In addition to 1. your boss, 2. you and your previously unacknowledged expectations about ‘leaving well’, and 3. your colleagues who are unhappy with their job, there are final two things that can trip you up as you’re preparing to leave a job.
4. People who relied on you:
This includes staff you may supervise, colleagues who needed your work to complete theirs, and clients you may serve. These can be the guilt-inducing groups, because if you feel any sense of obligation, it will be hard not to consider that your decision to leave adversely affects their well-being. This is particularly the case if you work in an understaffed organization or work with underserved populations. One client I worked with was very happy to leave her current position, but felt such a strong sense of responsibility, she said it felt insensitive to express her happiness to anyone associated with her previous job.
Moreover, people will probably come out of the woodwork with new tasks for you that they were going to ask you to do earlier, but didn’t get to it. This is where you rely on the negotiation with your boss to prioritize your final tasks to protect yourself from these requests.
What to do:
This is a difficult situation because you can’t always comfort the people who relied upon you with details about who and how your responsibilities will be handled, because you aren’t part of the transition plan. Unfortunately, you have neither the authority or the ability to know, because the responsibility of how to handle your work – including who they will hire, when they will hire, who will handle your tasks during the interim, etc. – transferred to your boss the moment you handed in your resignation.
It’s important to ask your boss who you should direct inquiries to, and what language you should use to discuss your leaving. For example, will your organization be sending out an announcement, or should you be the one to inform everyone? The answers your organization gives you may not feel sufficient, but you can share with clients, “I’ve been told to share the following information….”, and if they feel it’s insufficient, you can acknowledge that “I’m sorry, I wish there were more details to share.”
What’s notable is that the lack of organization, lack of transparency, and/or lack of communication in these moments are often the reasons why the resigning staff who are unhappy are leaving in the first place. It’s unlikely that you’re going to be able to fix those situations on your way out of the door.
As for the last minute requests that you can’t complete: Accept that you will be saying, “I understand why you would like/need that, but unfortunately I won’t be able to get to that before I leave.” When possible, make alternative suggestions, but ultimately know that if it were a true priority, they would have dealt with it earlier. Do what you can to not let other people’s projects become your problem.
5. You: It didn’t occur to you how to respond when your boss asks why you’re leaving:
The final thing that can mess up your transition is the failure to anticipate that your boss or HR will inquire about your reasons for leaving. These questions could also be a sign that your boss is being a good manager, or HR doing their due diligence. They aren’t necessarily looking to counteroffer you into staying, but are assessing if your departure is a sign of a broader trend they should be aware of. (For example, people leaving for higher salaries, or because of a toxic coworker/supervisor). Ultimately, any information you share is a courtesy that helps the organization succeed. It doesn’t really help you, and could potentially harm your relationship with the organization.
What to do:
In considering what to disclose, there are two questions to answer: 1) Who is helped and harmed by your decision to discuss your reasoning? and 2) What outcome are you hoping for, if any, if you discuss your decision to leave?
One client I worked with hoped that her candor might change things for colleagues who still remained in the organization, but actually has her boss defensively argue with her about her reasoning, suggesting that she should have taken ‘more initiative.’ One client who decided to discuss her reasoning unexpectedly felt frustrated by the conversation because she felt her boss asking questions was an example of the organization, “Only taking her seriously as she was going out the door,” as she had tried to discuss her concerns previously
If you are leaving on good terms or for a fantastic opportunity, it probably won’t harm you to explain your reasoning to anyone in the organization. However, if you have a negative impression of your organization, it’s usually recommended that you do not disclose your reasoning. There are multiple ways that organizations committed to improvement can assess the health of their organization – anonymous surveys, 360 assessments, etc. – you are not obligated to be the one to identify or fix their issues.
If you don’t want to share your thinking, focus on the fact that the “new opportunity is just such an incredible opportunity, that while a hard decision, it was impossible to pass up.” Thank them for the opportunity that they gave you while employed with the organization, and move on.
Bonus question: What does a ‘smooth transition’ look like, anyway?
There are five features that professionals I’ve spoken with have identified as aspects of a smooth transition:
- Upon hearing that you’re leaving, your boss takes charge of the situation, expressing appreciation for your work, wishing you well in our next opportunity, and schedules a time within 48 hours to talk to do’s about the tasks to be done before your last day.
- At that meeting, they ask you what you would prioritize, and take your expertise on your situation as they develop their own plan. You both agree about who people will be told, and what will be said so everyone can stay on message. Certainly, this is helpful to a boss, whose job is to keep the team together during any transition.
- They ask if you’d like some sort of goodbye gathering, and if you wouldn’t, they respect that.
- They acknowledge that despite your best efforts, things you both think are important will be left undone. They also acknowledge that that’s normal.
- Finally: everyone – your boss, your colleagues, your clients – avoids making your transition about them, sharing one of three sentiments with you upon hearing about your new job:
- How exciting for you – what a great next step for you!
- Thank you for the great job you did while here.
- What can I do to help you transition out smoothly?
In short, leaving an organization can be a surprisingly stressful time, and you need to be both strategic, and pace yourself, to manage this transition well. It’s one of the reasons why some type of vacation period between jobs – even when you’re excited about the new job – is highly encouraged as a best practice for professionals.