“We’ve been through a lot together, and I know that this will take her by surprise,” she said, as she was planning to deliver the bad news later in the afternoon. “Although it isn’t a money issue at all, I know that she’ll think it is. And I’m concerned that she’ll try to manipulate the situation in some way in order to keep me. Of course, I’m not interested in staying, but I just don’t want to get into that conversation. What can I do?”
Talking the resignation over with this candidate made me think about how most of us experience conflicting emotions when quitting a job. Although I’ve written many of my columns on career development topics, I’ve written only rarely about the dynamics of quitting time. And I realized when talking with this professional woman that we develop ties to the company we work for — bonds that are so often difficult to sever. After all, many of us spend more time at work during the week than we do at home with our families.
I thought about this subject for my column this issue and have developed some recommendations for making this event less stressful. The key, as in many things, is to go at it with a plan.
Preserving Your Relationships
The number of relationships that may be affected by your departure will determine just how difficult your resignation will be. Even though you’ll only have one boss to receive your resignation letter, many more people than that will be affected by your departure.
Your supervisor will be the one most affected by your pending departure. Some people dream (and secretly smile) when thinking about handing in a resignation letter and seeing the look on their boss’s face. Others, who hold their manager in high regard, feel they have become a turncoat. They cringe when they think about how their boss will react because the relationship that has grown is difficult to break off. After all, many boss/subordinate relationships are quite parental in nature. How your boss receives the resignation will depend a great deal on what kind of relationship you’ve fostered with that person, and on his or her management style.
How does your boss handle surprises? Many people make the mistake of thinking that they have an open relationship with their boss, where they can get together and discuss the merits of leaving or staying. Years ago, I thought that I had that kind of friendship with my boss. We were enjoying a beer after a company get-together, and I told him that I had been looking at another opportunity. I found out very quickly how the boss/subordinate relationship works. He remembered from that point on how I had been potentially unfaithful to him and it altered my growth potential in his team forever.
My lesson? Leave this personal matter out of the workplace: the decision to leave a job is an immensely private one, and not something that needs to be aired to colleagues or supervisors. Really serious career damage can result, so keep your decision to yourself right up to the moment you hand over your resignation letter.
The Timing and Process of Your Resignation
The worst day of the week for your resignation is a Monday. Just imagine the load of problems on your boss’s desk on Monday morning, even without you standing there asking for a few minutes with a sheepish look and a letter in your hands. Instead, remember how companies deliver pink slips — it’s a Friday afternoon affair. That works great as quitting time, as well, because it gives you a couple of weekend days for things to cool down a bit.
What should your resignation letter include? I am often asked if you really need one when you are going to talk to the boss personally. Despite your reliance on face-to-face conversation for your resignation, you still need a letter, as there are issues that need to be firm and in writing. Some people write an overly long letter full of reasons for the departure, or offering a number of suggestions for improvement. That’s all unnecessary and not best practice; a good resignation letter should be just one page, no more than two or three paragraphs, and it should emphasize fact, not opinion.
Exit Interviews and Counter Offers
In many companies, Human Resources will conduct what is called an “exit interview.” Companies conduct these formal debriefings after it is clear that you are leaving. In that interview, you can offer suggestions and criticisms, but it is still not a time for sour grapes. I recommend that you keep your negative opinions to yourself rather than dump them on the HR department head. My feeling is that the industry is still too small to burn bridges.
In fact, it may not be wise to provide a lot of exhaustive detail on your reasons for leaving. You have personal reasons for your career decision. Most importantly, your move has to be seen as firm and not something that you are bringing up for negotiation — treating it in any other manner can lead you to a very uncomfortable discussion about a possible counteroffer.
Exit interview conversations move quickly to questions about what company you plan to go to and what work you will be doing. I recommend that you do not discuss the company that you are going to, because too many negative discussions can result. Employers can see competition or nasty scenarios around every corner once they hear the name of the company you’ll be joining — it’s best to leave that one alone. The important part of the conversation is that you are leaving, that you want to live up to all your obligations, and that it is important for you to be the best resource you can be in the time you have left.
Despite the fact that you’re not shooting for a counter-offer, your boss or the HR head could indeed come up with some proposal to try to keep you. That doesn’t sound all that bad on the surface, and believe me, it’s fun to have people fussing over you and offering you a higher wage or a better position. But I warn you: beware of these situations. Once you have given your resignation, you have “shown your stripes” and long-term career growth at that company is seriously hampered. Counteroffers are short-term scenarios for most companies — check back six months or a year later and the employee who accepted one is usually gone.
Showing You Have Their Best Interests in Mind
When you start getting those questions of “Where are you going?” and “Can’t we find a way to keep you?” you know that a change of subject is a good idea. One suggested topic to move to is to talk about your plan for the transition — your recommendation on how the process be handled, who in your team might be most suited for the information download you’ll need to accomplish before you leave, and so on. Perhaps use the moment to settle on your exact final date of employ, and/or when and how much information gets passed along to your co-workers about your departure.
Discussing these final points will show your present employer that you are serious, and that your decision to move is firm. Good luck in your future plans!
David G. Jensen is Managing Director of Kincannon & Reed Executive Search (www.krsearch.com), a leading retained search firm in the biosciences. You can reach Dave at (928) 274-2266 or via email@example.com.