thoughtless comment about how much trouble you caused before you left and innocently declare that the trail of unfinished projects you left behind you is the only thing anyone remembers about you!
STEPS TO LEAVING WELL
Work your notice period
I have seen people use annual leave as a way of working their notice. If this does not inconvenience the company and it’s a mutually agreeable way forward this option is viable. What needs to be remembered however is that the notice period is a way of allowing your company/department some breathing space so that they can find a replacement and deal with outstanding work. If these goals are compromised by you taking 3 weeks annual leave from the moment you quit, then you might want to rethink your plans. You are of course entitled to take whatever holiday is due to you. It is best however to negotiate that unused holiday is paid in your final paycheque than to run the risk of immediately becoming unavailable to close-off projects.
If you are being harassed or bullied at work, it can be very difficult to keep going back, even to work your notice. Get advice about your options and look after your mental health. If you have formally complained and your employer knows that you are unhappy with the way you are being treated, they may be more flexible about how you work your notice. If they refuse to be flexible, you must look after your health.
Finish outstanding work
It can be difficult to motivate yourself to work hard or make sacrifices when you are leaving. It’s much easier to walk away from a project that requires a level of commitment you might not have even given had you stayed employed with this company; let alone now that you are working your notice! Looking at a project and saying, ‘it’s not my problem anymore!’ or simply walking out can have repercussions. The person who you leave with lots of additional work could one day be your boss in another life, another time!
Whatever justification you give yourself or others give you to walk and keep walking, need to be left well alone. Your integrity should not have an ‘on-off’ switch! Work through your outstanding projects to the best of your ability. If something won’t be finished by the time you are ready to leave, forecast how far along the project will be by that time, and detail what will remain in your capacity to deliver. You might even recommend who can continue with it in your absence. Where appropriate do handover notes so that people can pick up from where you left off.
A lot of this is challenging to do especially if you believe you have not been treated well. But remember… this is about who you are and how you want to be remembered. So be helpful – your employer should be sorry to lose you, not counting the days until you leave!
Do not treat your resignation like an amateur dramatic production: walking in to work late, interrupting an important meeting to say ‘I quit!’ won’t win you an Oscar! Neither will telling everyone you’re leaving before you have told your boss. You need to tell the right person/people in the right way.
Write a formal letter stating the notice period effectiveness date and give reasons where you can. It’s the right thing to do; it’s courteous, professional and grown-up. Some companies have exit strategies which can range from filling in a questionnaire to full and frank discussions with an independent party. Whatever process is available do your best to engage with it fully.
Thinking that you’re ‘sticking it to the man’ may be gratifying but it can also be very short-sighted. The project you didn’t finish, the replacement you trained poorly or avoided training, all impact other ‘people’ who will take your behaviour personally. You won’t know who had to miss little Johnny’s recital by working late or on a weekend because of you. You might be aiming at inconveniencing one person/manager in particular, but can you be sure that someone else won’t get caught in the crossfire?! Be your best YOU!
The last thing you need is your new employers ringing to speak to someone in your old place for a reference and getting someone who is still seething about your lack of consideration or professionalism. Whilst no one in the UK can give you a bad or malicious reference, they can be truthful. If projects were poorly executed, they can say so; if you were always late, they can say so!
In short, how you leave matters, so motivate yourself to leave well. Consider it ‘Reputation Management’. When you start your new job don’t just think about bringing skills and experience – think about bring a good reputation with you too.