How To Leave a Company
There’s no point talking about the many reasons one might want to leave a company. They’ll all fall into one of the three groups of 1) Overworked, 2) Underpaid and 3) Underappreciated.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu
Your Lao Tzu moment is the moment you realise you’re all three. Nobody will notice anything but you’ll feel the change immediately. Just as designers of buildings must first be capable of imagining how a building can be before they get busy working to realise it, being able to imagine a better career for yourself is no different and, once you’ve done it, suddenly the most important thing you have to do is get your CV out there and look for the position you feel you deserve. You’ve already decided that continuing where you are is no longer tenable. Once you accept that first interview request then it is no longer possible to continue where you are. You’ve initiated the exit sequence and, in your mind, have already moved on. This is the most important part of the process. Other parts still have to be dealt with though. Here’s how it goes.
1. THE GROUNDWORK
1.1 Find another job.
1.2 Accept their offer.
1.3 Sign the contract.
2. BREAKING THE NEWS TO YOUR BOSS
2.1 Prepare your resignation letter. Address it to HR. You only need to write that you’ve accepted another position and that you intend to discuss with HR when your final day will be, taking into account your leave balance, etc. Place letter in an envelope.
2.2 The next day, choose a time when your boss is at their desk and slightly busy. Mid–morning is always good. Go up and say:
2.2.1 “You can take your job and shove it.”
2.3 Or, you could just say something like “I wanted to tell you I’ve accepted another position.” It actually doesn’t matter what you say. They’ll get the message. Give your boss your resignation letter and say “This is just a letter for HR. ” There’s no need to feel bad, apologise or say anything stupid like offer to leave only when it suits them, etc.
2.3 Nevertheless, it is an awkward moment. Boss is thinking “Shit, now I have to find someone else to do the work.” but will probably say either of the following.
2.3.1 “I’m sorry to hear that. Where to?” This is just small talk – go with it.
2.3.2 “I’m a bit busy right now. We must have a coffee and a chat soon.” Just say “Sure”. You could remind them there’s nothing to discuss as you’ve already signed the contract, but don’t bother – the chat/coffee won’t happen.
3. WORKING ONE’S NOTICE
3.1 The news will travel around the company in seconds. People will contrive to meet you in elevators, corridors and kitchens to find out more. They’ll earnestly give you their phone numbers, saying you must keep in touch. Don’t worry. They won’t. You won’t.
3.2 There may have been quite a while between your Lao Tsu moment and your actual resignation. This is good. It means you probably have accumulated paid leave that will be deducted and could make your notice period as short as one week. If your company wants you to stay for around longer for handover purposes, they can buy that leave back from you. This will depend upon your contract and the employment law in your country of work.
3.3 In any case, you should tell all the clients you’ve enjoyed working with that you’ve found another position but you should do this out of courtesy. They may ask why but don’t say anything negative about the company you’re leaving as they still have to work with them. Instead, be positive about your expectations of working for your new company. This is a time to be genuine. Don’t overdo it. Your clients will draw their own conclusions.
3.3 Do the handover thing as best you can. Email your other clients and tell them who they’ll be needing to contact, etc. in the future. You may have to take your successor to client meetings. Keep it professional.
4. THE EXIT INTERVIEW
4.1 This is an interview, usually conducted by someone from HR, where they try to find out why you’re leaving. It’s supposed to be so they can make improvements to the company.
4.1.1 You’ll have your own reasons for leaving but there’s no need to say too much. The reasons you give don’t have to be the main ones or even the true ones. People who care about the work (as distinct from the job) are likely to be overly honest here.
4.2 Try to keep the conversation general. Don’t let it go on for too long – there’s nothing in this for you
4.3 Remember: If exit interviews really existed for the purpose of making the company more attractive to its employees, then you would never have thought of leaving in the first place. Many companies want you to work for them as long as possible while paying you as little as possible. If anything gets improved, it will be their techniques for doing that, nothing else.
5. THE COUNTDOWN
5.1 In your last week, clear out your inbox and clear out your desk. Leave your favourite coffee mug in the kitchen. Delete any personal stuff on your computer. Overwrite your computer’s hard drive with zeroes if you know how. Say a silent goodbye to projects you once cared about. Leave all project data on the server.
5.2 On your last afternoon, HR will ask you to return company property such as access cards and to settle any unfinished business. While you’re there, ask when your last pay will be deposited.
6. YOUR LAST DAY
6.1 Sometime between 3pm and 4pm you may notice people gathering around your desk. Ignore them until you can’t anymore for it means that, unbeknown to you, over the past week, a brown envelope has been passed around from desk to desk inviting your colleagues to contribute towards a leaving gift accompanied by an overly large card signed by all and to which some people may even have added a message along the lines of “Sorry to see you go!” or “Good luck! The gathering will be brought to order and words of thanks will be said by whichever senior member of staff volunteered. You will respond in kind. Keep it short and give it a definite ending so people will know when to applaud and go back to their desks.
6.2 Shortly before 5pm, go around the office and say goodbye to everyone. Your boss will probably have made some important appointment and won’t be there to see you go. Perfect. Make sure you have something already planned for that evening. Otherwise, there may be …
7 THE LEAVING EVENT
7.1 Every company has their own way of doing this but, if there is one, enjoy it as if you’re watching a movie with yourself in it. Remember all the leaving events you’ve been to. Remember how little you really wanted to be at those. Nothing meaningful will be said, so be happy. The only sad bit is thinking how little you will miss any of it. This will pass. Move on.
“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu
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So far I’ve resigned from three* companies and been made redundant from three*, the most recent being a GFC-related redundancy in 2009, three months after I arrived in Dubai. This post began life in 2013 as email advice to a friend contemplating leaving his first company. He recently sent it back to me, returning the favour.
* 26 June 2020: four : three