Leaving a Job without Burning that Bridge

What do LeBron James, Darrelle Revis, and Ken Griffey Jr. all have in common?

Even if you’re not a sports fan, you probably remember that LeBron famously returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers, leading his former team to a winning season. After a victory in Super Bowl XLIX with the New England Patriots, Revis returned to the New York Jets, and Griffey, one of the best home run hitters in baseball, played his final years with his original team, the Seattle Mariners.

If there’s a lesson here, it’s that you should always leave on good terms because you never know when you’re going to take a job with a past employer.  It turns out that the grass is not always greener. The number of boomerang employees — the term for those who return to a company where they once worked — has almost doubled in the past 20 years. Employers tend to like them because they already know the culture and are easier to train. This means it’s always important to leave behind a positive impression, because you never know when you might go back.

But even if you never boomerang, there are plenty of good reasons not to burn any bridges when you leave a job. As my previous post “Seize More Than Just the Day” highlights, there is not enough attention paid to the future. Focusing on how you depart a role may be one of the better ways to learn from than writing. Many of the people you work with — bosses, colleagues, vendors and clients — are going to be important to you at some point in the future. You’ll need them for a reference, run into them at a business meeting, need to rely upon them in your next role or sit across from them at a job interview. You certainly do not want to leave them with a bitter taste that could hinder your growth and development.

I can tell you this from experience. Over the years we have had employees at JBC and Janou Pakter leave our company to take jobs elsewhere and there have been many occasions where they have wanted to come back. When considering their return, one of the most important elements we look at, is how they handled leaving the first time around. In the same regard, we believe how we handled their departure is largely the reason they would consider coming back to JBC and Janou Pakter in the first place. Today we can proudly say that our thoughtful approach to our boomerang colleagues is why so many have rejoined us after seeking employment at a new venture.

Chances are you’ve left at least one job over the course of your career. According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people today stay at a job for just a hair over four years. If you’re under 35, the median drops to three years. And if you’re under 25, it’s less than 18 months.

That means you probably know the basics: give at least two weeks’ notice (more if you’re in a hard-to-replace senior position), notify your managers first so they don’t hear it through the grapevine, and project any feedback in your Exit Interview professionally and constructively.  

But that’s the bare minimum. Follow these tips and you’ll keep all these valuable work connections for your entire career.  

Go the extra mile for your boss. Not that you are irreplaceable, but you’re definitely going to be difficult to replace. Every employee is. The emotional costs, the recruitment costs, the training and development — the list goes on. When you sit down with your manager to break the news that you’re leaving — yes, you absolutely have to do it in person or at least over a video conference if you are a remote employee.  Make it clear you’re going to be as helpful as possible. Come to the meeting with a list of your day-to-day duties written out. Most likely your responsibilities have changed a lot since you started, maybe even in ways your boss is not aware of. Putting together an updated job description will help your manager understand the qualifications needed for your replacement and will be invaluable when putting together a job posting.  

Mention in the meeting if you’re happy to help potentially interview and/or train your replacement, and offer some ideas on how to smooth the transition. Offer to be available after you leave in case they run into a problem they can’t solve. In a sense, you’re collaborating on the transition and fortifying the company's perspective of you. They’ll be impressed with your professionalism.

Make things easier for your colleagues. Your departure will be tough on your coworkers. No matter how smooth the transition, they’re going to have to take up some of the slack in the meantime. Make sure they know where all the files are kept, and have current contact information for clients, vendors and other external relationships. Share with them your process for doing anything that might not be obvious.

Your coworkers might take you out to celebrate your new job, but you should also schedule lunches, coffees or just some face time with several of the people you’re closest with. Make it clear that you value them as friends and colleagues and intend to keep in touch. Write thank-you notes to those people you can’t talk to in person. Keep in mind that 53% of people who stay connected with former colleagues report that it helped them land their current job.

Reach out to clients/vendors. Even though they will hear about your departure from your company, drop a line to your clients and outside vendors that you’ve worked with telling them when you’re leaving and letting them know their new contact. Be friendly, mentioning how much you enjoyed working together. Make it clear you’re not trying to poach them for your new company — that just makes things awkward for everyone. Suggest keeping in touch on LinkedIn or other appropriate social media if they wish to contact you.

Leaving a job on good terms can be tricky. You might not nail every detail. But hey, even LeBron was able to smooth things over with his former employer, colleagues and fans (it didn’t hurt that the year after he returned to the Cavs he led them to a spectacular victory in the NBA Finals). You’ll never regret leaving on good terms because it may lead to great connections down the road.

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P.S. Let’s keep the conversation going on social media! Connect with me on LinkedIn and follow JBC and Janou Pakter for the latest company news and insights. You can also find me on Twitter


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