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The key to quitting your job the right way is your mindset. When you finally come to the point that you are ready to have the “I quit” conversation, contrary to popular belief, that conversation is no longer about you. You’ve made the decision. One way or another, you’re outta there. The quitting conversation is really about the people you are leaving behind – your boss and your coworkers. Your departure is likely to not only come as a shock but also cause some significant hardships and headaches for them.

“Leave Your Campsite Better Than You Found It”

As you prepare to leave, the best preventative medicine I can prescribe is to practice one of the Boy Scout mottos: “leave your campsite better than you found it.” In other words, the objective of your conversation should be how you can work with your manager to make the transition as easy and as smooth as possible. To that end, come prepared to discuss and offer the following:

  1. Give plenty of notice – One of the greatest gifts you can give your boss is the gift of time. Not only for him / her to come to grips with your departure but to think about how to fill your role when you are gone. I’m often asked: “what is the standard number of days / weeks that one should give notice?” It all depends. On average, two weeks is most common but don’t be afraid to offer more (if you can). This will not only leave a good impression on your current employer (you are going above and beyond) but it can leave a good impression on your new employer. Yes, your new employer is watching to see how you leave your current employer. After all, one day that may be them! Note: There are two big addendums to this rule. 1) Don’t let your employer demand how long you stay. This is your decision not theirs. I recently heard the story of an employer saying that if the employee did not give four weeks notice, the employer would refuse to provide a positive reference going forward. Not only is that ridiculous, my employment attorney colleagues tell me that may not be on the up-and-up. 2) If you are leaving to go to a competitor, be prepared to leave that day. It is common for employers to invite you to leave immediately so have your things already packed just in case.
  2. Identify / train a replacement – Consider offering to identify and or train a replacement. This can be a tremendous help to your boss. After all, who knows your job better than you? Come prepared with suggestions on who might be a good replacement and how to train him or her in case the conversation goes there.
  3. Provide a transition plan – If your job is extremely complicated and / or very senior, come prepared to bring a one-page transition plan to the meeting. In these cases, your departure could likely have a significant impact on the organization and your boss likely doesn’t know what you do every day. Thinking about how to make this transition go smoothly for the organization and bringing a plan to discuss with your boss will change the entire conversation to something very productive and positive.
  4. Control the message – This is an important step. Naturally, you need to tell your boss about your decision first. That is the proper and professional first step. After that, reach out individually to the colleagues and co-workers that you have developed a solid professional relationship with and let them know about your departure. Be mindful to avoid the natural default for these conversations. The tendency is to have the conversation revolve around you: “Why are you leaving? Where are you going? When are you leaving? Are you excited? What’s your new title? How much are they paying you? Etc…” Don’t let it go there. Rather, focus on your co-worker (remember, it’s about them, not you). Tell each co-worker briefly about your move and then quickly shift to how much you have enjoyed working with him / her. Tell them how much they have impressed you, how you want to make sure you stay in touch, etc…. This not only leaves them feeling positive about you, but it dampens their anxiety about your departure. Note: Messaging to customers (if relevant for you) is a tricky one. Make sure you and your boss are on the same page on when and how to do this so as to not create unnecessary anxiety and worry in the mind of the customer simply because you had something you wanted to get off your chest. If customers are part of your job, this should be part of your transition plan (see #3 above).

I think you get the picture. The whole premise behind leaving the right way is to make the exit as much about “leaving your campsite better than you found it” as possible. This preventative prescription preserves your reputation, ensures positive feelings amongst your former colleagues and keeps the bridge intact. After all, you never know where your former colleagues will work next. You may be reunited once again so let’s make sure that’s a happy day, not a painful one.