How to Leave a Job with Class Once You Know It's Over

Posted by The Editors on June 19, 2011
How to Leave a Job with Class Once You Know It's Over

What do you do when your current job or career becomes a nightmare? Your crystal ball sees another round of downsizing around the corner? Or you're offered your dream job at twice the salary? (Okay, that one's easy: Take it!)

Knowing when to leave your present job isn't always as easy as it might seem. Sometimes you'll notice telltale signs that scream, "Hey, pack up your desk, it's time to start looking." At other times, the signals won't be so obvious. Recognizing the signs and responding appropriately will preserve your sanity and finances.

When It's a Company Problem
If your company's tanking, you know it's time to go. If layoffs are happening across the board or within your department, you'll definitely want to spend some quality time at WetFeet. If there's a takeover in progress that promises to eliminate jobs; or the boss's son, daughter, niece, or nephew suddenly visits your office four times in one week with a decorator in tow, start networking and exploring other options.

Regional economics, a downturn in business prospects (and we're all feeling this one these days), company relocation, severe belt-tightening (or scrutiny of your expense forms) can also foreshadow changes in your company that could leave you unemployed. Better to prepare for the inevitable than to wait for it to happen. Get out the resume, start updating it, and work your Rolodex.

When You're in the Wrong Place
More reasons for change: You are "misemployed," the square peg trying to fit into the round hole. Your boss traces his lineage back to Lucretia Borgia and the Marquis de Sade. Your supervisor cannot manage his way out of a paper bag, and gives the term "dysfunctional" a whole new meaning. Your coworkers are irritating, sabotaging your projects, and one has been accused of sexual harassment. Any of these situations would suggest it's time to get out of your current job and find a new one.

When You're Sick of Work
While you may want out when the economics of your company, or industry, are faltering, or a difficult merger or acquisition is in process, the most important reason to consider a change is when you stop loving what you do.

Surely you can recognize the signs: Your boss increased your bonus and salary and doubled vacation time, but you still feel miserable about going to work. You wake up with a knot in your stomach, recognize Maalox as a food group, and a voice in your head screams, "Please don't make me go there."

Listen to that voice: It's time for a change. Eunice Azzani, managing director of Korn Ferry International in San Francisco, believes that if work does not feed you and ignite your soul, it's time to rethink what you're doing. "If you can't bring yourself to go to work, don't bring someone else," says Azzani. Doing the job halfheartedly when the normal modus operandi is full steam ahead will not serve you or the company.

When You're Suffering Burnout
Burnout is not an esoteric term. Defined by one therapist as a "lack of self-care and stress overload that permeates your whole life," the symptoms include the inability to solve problems creatively, a lessening of emotional responsiveness, exhaustion that does not go away no matter how much you sleep, low productivity, and a lack of vitality and energy. "At the executive level," says Dr. Doris Kagin, "it can include an inability to figure out problems and 'functional fixedness,' the 'I can't see the forest for the trees' state of mind."

Sometimes the solutions to burnout are simple: two weeks on the beach in Kauai under a palm tree sipping mai tais; a hot fudge sundae, meditation, yoga, exercise, a bubble bath, or mental and physical time away from the office on weekends. If these remedies don't work, then it may be time to consult a counselor or therapist to find out what is really causing the problem.

Careful evaluation of all facets of your life, including your relationship to your family and children, will help clarify the core issue. If all of the other areas seem okay and an earthquake or flood has not destroyed your home, then your problem may be your work.

Identifying the cause of your symptoms is not an overnight process and requires careful thought and evaluation. If you do trace the problem to your work, then you should figure out what precisely is troubling you, and try to make a change. Making a list of pros and cons can help you identify what you like about what you do and what you don't like. It will also provide information you can use in talking to your supervisor about changing your responsibilities or role.

Preparing for a Job Change
The world of work is rapidly changing. Experts state that most people will have three to eight different careers and up to 25 different jobs in their work lifetime. Seventy-five percent of the jobs that existed in 1999 did not exist in 1990.

In other words, if you're going to leave your job, don't panic-the day when people held one job for life has gone the way of the dinosaurs. Although leaving without another job is not recommended, especially if you have six children, two dogs, and a mortgage, it is sometimes unavoidable.

If you can, start planning for a change while you're happy in your current job. Take advantage of all the opportunities you're given to develop new skills, network with other people, and develop a support system so that if you do leave, you'll land on your feet.

Ideally, you will leave only when you have another job, but that is not always the reality. That's why you should stay on top of your finances and keep a cash reserve on hand in case your career hits a bump. If there isn't a healthy cash reserve set aside, start one now. Delay the cruise to Tahiti, the Lexus, and the beach house. You can always buy them later. You should try to have three to six months' salary set aside in liquid assets, depending on what you typically spend in a month.

Planning for a Job Change
When planning a job change, set goals. "I want to be in a new position in 90 days. These are the steps I need to take to get there." If you're in a job, don't broadcast your displeasure-it may lead your superiors to show you the door sooner than you'd like, and it can burn bridges you'll need later on.

Any job-search strategy should include discretion, unless you are in a situation where the decision can be discussed with your employer. Otherwise, do not use your company e-mail account for sending resumes. Avoid surfing job sites from work. Do your search when you get home, not from the company office. Set up a voice-mail system at home, and check it during the day. Potential employers will understand.

Finally, when networking through business associates, remind them to be discreet. The last thing you want is the boss to find out about the anticipated move before you've said something. Good manners and continuing to receive paychecks until you are ready to leave are important.

Some Other Common Sense Things Not to Do:

  • Do not leave your Daytimer open on your desk with interview times and names written in red and highlighted in bright yellow. Do not even think about keeping such appointments on the office-computer calendar.
  • Do not brag to everyone in the office that you have had six fabulous interviews or been offered the dream job, even if your boss knows you are leaving. Jealousy is real and can be ugly.

Some Common Sense Things to Do

When you leave, give your employer a verbal and/or brief written notice, and be gracious and diplomatic. Two weeks' notice is the bare minimum. Emphasize that this is your choice, a golden opportunity you cannot afford to miss. Even if your company or boss is the worst in the world, do not bring those issues into the discussion, no matter how tempting.

Work hard until the last minute. Offer to train your replacement if time permits. You never know when or how paths will cross again, especially considering the fluidity of today's job market.

Leave the job with style, class, and panache. As Judith Luther-Wilder, cofounder and co-CEO of Women Inc. says, "Never burn your bridges. The sparks will hit you in the ass." Remember the statistics about how many different jobs and careers people will have. The odds are high your path will cross that of your coworkers again in the future.

Three years from now the person who has the check-signing ability to give your favorite non-profit organization $25,000 may be that former coworker from hell. Five years from now, you may be sitting in that gorgeous corner office when the one across the hall is occupied by your supervisor from that wretched company you couldn't wait to leave.

Leaving with class and grace will never come back to haunt you.

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