How you exit your company when you have decided to move on to pastures new says an awful lot about who you are. The final weeks (and, in some cases, months) you have in an organisation is the lasting legacy you will leave behind, and so it’s important to make a graceful exit.
Your notice period
The period between handing in your notice and your final day is a chance to ensure that you have done everything you can to tie up loose ends and complete any outstanding projects, so your colleagues left behind don’t have to wonder where things stand, and clients aren’t wondering why you haven’t returned their calls.
Your notice period is also the final opportunity to create the lasting impression your employer has of you, which they will use as the basis for any future references. It could also decide whether the door remains open for your return should you decide that the new opportunity isn’t the right move after all.
So, if you want to do everything you can to work your notice period and leave on the best possible terms, here are a few pointers on how to do that well.
- Don’t take your foot off the gas. Continue to be as productive as you always have. Work hard and be diligent for the entire notice period.
- Let people know you are leaving (agree timing with your line manager) and don’t bad mouth the company, colleagues, or boss. Focus on the positive reasons for leaving rather than anything you were dissatisfied with in your current role. (You can save that for your exit interview!)
- Agree with your line manager how to handle any outstanding leave – will you take your time off as part of your notice period, or will you get paid for your days as part of your final paycheque? Agreeing this early will help you plan your final weeks.
- Don’t feel responsible for other people’s reactions to your leaving. Your colleagues may be upset, disappointed, or even try to discourage you. That’s more about them than you. Take the fact that they really don’t want to lose you as a valued member of the team as a sign of affection, but don’t allow them to cast doubt on your decision.
- Make a list of the projects you have been working on, with notes on its current status, who to call with questions, and any other insights you have which may not appear in a typical file. Make it easy for others to carry on when you are no longer on the team.
- Agree with your line manager who will pick up your work, and then schedule time with those colleagues to have a proper hand-over. Don’t leave those meetings until the last week. Ideally, your replacement(s) will have some time to get stuck in while you are still around to answer questions. Sometimes they don’t know what they don’t know until they actually get started, so allow time for that process.
- If your replacement is in place before you leave, do your best to train them well.
- Express gratitude to all the people who have helped you in the organisation. Say thanks by taking them out for a coffee or lunch to let them know how much you appreciate everything they did for you. Even a thoughtful note can mean a lot. Every organisation has those kind people who look out for others, so don’t miss this opportunity to let them know their efforts were appreciated.
My following these suggestions, you should be in a strong position to leave with your head held high and knowing that you have done everything within your power to leave on the best possible terms.
The exit interview
Most organisations will also request an exit interview with Human Resources as one of the final meetings before you go. This is an opportunity to express your reasons for leaving. The information gathered in exit interviews provides valuable information for the organisation. Trends from exit interviews may inform retention strategies, so use this as an opportunity to be honest but respectful in explaining why you decided to look outside the organisation for your next opportunity. Quite often, when people leave, it’s more than just pay and benefits that tempted them away. Whatever the reasons are, it’s HR’s responsibility to report back on the trends they are seeing across a range of exit interviews so that senior management can act on the information.
Keep in touch
Finally, you may wish to send a goodbye note to the team or even the entire company on your last day. This is an opportunity to update colleagues on your new contact details. The relationships we build at work are an important part of who we are – we often spend more time with colleagues than we do with our friends and families – so it’s not surprising that many of those relationships transcend the work connection and colleagues become lasting friends.
Anne Phillipson is Director of People & Change Consulting at Grant Thornton.
You can read this article and others in Career Guide 2021/2022.