23 May 2006

How to quit graciously

If you’re a member of the human race and have worked for longer than a month, you’ve probably had visions of a fiery, cathartic exit from your job. Bad idea.


If you’re a member of the human race and have worked for longer than a month, you’ve probably had visions of a fiery, cathartic exit from your job. Bad idea.

Most people have at some stage had daydreams about upending the boss’s desk, dumping spaghetti down the chef’s neck or simply not going to work. These gleeful notions are symptoms of a less-than-ideal job that should be tolerated only until you find something better.

Once that happens, you can announce your imminent departure. Here are a few guidelines:

  • Avoid the temptation to do handsprings. Gloating won’t earn you friends among the colleagues you leave behind, and there’s a chance you may end up working with them again.
  • Whether you had a happy time in your current job or hated every moment, your departure is what will remain as an aftertaste. Your letter of resignation will play a role in that, so its wording should be polite and lacking in emotion or rancour. This means it will be short, which is fine. It should state your intention to leave and your period of notice, including the last date that you would work. A brief undertaking to help recruit and train a successor can be added. Resign to the person you answer to and do so in person. Give that person a copy of the letter.
  • Don’t give the impression that you’re open to counter-offers. Many companies now have a policy of not trying to persuade employees to stay once they quit. Never, ever “let it slip” that you’re looking for other work in an effort to make yourself “appreciated more”.
  • Some companies now offer what they call exit interviews, which are intended to give some feedback on why you’re leaving. By all means be forthright, but be careful about singling out individuals just because you’re angry. It’s possible to be just as constructive by saying, “The management team needs more direct input” than saying “Joe’s a lazy slob”. If you’re asked for specific details provide them, but emphasise your intention to be constructive.

The resignation letter – or speech, if you’re asked to make one – has the potential to be a fest of spilt bile. Here are some examples not to emulate:

  • The UK international development secretary Clare Short ranted at Prime Minister Tony Blair during her 11-minute swansong in the House of Commons. She described him as sacrificing the good of the nation for his obsession with a place in history;
  • In 1990, Geoffrey Howe resigned as Deputy Prime Minister, a move which ultimately toppled his boss, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. In a scathing House of Commons speech, he accused her of failing to support her ministers during conferences on European Unity. “It is rather like sending your opening batsman to the crease only for them to find, the moment the first balls are bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain.”
  • In 1994, UK Defence Secretary Alan Clark resigned after public revelation that he’d had affairs with a wife of a judge and her two daughters. He said: “I probably have a different sense of morality to most people.”
  • England soccer chief Glenn Hoddle resigned in 1999 after saying in an interview that disabled people were paying the price for sins in their former lives. “I accept I made a serious error of judgment in an interview which caused misunderstanding and pain. This was never my intention and for this I apologise.”
- (William Smook)

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