Reader's Ask: How Not to Leave a Job

A reader asked me this question a few weeks ago after being let go from a job and learning I had taken Human Resources Management in college. This is my answer:

People leave their jobs all the time. It's a fact of life. Either your boss (or a client) decides you aren't a good fit, and sometimes it's you that decides that you're not a good fit. This is fine. The last thing you want to do is be stuck in something you really, really hate... or, worse, feel like a fish out water.

People will know that you don't feel like you belong - even if you get along with all of your coworkers, and your boss loves you if you're not a good fit it's just like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

It just won't work out.

This post isn't about finding that position or that job, or even that career, where you fit into the round hole by millimeters.

No, it's about how you leave a position that isn't working.

We are all familiar with the old song, "Take This Job and Shove It". If you're not, I've included it right here.

Let me tell you one thing right now: It doesn't matter how much you want to do it, don't do it this way.

Even if you won the lottery yesterday. Please, please, please don't do this.

Karma has a nasty habit of biting you in the you-know-where when you least expect it, even when you've won the lottery. We are all human. We have our likes, dislikes, good days and bad days. We all have our struggles and, even though the other old saying is, "Leave home at home," the reality is that it bleeds over into your professional life every waking moment.

This is the same from the bottom of the career ladder to the top of the ladder.

So, what to do if that song is really tempting, and you are going to actually quit?

Do it with grace.

There's nothing to gain from leaving in a huff. It will only make you look like the bad guy here, or at best, very juvenile. At the very worst, you will be blacklisted in the business and if also happened to be somewhere you used to frequent before you started working there... well... you just lost access to it forever. Permabanned. That's it, that's all.

Sure, you've given everyone something to talk about for all of a month.

Your former coworkers have that short an attention span. When was the last time you thought about that nemesis you hated with every fiber of your being and then went onto something else?

Chances are you didn't give that person another thought until I just asked about it.

Your dramatic exit will be remembered for just about as long - if that. Not really worth the permaban, is it?

On the other hand, if you do it with grace they won't remember you. Well, they will until they replace you. What they will remember (depending on how much notice you have before you quit) is how short-handed they were and now they have to replace you and train (and training is costly) your replacement.

They will remember that while, if you worked in retail and still shop there, seeing you come in and shop and looking happier by far than you were when you worked there.

And possibly with more money...

... And still polite and nice to them.

Far better, right?

What if, even with a graceful exit, you were ghosted and restricted?

This is rare, but it happens - I even had it happen to me and I thought my coworkers and I had been on great terms. It's not like I left without notice. I won't name the place. There's nothing to be gained and it happened decades ago. No point in dragging it up now.


"Ghost" them right back. Just don't be the one doing the ghosting first. You might need the reference, even if you think you won't. Employers have a tendency to check backgrounds and call former places of work if the information is public especially the higher you climb up the career ladder. Again, instead of using the G for ghosting, use the G for grace instead.

If they chose to ghost you, then allow them that decision to state the terms of the relationship they feel comfortable in having with you. Don't push them. Don't attempt to contact them. If your resume doesn't have space for them and it doesn't cause an unexplainable gap, let it drop off like it never existed.

It's not about you and it never was about you.

Let it roll off like water off your back.

What if I still like them and we still run in the same social circles?

Fantastic! It's called networking.

Get their contact information and link up on LinkedIn. Keep that company on your resume - and your working friends at the top of your contacts for possible references down the road.

People who get along like this have a tendency to circle each other.

Not in a personal way so much but definitely in a professional one.

These are the ones that could move on to other positions later (and often do) which means they end up in different roles and different companies. In many cases, when a position comes up vacant where they know you are the perfect fit for it they will contact you to try for it.

This is exactly why you always leave with grace.

Or, you will hear about the position first and notice, hey! So-and-so also works for that company and you always got along great both professionally and personally. If you are the perfect fit for that position, they'll say so.

The other great part about leaving friends with grace, and with notice, is there shouldn't be hard feelings. If they are your friends they will know you were miserable and why. They'll be in your corner even after you tell them you're leaving.

I can speak from experience here. I have this great friend who I met back in 2012. I worked for him for a grand total of just under three months before being downsized out of my job two days before my birthday. When let go, the HR person was very nervous, like she expected me to be upset. To be honest, I was. To this day, I haven't let him live it down but now it's become more of an in-joke between the two of us and back then he was my boss.

But that's the key thing. In another reality, if I was easier to set off, I could have lost my temper. Bemoaned the timing. Done any other numerous things that the HR representative with him probably was imagining.

But I didn't.

I didn't end up working with the other opportunity and instead took a position with a different company, but I still have his reference.

Later, the same former employer became one of my best clients for a business I had opened up. Years later, and after I had moved up (and been published), he became my financial and retirement planner.

Funny how life works.

I also know that if I ever need a reference, he has my back simply because I kept my head, my cool, and left with grace.

This isn't the only example I have of this. When given the choice, I have always taken the more graceful route when leaving and now have numerous friends from previous jobs - some of them even former managers and 'bosses'... not just coworkers.

There's nothing to be gained (but much to be lost) in stepping on people whether going up the career ladder or sidestepping into a new role.

Hopefully, that answers your question.

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