Exit Right: How You Leave Your Job Matters

By Kathy Gurchiek Feb 25, 2015
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A brick tossed through the window with the note “I quit” sent a pretty clear message.

So did the sugar-coated message from another employee—a cake with a resignation letter written in icing on top.

Then there was the worker who couldn’t be bothered with composing an entire letter and left a sticky note to announce he was quitting.

All are examples of unusual ways people have quit their jobs that OfficeTeam culled from its 2015 survey on offbeat quit notices. The survey collected data from more than 600 HR managers at companies with 20 or more employees in the U.S. and Canada.

Some people delegate the responsibility, OfficeTeam found: the man who made his wife call to say he was quitting, the parents who contacted their son’s employer, the man who asked a colleague to forward a text message to the boss.

Others do a disappearing act, like the woman who stepped out to buy boots and never returned or the woman who packed up her belongings and walked out without a word.

Such stories can become the stuff of office legend.

It took place nearly 40 years ago at his first job out of college, but Harry Kantrovich, Ph.D., retired from the U.S. Navy, still recalls the resignation of a fellow worker. The man’s boss had him working 10-hour days, six days a week, with no additional pay.

Finally, he’d had it.

“The guy took a 10-lb. turkey, a box of stuffing, put them on his manager’s desk with a note that said ‘Stuff it, I quit,’ ” Kantrovich told SHRM Online.

Ian Aronovich, co-founder and CEO of the website GovernmentAuctions.org, remembers the dramatic exit years ago by a friend who hated his job. The friend walked into the cafeteria carrying a boom box blasting music, stepped up on a lunch table, threw his arms in the air and ripped open his shirt to reveal “I quit!” emblazoned on his chest, Aronovich told SHRM Online.

‘The Way You Leave a Job Is Critical’

Going out in a so-called blaze of glory might feel good in the moment—like Joey DeFrancesco, who assembled a marching band to accompany him as he walked away from his hotel job in 2011. But while making a scene makes for a good story—#HowIWouldQuit was trending Feb. 20 on Twitter—it can hurt a person’s chances at future employment.

In the OfficeTeam survey, 53 percent of HR managers said that how an employee quits a job somewhat affects that person’s future career opportunities and one-third said it had a great effect.

“The way you leave a job is critical to your career development and your placement, your career future,” said Kelly Workman, North American vice president of OfficeTeam, which commissioned the survey.

“It’s not just the people at the job you’re quitting but the surrounding people—people you’re working with,” and likely connected with through social media. “If you work in a niche market, a niche industry,” such as an executive administrative assistant in health care, “you’re probably going to run into some of these people you worked with” in the future.

Do’s, Don’ts

Although an employee may give notice in a less-than-graceful manner, it’s important that the employer remain professional.

“It’s tough when someone insults you. Someone throws a brick through a window—that’s insulting,” Workman said. “It’s really important to collect yourself and not act in kind.”

Additionally, exit interviews can be valuable, but it’s better if HR conducts them rather than the person’s direct manager. Schedule it for the employee’s last day or a few days later.

“As they start to get emotional, you need to bring it back to the facts,” Workman said. “This is an opportunity for an employer to try … and get some real meaning out of that meeting,” such as learning about a manager that needs to be dealt with, she added.

Gloria T. Witt, an executive coach, concurred.

“My thought would be: What motivated the employee to resign with such passion/creativity?” she said in a Society for Human Resource Management LinkedIn discussion, pointing to the brick-throwing and cake as examples. “This suggests to me that the environment may have been toxic for the employee and they wanted someone to ‘see them.’ ”

Workman stressed the importance of leaving an employer on good terms. She advised employees to take the following steps:

  • Talk to your manager first.
  • Have a letter of resignation with you when meeting with your manager, “so no matter what happens, you’ve got something in writing.”
  • Have your end date documented in your resignation letter, so all parties know the last day of employment.
  • Give two weeks' notice.
  • Be careful how you give notice.

“Don’t exit in a way you wouldn’t want to be remembered,” Workman said. Some questionable methods OfficeTeam found included making the announcement on Facebook, over a video conference call, on the company website, in an e-mail blast to the entire staff or through a music video.

“Once it goes out into the Internet, it’s in indelible ink; it’s there forever,” Workman pointed out. DeFrancesco’s marching band video went viral within a month, pulling in almost 3 million hits, according to a November 2011 news story. A young woman’s music video resignation in 2013 racked up more than 15 million hits on YouTube in less than two weeks.

While it may be tempting to walk off without notice—perhaps tit for tat if the employer didn’t give another worker advance notice of a firing or layoff—Workman advised against this. She also recommended that employees make their work during those two weeks as good as or better than it has been during their tenure.

“You’re going to want to use them as a professional reference … and people always ask questions” of a former employer, she reminded employees. “There’s no company out there that won’t respect that you will give [the current employer] two weeks’ notice.”

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News. Follow her @SHRMwriter.

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