You’re ready for a career change, but you’re not going to tell your boss until the last minute. After all, isn’t the standard operating procedure of jumping ship to sneak off for lunchtime interviews? Or duck out in the middle of the night, à la the Baltimore (now Indianapolis) Colts?
As a COO, I can say neither situation makes for a seamless breakup.
Whether you want to leave for more pay, an enticing opportunity, or the chance to be part of something disruptive, your separation doesn’t have to be ugly or unproductive. In fact, a job can end so positively it might surprise you. You just have to overcome an antiquated mindset that’s based on fear and misunderstanding.
Your Anxieties About Leaving Could Be Misplaced
If you choose to include your employer in the choice to move on, are you concerned they’ll act betrayed or try to talk you out of your decision? That may not be the case.
Certainly, if you’ve been a contributor, your employer will be bummed. But isn’t it nicer to say, “Hey, this isn’t working out,” rather than cheat until you’re ready to exit? If you’re scared to give your boss the lowdown, don’t be. When a team member says, “I’m looking at other opportunities,” I don’t immediately fire that person — which can be illegal, depending on your state. Most of the employers I know wouldn’t react so appallingly, either.
Quite the contrary, in fact: Most bosses will understand your modus operandi. They have likely left positions for the same reasons — money, responsibility, title. Having an open, honest conversation allows you to move forward without subterfuge and with dignity.
Walking Away With Your Head High and Reputation Intact
How do you make a clean break that doesn’t leave a sour taste in anyone’s mouth? It takes a deep understanding and acceptance of the smartest ways to transition with every stakeholder in mind:
1. Avoid Ghosting Your Employer or Dropping a Two-Week Bomb
Disappearing into the mist is a huge blunder, not to mention shortsighted. Even if you hate your job, you’re risking your place in the karmic employment universe. From an employer’s perspective, when an employee shares a two-week notice, it causes instant chaos: The employee can’t tee-up a successor, and they don’t leave on a positive note with peers.
A PwC study showed that more than a quarter of millennials expect to have more than six employers in their lifetime. Can you afford to tick off people at every workplace? You don’t necessarily have to bring your employer in on the first interview, but if you’re at the third-interview stage, weigh the value of having a heart-to-heart with your boss. When employees come to me, I don’t want to lose them, but I’m still willing to help vet companies or polish their resumes or interviewing skills.
2. Be Direct About Your Plans
I really want to hear the things that employees may be reticent to share: You’ve lost faith in our team’s leadership or you want to be at a company with a different work pace. It helps me understand your concerns, first and foremost, and it also provides insight into how to improve the company. Chat with your employer, even though you’re not going to continue working there for long. I guarantee your boss will be okay with the discussion.
Look at it like a pre-exit interview. You’re giving your employer a chance to grow and understand how to help future team members. Plus, you’re showing great respect. Being candid might be uncomfortable depending on your personality, but it’s always better than having the reputation of a worker who has checked out.
3. Set Your Peers Up for Success
Why be the flake who bailed on the team at the last minute by suddenly leaving? The people you’re working with today may be tomorrow’s vice presidents or entrepreneurs. It’s not worth risking their disdain because you left them holding the ball. Make sure to set peers up for success, not to pick up your leftover slack.
For example, we have someone transitioning out of her role right now. For the past month, she’s worked a transition plan that we created together. She has trained successors and tied up loose ends. After her send-off, we’ll all miss her, but she isn’t leaving on terrible terms. In fact, I’ll be happy to recommend her.
4. Never Quit After a Two-Week Vacation
This is bad form, pure and simple. It smacks of immature behavior. You wouldn’t want a colleague to do it, so don’t even consider it.
Everyone wants an equitable exchange. When you use up your vacation just to mess with your bosses, they feel hosed. It’s terrible timing. Likewise, if you have a notoriously busy season, don’t suddenly vamoose at a time when you’re needed most. In other words: If you’re in retail, don’t resign on Black Friday.
You might be using your existing role as a stepping-stone; that’s fine. Just be sure the hard work you’ve put into making a good impression isn’t lost when you leave. Be honest, and in the long run, you might be surprised by how your wise actions in tough situations come back to help down the road.
Tony Delmercado is the COO at Hawke Media.