Exit to Stage Left: Thoughts on Quitting

Is quitting the easy way out? I think quitting can be hard and more effort than sticking with something that’s just okay or tolerable. There’s a lot of stress and formalities to go through to quit a job and even more so if you want to stay on good terms. Here I’ll talk about different ways to quit a job or team.

Clarification: For the purposes of this post, by “quit” or “quitting” I mean the voluntary resignation or termination of employment by the employed individual. I am not talking about lay-offs or other involuntary termination of employment.

Stages of Quitting

I think of different stages of quitting as the different points at which I can engage my current employer in discussions:

  1. I’m thinking of quitting or am interviewing for other companies.
  2. I’ve decided to quit but have no set date on when my last day is.
  3. I know the rough day I want to quit and I’ve started casually removing personal items from the office.
  4. It’s the day which is the minimum amount of notice my company requires before quitting.
  5. It’s my last day.
  6. I’m gone.

When you start talking to your employer about quitting depends on your relationship with your direct manager, your company policy on resignation, and the terms of your contract. I have primarily worked at “at-will employment” shops so, technically, I could email my manager from my bed and say I’m never coming in to work again. I have never been in a situation where that has needed to happen but I always check to make sure it’s an option.

Factors of quitting

  1. Your finances, health care, next job, etc.
  2. Your manager/employer
  3. Your coworkers
  4. Your HR department, if you have one
  5. Your legal obligations

Each of these factors can impact when you quit, what your life is like before you quit, how much notice you are obligated to give, and how you feel about quitting. When making a plan to quit, I would recommend assessing the risk presented by each of these factors. Any rules you fail to follow can compromise legal contracts and may result in financial consequences. Any human involved may become unreasonably emotional or you may find yourself needing to defend your decision to quit against unexpectedly intense interrogation. On the other hand, your managers could see that you will be more successful elsewhere and wish you the best. This has happened.

Approach 1: Burn the Ground and Salt the Earth

In this approach, you will wait until your last day or the day after your last day to leave. This will greatly inconvenience your employer for several reasons:

  • Your work is in an unknown state and your manager or team needs to pick it up
  • Your manager needs to explain to his managers, perhaps while being raked over coals, why you left so suddenly. He also has to report this to HR.
  • HR systems need to suddenly destroy your access to everything, stop your pay, not let you pass go, and take that $200 away from you.
  • Your team is suddenly less one person without warning or explanation. This is disruptive to team productivity, road map, and morale. Also, you won’t be able to make that ping pong tournament.

I would not recommend taking this approach unless you never plan to work for that company again and potentially any companies affiliated with that company or that could be acquiring or acquired by that company. That aside, before you plan on taking this option, make sure it is viable. Some contracts will specify a penalty for leaving without notice and others are “at-will”.

Approach 2: I’ll Stay but Do Very Little

In this approach, you’ve decided to follow the cultural or prescribed “notice” before leaving. Let’s call this 2 weeks for the sake of simplicity. You give your boss your 2 weeks notice and then you decide you won’t give anything more to your company than you already have. This involves some level of not doing your job ranging from not taking on new projects to spinning in your chair for your remaining time.

I don’t recommend belligerence but at the same time, if your company is sucking the life out of you, keystroke by keystroke, maybe toning down the amount of effort you put into it isn’t a bad thing. Going back to the factors that affect quitting: you’ve taken care of legal requirements and the HR department by following the rules. The HR department might be notified of inappropriate behavior and flag you to not be hired again. That leaves you, your manager, and your coworkers.

If you are leaving for medical or urgent personal reasons, sometimes the company will make an exception on the 2 week notice rule without any penalty to you. It will still be disruptive for your manager and your team but as long as people can rationalize something, they tend to be okay with it. Now, if you are stuck with them for the full 2 weeks remaining, you will be subject to the emotional reactions of your managers, your coworker, and yourself.

What does this mean? In some cases, your manager will ask you to lie about why you are leaving to your coworkers. In other cases, your manager will ask you to say nothing and then say who-knows-what behind your back after you leave. I consider these to be some of the less pleasant cases. This means that your manager has chosen to treat you as a risk to be mitigated and now you’re supposed to do what he says. However, you’re already leaving, right? Of course, you’re not obligated to lie for your managers but you’ll see similar consequences of openly going against them as in Approach 1. Even managers I thought were on my side the whole way have shown me a new, less appealing side of themselves when I quit.

Approach 3: I’d Like to Quit, Please

If you want to minimize the amount of bridge burning and water under the bridge or other bridge related metaphorical garbage from piling up, you can give your management a heads up that you are considering leaving. I don’t recommend doing this more than a month ahead of when you plan to leave. If you give them a heads up with more than a month, typically you are asking them to change something for you or it’s so much time they can’t do much with it so they ignore you. This will map to about stage 2 or 3 in the stages of quitting I’ve listed. Either you’re getting prepared to leave or you’re actively interviewing and have a date to quit by.

This strategy opens up possibilities for negotiation. In Approach 2, you might get some push back from management but you’ll end up burning a lot of goodwill that would otherwise make them want to change the workplace for you. In this approach, you are stating your desire to leave with ample amounts of time and they may be able to accommodate changes you need to stay.

This can be good or bad. It can be bad if you weren’t prepared for them to give you a counteroffer. So be prepared for counteroffers and come up with a list of things they would have to change for you to stay. If these things are “double vacation time”, they probably can’t meet that and it will give them an understandable reason why you are leaving. If you are able to give reasons that you know the company can’t accommodate, it somehow makes it easier for them to accept you leaving. If you can’t provide a good enough reason, they tend to be bitter and passive aggressive. This isn’t a “rule” but a tendency I’ve noticed.

