More than one-third, or 36 percent, of workers plan to leave their jobs in 2011, according to a recent study by insurance provider MetLife. The recession ravaged employee allegiance, and now less than half of all employees report “very strong loyalty” to their current companies. Workers may be scrambling for a fresh start, but career experts warn that you are more often remembered for your exit than your tenure.
“With each job change you are leaving a trail of opinions,” says career coach and author John McKee. “Those opinions could build a solid reputation that helps in securing future jobs, or they could result in negative comments that could kill a great job opportunity. How you behave towards the end can greatly impact your reputation.”
From handling the breakup speech to turning over the reins, career coaches offer advice on how to walk away with pride — while avoiding the dangerous traps that will trip you up.
“Resigning is typically an emotional time for all people impacted,” says Steven Raz, co-owner of recruitment firm Cornerstone Search Group. Oftentimes, managers take a resignation personally and react unpredictably because of the surprise, says Raz. It becomes especially critical for the exiting employee to remain steady, offer a concise explanation for the departure and show appreciation for the mentorship without giving false hope of reconsidering.
In February, Jack Williams, 45, decided to leave his operational position at Staffing Technologies in Atlanta, Georgia, for his “dream job,” as a division president at nearby Jackson Healthcare. When he gave his two weeks’ notice in person, his manager, the company’s CEO, was initially upset and disappointed, demanding that he stay on for eight weeks instead. Williams explained very simply why he was leaving and that such a long transition was both unrealistic and unnecessary. After presenting a detailed transition plan, both the CEO and CFO trusted that he was committed to a smooth changeover and were able to wish him well.
While you can’t control others’ reactions, preparing yourself and controlling your own is essential to easing the confrontation. Workplace expert Lynn Taylor, author of "Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant," suggests employees consider their response to a counter offer before they resign. “Counters are often a knee-jerk reaction by employers, and usually act as a Band-Aid for both parties,” she says, warning workers not to be lured by money if there are deeper problems with the business or its management. If you have no intention of staying, be gracious and bite your tongue. Taylor advises against using the moment as payback — quipping that it would take more than that to convince you to stay, for example — as it will eventually hurt your chances of a positive recommendation.
Prep your replacement
Preparing for your departure is a delicate task. Career coaches emphasize the importance of helping the employer, without over-promising your time.
Williams took the initiative to create an eight-page file of transition documents, which outlined his various responsibilities, appropriate contacts and the progress of several projects. He went over the items with his supervisors, and also met with his replacement daily for a week. Despite his thorough reporting, however, he continued fielding questions from his former employer multiple weeks after he’d left. Finally, he was forced to say, “I’ve already documented this for you. It’s time for the new guy to step it up.”
According to Taylor, Williams did everything right. She suggests putting as much as possible in writing to offer your replacement a clear guide, and to make yourself available for a brief period after you’re out the door. However, you must set limits, she says. If you receive more than two or three queries, you may slow down your response time, offer other resources within the company or even suggest that they bring you on as a temporary consultant.
Master the countdown
“The way you leave your office will be communicated to your boss,” says Taylor. “Keep your enthusiasm to the last minute.”
It’s wise to consider all the little details that might reflect badly once you’re gone, namely: Your attitude. In those final weeks it may be tempting to take long lunches, arrive late and leave early, but all eyes are on you. Experts suggest that you maintain the same work pace that you’d previously set and keep a positive attitude. Boasting to colleagues about the perks of your new position or how you can’t wait to escape are definite no-nos.
Furthermore, the way you leave your physical space will also redeem or condemn you in your manager’s eyes. “If you do everything else correctly but leave a mess and physically make it difficult for people, it will look like sour grapes,” says Taylor. She advises spending extra time to carefully organize your hard and soft files, delete anything personal, clear off your literal and computer desktops, and toss stuff you won’t be taking with you.
Then, it’s a matter of tying up loose ends and handling the oft-forgotten tasks. Make sure you know how your email and voice-mail will be managed; reset passwords and give them to the appropriate people; discuss with your supervisor if and how clients should be informed of the transition; and touch base with subordinates to ensure that their questions are answered and that they feel secure. Hopefully, you’re last impression will be your best.
© 2012 Forbes.com