Boundaries in Work

Resigning from your job? 5 things that can trip you up as you’re going out the door. Hurdle #1: your boss

photo credit: James Jones via photopin (license)

photo credit: James Jones via photopin (license)

When you’re leaving an organization, even if it was a great experience, there are several things (read, your boss, your colleagues,  your clients, your sense of obligation and your ego) that can trip you up between the time you tender your resignation and the moment you finally  leave. In fact, it can be an incredibly stressful time, and you need to be both strategic, and pace yourself, to manage this transition well.

I thought I would take the next few posts to dissect the five most common situations that clients I’ve worked with don’t see coming, with some general advice on how to dodge those oncoming trains.

Who can trip you up on your way out the door?

1. Your boss: they’re going to ask for something you find unreasonable
 Many years ago, a client (let’s call her Susan), contacted me and asked if it was standard to give two weeks notice when resigning. When I replied that it was, Susan said that when she had tried to give her manager two weeks notice, he told her he needed at least a month.  He then ‘helpfully’ offered to call Susan’s new boss to explain, “Why she couldn’t start until a month from now”. 

When you’re going out the door, there’s a good chance that your boss is going to ask you for something that seems impractical or unreasonable. It’s important to realize that from the moment you say you’re resigning, you’ve entered a continual negotiation phase, where you’re negotiating with your boss, your colleagues and your client for the limited amount of time you have left. At a time when employees think they’re winding down, things actually get more intense.

What to do about your boss?
To avoid getting bogged down with too many projects. I suggest basing your resignation/transition conversation with your boss from projects to time. So rather than discussing’two weeks’ and a desire to ‘things to finish out’, start the conversation with ‘I have 80 hours remaining’, and reasonable guesses on how long each potential task will take.

I have eighty hours left, and I’d like to make the most of that time. In my opinion, I should focus on X, Y, and Z, which should take about 60-70 hours. But I realize that you’re in charge of the transition, so what would you like me to focus on?” 

This puts more onus on your boss to make decisions and prioritize what your final tasks should be. I also encourage clients to consider and add in how much time it will take them to pack up as one of their priority tasks. There is the issue that you and your boss might not agree on how long each of the tasks they’ve prioritized will take. Rather than get in an argument about it, I encourage clients to send updates every 2-3 days with what they’ve actually accomplished, what remains to be done, and an offer to re-prioritize tasks in the time they have remaining. 

If your boss is overly optimistic about what you can get accomplished, they may repeatedly push you to push out your final day of work. As it becomes more clear that there is a limit to what anyone can accomplish in two weeks, that pressure may become more intense.

If your boss asks you to stay longer, Miss Manner’s statement, “I’m sorry, that won’t be possible.” is the appropriate response. Often manager’s might frame their request as a desperate need: ‘This is a busy time of year!’ ,  “How can I find a replacement for you so quickly?”,  or “I’m only asking because you’ve been so slow to complete tasks this past week, and we’re behind schedule.” But really, those are all  straw men argument. Your manager knows that there isn’t any way to recruit a long term replacement in two, or even four weeks, or to finish out tasks, particularly if you’ve already been overworked. That’s not the purpose of the two weeks notice. Two weeks is enough time to come up with a plan, reallocate staff time for coverage, or hire a temp. It’s also a manager’s responsibility to think about transition plans for every person they supervise.

For Susan, there was no point in her staying for an entire month and sacrificing a two week break between her old and new job just to help out her boss (who she actually, really liked).  It wouldn’t have really solved her boss’s problem to give them more time, and would have taken away important de-stressing time for her. So, while she understood that she was going to feel guilty because she could always see more that could be done, she constantly, consciously, tried to stay firm on not working 10-12 hours daily, or pushing out her final day.

To the extent that you can, protect yourself against your boss’s attempts to guilt you into staying – or just your own sense of guilt – with the belief that your boss can figure this out, and in fact it’s their job to do so. You might not know how your boss will handle it – but it’s specifically not your role to do so.

In Susan’s case, she negotiated coming in a few extra days past those two weeks, and preserved most of her time off before starting her new position. Her boss ended up having to take on some of her tasks himself, and giving some to fellow staff, but it all worked out.  What was disappointing to Susan was that her boss didn’t try to remunerate the staff for their extra work from the money he saved from her vacancy. But her guilt at ‘leaving the staff in a lurch’ was tempered by the fact that Susan knew her boss had the authority to make this transition more manageable for staff (with additional salary, or flexible work schedules, etc.) and it was his decision not to do so (rather than her decision to leave) that affected staff morale.

Next post: The next thing that can trip you up: Your expectations about what you think should be done before you leave.