Here is an example of a conversation where an employee tells a manager they are leaving:

Employee: I would like to discuss my career path.

Manager: Okay. What are you thinking of?

Employee: I’ve looked at opportunities here and where I want to be in the future. I don’t see myself achieving my goals here so I am planning to leave.

Manager: Oh, this is sudden. I didn’t expect this. Is there anything we can do to make you stay or is something in particular wrong?

Employee: I’m want to become a fullstack developer and all the opportunities here are for backend development. I know there are some front-end teams but I really want to learn from senior fullstack developers I work with day-to-day. Since there aren’t any people or teams like that, I’ve decided to move elsewhere.

Manager: I see. I don’t think we’d be able to find a senior fullstack developer to keep you here. Do you have a job already lined up?

Employee: Not yet but I’m waiting for a few different responses on interviews and I’d like to leave in the next month.

Note that the employee provided a reason why they wanted to leave and showed that they researched whether or not their current position could accommodate that. If you don’t show you considered making your current employer work, your manager might become defensive and passive aggressive saying things like “we could have made a place for you here but I guess it’s your career.”

Make sure to focus on things you want rather than things your employer doesn’t have. Saying “you don’t offer enough autonomy” can put people on the defensive and you’ve shut down the possibility for a productive conversation. Instead saying, “I’d like to work on a team with more freedom to experiment and less pressure to deliver” is you talking about yourself and typically people can’t tell you how you think and feel. This is part of Crucial Conversations if you’re interested in more behind the psychology of these types of conversations.

There Will Be Bullshit

Whenever there’s an event that can be emotional, it will be emotional (a play on Murphy’s Law). When quitting, you might see managers who you thought were reasonable start showing their bad side. Coworkers who you thought were almost your friends start being stand-offish and acting superior. Be prepared to see negative emotional reactions from coworkers. This doesn’t always happen but it’s better to consider it before. If you consider it beforehand, you are less likely to feel bad or overreact in the moment.

The “bullshit” can extend quite far. If you are doing an internal transfer, your managers can take action to block that transfer if they are displeased with you. Some companies require a testimony to good performance from your old manager before transferring so unfortunately, they can hold your fate in their hands. If you are quitting the company, this won’t be a problem. If it does come up, it’s tricky to get out of the situation unless you have some level of proof that you are actually a good performer (ex. past reviews, feedback from coworkers, projects that went well). With this, you might be able to go to HR and claim your move is being wrongfully blocked. I haven’t tried this before.

Odds and Ends

What do you say to your coworkers

If you plan to be working with your coworkers during this time, it’s good to think up a cover story. I’m not saying it doesn’t have to be true but it does have to be palatable and consistent. People tend to stop asking or thinking about something if they get closure.

Examples of palatable reasons with closure:

  • You are looking for different challenges to broaden your industry experience
  • You are looking for a hybrid position where you can be a manager and designer at the same time
  • You are looking for a position closer to your family
  • You are looking for a position that will allow you to pursue further education while working

These are all things that give a good reason why you can’t be here and also don’t convince someone they should also leave. Even if you have a good reason, people will start saying things that indicate they think they are superior because they feel suited to their current position. This is them rationalizing why they aren’t leaving or “sweet lemon/sour grapes”. You may also hear some passive aggressive comments from managers about you leaving. It’s an unfortunate side effect of working with humans.

Keeping in touch with coworkers

If you like your coworkers or might want to work with them again in the future, feel free to offer to stay in touch with them. I recommend LinkedIn as a good way to stay in touch. If you want to be more personal, ask them if they’d be okay adding you on Facebook as a friend. I stay away from asking for personal emails or phone numbers though there’s no reason not to offer or accept them. Just keep in mind that they could steal your rewards points.

The only thing to be careful of is any anti-poaching rules in the company you are quitting or the company you will work for. If you are planning to stay in touch with coworkers in order to pick them off into your new company, there is sometimes a grace period of several months to a year where you cannot do this. The consequences are usually against your new company, who will not appreciate that you brought those consequences down upon them.

Can I keep this?

Your company almost certainly has rules around company property, both intellectual and physical. Make sure you return any tracked items. In terms of intellectual property, you could be considered stealing if you downloaded anything company related onto your personal computer or any mobile device. In several companies I’ve worked at they have a device policy where they can claim any device, personal or otherwise, that has ever had company data on it. If you work on sensitive information and are allowed to use personal devices, this might apply to you.

Save Before Quitting

Before you start talking to your manager about quitting, make sure to collect and print or save externally all the documentation you may need if your manager decides to terminate your employment immediately. I was escorted out of the building the first time I mentioned I was quitting and this is how I prepared for it:

  • Print out the following pieces of information if accessible:
    • Proof of employment (employment verification and immigration purposes)
    • Last Paystub (employment verification and immigration purposes)
    • Employment contract
    • HR department phone number
    • Contact information for your health plan provider and any other benefits providers
    • Employee Resignation or Termination guide if there is one
    • Your manager and skip manager’s name and contact information
    • The emails of anyone you want to stay in touch with at work
  • Clear all your temp data, browsing data, and cached data from all your work devices
  • Ensure at least 1 other person on your team has access to every resource you have access to. Not required but nice to do.
  • If you still have stuff at work, make sure you have enough bags or boxes to get it out of your building and a way to transport it home
  • If you are using a public transit card funded by your employer, you will need to give that back. Have a backup fare if you took the bus to work that day.

You can do all of this without alerting anyone that you are quitting unless you’re careless in the print room about leaving your print job unattended.

Good luck quitting!

 

 

One thought on “Exit to Stage Left: Thoughts on Quitting

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