Career Sphere

How to leave a job gracefully

I was diligent. I completed my tasks on time. And I took on extra assignments and shifts. My boss was so impressed that he gave me a generous raise after 6 months. The next day, he fired me.
Later, I learned that Mr. Boss fired everyone after he gave a raise, so he could hire someone else at a cheaper hourly rate. The experience was difficult for a 16-year-old who still believed life was fair. Mr. Boss had decided to end our working relationship, and he did so without any consideration or class. He created the perfect example of how not to act when you’re the one who decides to move on.

Parting is such sweet sorrow…and then some
Whether you are moving toward something better or away from an intolerable situation, deciding to leave a job is difficult and stressful. You may experience a mixture of emotions, including sadness, excitement, guilt, apprehension, and everything in-between.
Before you jump the gun and give your notice, make sure that leaving makes sense. Consider that sometimes when we are miserable, we “awful-ize” our situation, so we see only the bad and discount the good. By perceiving the situation as utterly awful, we give ourselves permission to leave. Before making a final decision, ask yourself these questions:
• Am I seeing this situation in a realistic light?
• Is leaving in my best interest?
• What will I gain by leaving?
• What will I lose?
If you dislike your job and dread the start of a new work week, you’ve probably reached your tipping point and know that it’s time to go. Finally walking away can be a glorious relief, but you may still grieve for what you had and what you lost.
Those losses may include your collegial friendships. Nurses often develop strong friendships in the workplace, though some of them may be based on timing, convenience, or shared suffering. You need to understand that some friendships will end when you leave the building, but the true friendships you’ve developed won’t.

Easing your way out the door
OK, you’ve decided to leave. Now what? Your first step is to familiarize yourself with any conditions you must meet. For instance, how much notice are you required to give? Typically, you should give your written notice to your immediate supervisor and a copy to the human resources department. Timing is everything, so don’t hand your notice to your supervisor when she’s especially frazzled. Instead, ask for an appointment to speak with her at a more relaxed time.
Your notice should be in letter form and state your last day. You may express your appreciation for the growth and learning opportunities that you will take with you. If you are leaving for negative reasons, do not include them and resist the temptation to use the letter as an escape valve for your grievances.
When you meet with your supervisor, explain how you will wrap up your responsibilities. Before your departure, write a document containing the status of any loose ends and other information that will make it easier for the person who steps into your job.
Another part of your graceful exit is planning how you will use your remaining personal and vacation time before you leave. Collaborate with your supervisor and human resources department on your plan. This shows your consideration for the institution and your colleagues. You may want or need to take some time off, but you should not take a block of vacation time for the duration of your time at the institution.

Bite your tongue
Typically when someone gives notice, word spreads quickly through the ranks. You may be tempted to talk with colleagues about how happy you are to move on and get out of “this place.” Resist the temptation. Such talk tends to leave a bad taste in the mouths of colleagues who are left behind.
Instead, use the opportunity to close the circle of your professional relationships on a good note, if at all possible. For instance, you might consider writing a note or an e-mail to colleagues and superiors who supported your professional growth. Such notes are meaningful to people, and they increase good will. Remember, it’s a small world: Your paths may cross again.
In some institutions, a person from human resources conducts an exit interview. And some people use this opportunity to vent about all the wrongs they endured during their time at the institution. You may think that such venting will feel good—in fact, it might feel good at the moment—but don’t do it. The institution may not be interested in addressing the problems you raise. From the point of view of those running the institution, it’s infinitely easier to characterize you as a disgruntled employee spewing sour grapes than it is to address the problems.
A much more productive use of the exit interview is to turn complaints around and offer suggestions for improving the institution or working conditions. Ideally, you should use the exit interview to leave positive suggestions that reflect your interest in improvements. Here’s an example of a complaint and a positive suggestion addressing the same issue:
“Mr. Itsallaboutme throws staff members under the bus and blames them for everything that goes wrong and then takes credit for everything that goes well.”
“The staff is so hard working and professional, and I think it would be beneficial if the team had its accomplishments acknowledged more frequently.”

Leave a positive impression
Whether you’re excited about your new job or just happy that you’re days are numbered at your present job, you may be tempted to mentally check out and slack off a bit as the days wind down. But your colleagues will appreciate it if you remain fully engaged as part of the team until your last day. This approach shows your colleagues that you care about them and demonstrates to your supervisor that you remain committed and loyal to the institution.
Deciding to quit a job is always stressful, whether you are leaving a job you love or a job you loathe. But with a few thoughtful steps, you can leave any job gracefully. And by doing so you will experience far less stress, leave a positive impression, and feel energized and lighter as you move toward a brighter future.

Selected references
Borgatti J. Frazzled, Fried…Finished? A Guide to Help Nurses Find Balance. Borgatti Communications; 2004. Available at: www.joanborgatti.com and www.booklocker.com.
Hansen R. Job resignation do’s and don’ts. Available at: www.quintcareers.com/resignation_dos-donts.html. Accessed September 5, 2007.
Houghton A. Leaving your job: part I. BMJ Career Focus. 2004;328:93. Available at: http://careerfocus.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/328/7439/93-a. Accessed September 5, 2007.


Joan C. Borgatti, MEd, RN, is the owner of Borgatti Communications in Wellesley, Massachusetts, which provides writing, editing, and coaching services. Her website is www.joanborgatti.com.

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