By: Wilma Slenders
Break-ups usually involve a lot of emotion and pain, even when it is the right thing to do.
I’m not talking about personal relationship break-ups (although those can be painful, too). I’m talking about professional relationship break-ups: quitting your job, moving on, or just even moving up the organization. Relationships that once were strong are weakened or possibly destroyed; although some relationships may also be strengthened through the process.
Recently on LinkedIn an interesting question came up: why do people who are subjected to harassment, abuse and bullying stay in the organization when they know it would be better for them to leave?
People often stay longer in business relationships than they should, even if they are not toxic. The relationship, role and company may have been great, but it’s time to take your career to the next level.
Breaking up is hard to do.
Why is that?
What I’ve found is that usually one, or more, of the following factors are at play.
- Change is uncomfortable. Creating change requires action. Maintaining the status quo is easier and doesn’t take much effort. Change guru, Daryl Connor, has an analogy about a burning platform. Essentially, the pain of not changing needs to be greater than the pain of changing.
- Fear of uncertainty. What we know provides more comfort than an unknown future. A comfort zone is just that – comfortable.
- Guilt or obligation. We may be reluctant to leave the organization because there have been growth and development opportunities, and everyone was good to work with. In leaving, there may be a feeling of guilt for taking advantage of all of that or a sense that there is an obligation to stay.
- Don’t know what the options are or unsure that there even are options. For many people who have worked in one company for an extended period of time seeing that there are options out there can be challenging.
- Wishing, hoping, thinking, and believing that things will get better. We secretly hope that the leader or co-worker who is causing the problem will find another job, or realize that a change in behaviour is required.
- Lack of networks. Even people who are happy with their current role and company have strong networks. The members of their network assist in providing information about what other companies are doing and contacts details for others in similar and different interesting, even when change isn’t necessary.
- The financial compensation is just too good to give up. Sometimes this involves not knowing how other companies compensate their employees or actually knowing that the comp is pretty darn good where they are!
- Loyalty to the company. Extreme loyalty to the company, while not as prevalent today as in the past, is typically based either on a family history of working for that company or working at that company for an extended period of time (e.g., since being a summer student).
- Love of the work. This is different than loyalty, in that, the individual can’t even imagine work that s/he would rather do. Then why consider leaving the company? It could be toxic boss or culture, or limited opportunities for advancement
- Worry that leaving will impact their reputation. When people leave organizations, there is always speculation – did that person leave of their own accord or was that individual pushed out? This is often the case in down markets when the individual is not leaving to go to another role.
How can a professional break-up be less painful and more satisfying? How can you leave a job gracefully without experiencing excessive emotional turmoil?
- Prepare yourself. When you’ve made the decision to leave the organization, consider all of the things that you need to organize and get done before you let people know. Understand that you will experience some emotions along the way and be prepared for that.
- Don’t exit without a plan. If you are thinking of quitting without a new job, assess your alternatives and explore some options first. Review job search tips and start reconnecting with contacts.
- Give appropriate notice. A minimum of two weeks is required for lower level roles. If you’re in a senior role, three to four weeks is more appropriate. This allows for transition planning to minimize the impact of you leaving.
- Help make the transition go well. Wrap up as many projects as you can. Meet with your manager and offer to help fill the void created by your departure. Ensure that you have documented your work activities, projects you are working on and thoughts about how your work could be transferred to others. This is not the time to make decisions on major projects or take on new tasks!
- Stay productive in your last weeks. Don’t be the person that everyone notices for being absent.
- Be professional. It’s a small world. Handling the break-up professionally will be remembered when reference checks or informal contacts are made in the future. Or, you may choose to rejoin the company in the future. There will still be people there who remember you, so ensure that the memory is positive.
- Be honest in your exit interview, but don’t bad mouth others or vent your frustration. It is, however, an opportunity to be candid with respect to the things that could be improved in the organization.
- Leave a positive legacy. Take time to thank and say good-bye to your colleagues. Thank everyone who has helped you to be productive in your role. Your generosity and modesty will be remembered.
- Don’t feel guilty about leaving. It may be tough to leave, but focus on the future. You may be going to an exciting new opportunity, or you may decide to take some time off.