Quitting gracefully

Many of the articles on this blog seek to help people, both in the employee and managerial role, create better workplaces. Sometimes, however, no matter how hard one may try as an individual to improve the workplace, there comes a point when one cannot try anymore. At that point, it is time to put individual needs before those of the group and look for another job.

The first question is how to quit gracefully. Particularly when the quitting is coming as the result of an exceptionally bad working environment, it is tempting to quit in a moment of passion. Usually in situations like this, there are bad things happening over a period of time and people start thinking about an exit strategy. People tend to not leave, however, until a) they have something else lined up; or b) one last bad thing happens that becomes the metaphorical straw that broke the camel’s back.

In the former instance, it is much easier to simply tell the powers that be that you have found another opportunity and to thank them for your time at the organization. In the latter situation however, tempers tend to run high and it is difficult not to attempt a cinema-style “I quit!” announcement. However much fun this may seem it is a bad idea almost 100% of the time. You are far more likely to look back on that moment with embarrassment than satisfaction and the people you are directing your rage toward will almost never take what you say in anger to heart.

A letter may be a good approach because it allows you to calmly say what you need to say without getting emotional. This brings us to the next question – does it make sense to tell the truth about the reasons for one’s departure?

On the one hand, a departing employee doesn’t owe anything to his or her company beyond two weeks’ notice (or whatever notice period is stipulated in the contract) and information about ongoing projects to ease the transition. Many companies will certainly let employees go without any explanation beyond budget cuts so why should it be any different when the employee chooses to leave? In addition, the employee may still be reliant on the company for references down the road and may be hesitant to rock the boat too much on his way out.

On the other hand, a departing employee is in a unique position to give an inefficient or hostile manager or working group some perspective on how to improve. He doesn’t stand to gain anything by his suggestions and has less of a fear of repercussions beyond concern about references.

As with most issues, this question is probably best answered on a case by case basis. If the company has a good HR department, it may make a lot of sense to lay out the problems in the department. If it has a very good HR department it will conduct exit interviews with departing employees and take action on problems identified in those discussions. In a smaller place where the person in charge is also the person causing the problems, it may require some professional sacrifice to press the issue.

What do you think?
Is there a right way and a wrong way to leave a bad work situation?

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