Should You Leave Your Job Quickly Or Slowly?

Posted: December 7, 2013 in Careers
Tags: , , , ,

Job ChangeDue to the unfortunate circumstance of having everyone else on my team at work except my manager and me announce their movement to other jobs in the past few weeks, I’ve had an unwanted quantity of time to think about how people transition from one role to the next. How should it be done? Specifically, how quickly should it be done? I assume transitions should be professional, respectful, with no hint of burning bridges and relationships in the process, but what about the timing of the change?

(As an aside, let me hasten to add that the three departures from my team are coincidental in their timing and don’t reflect any issues  to my knowledge that would drive them to look elsewhere. It’s mostly the result of young people advancing their careers, chasing dreams and making life decisions they deem in their best interests. They are all leaving well-loved and would be welcomed back if the opportunity arose.)

Back to the subject of the timing of a transition, how much notice should one give? How much does a company have the right to expect? When transitioning to a new role within the same company, should time be split between the two roles for a gradual transition over several weeks or even months?

When moving to a different company, there is likely no option for splitting time between the two. The person leaving must agree to a new starting date with the new company, announce the decision, do his best to wrap things up and hand them off to those left behind, and move on.

Moving to another company is normally a short, clean break of about two weeks in our culture – sometimes more, sometimes less. It’s a quick divorce that may not leave everything as tidy as those remaining behind wish, but there isn’t much that can be done about it other than for the leader of the team remaining to rally the troops, assign what needs to be done to those remaining, fill the open role as quickly as possible, and move on. I’ve known some companies with the horrid practice of actually firing people immediately when they give a two-week notice. That’s cold and just wrong. That only trains people to leave you without notice and to show no loyalty in light of the company’s lack of loyalty to them.

Extremely short notices of only days really put the team remaining in a bind. Unusual notices of many weeks or even months can cause a disruption in team dynamics, engagement and morale that ends up harming more than helping with a slow, lingering departure.

As a side note, don’t take your last days at a company to unleash all the pent up anger you may have accumulated over time about what isn’t right with the business. If you weren’t mature and professional enough to address those issues in an appropriate manner while a part of the team, then keep it to yourself on your way out. It makes you – not your company – look bad to rant while exiting, and it leaves those remaining with a mess to clean up that they don’t want or deserve.

When moving to a new role in the same company, should the change in roles be just as clean and quick as when moving to a different company, or should both teams and managers involved try to work out a gradual transition that allows more time to wrap up tasks for the old role while easing into the new one? Let’s consider some advantages and disadvantages of each approach.

If you give a typical two-week notice and have a clean break in roles:

  • + The individual is able to give full attention after the switch to the new role.
  • + The team left behind is forced to move on and get things done, hiring a replacement as soon as possible.
  • + The grieving period that comes with the separation from someone well liked is shortened.
  • – Greater pressure is placed on remaining team members to suddenly add to their workload.
  • – Some things may not get done until the team is fully staffed again.
  • – Remaining team members may feel quickly abandoned, especially if relationships were good between everyone.

If a longer transition time is allowed while splitting the person’s tasks between the two roles:

  • + More time is allowed to find a replacement.
  • + Less pressure is placed in the short term on remaining team members.
  • + The person transitioning can ease into his/her new role.
  • + More of the transitioning person’s responsibilities will get completed or documented.
  • – Long, slow goodbyes are difficult emotionally.
  • – Interest and engagement can radically decrease on the part of the one leaving, doing more harm to team morale than a quick departure.
  • – The person leaving can feel in limbo and unsettled for an unhealthy length of time.

Managers of those leaving understandably want to hang on to them for as long as possible – getting more work out of them that perhaps only they can do while documenting things for the benefit of whoever might eventually replace them. Managers who are getting someone in the transition understandably want to get all of that person’s time as soon as possible – not sharing him/her with others. It’s a tug of war in which the transitioning person is the rope. The rope never wins.

Your experience may vary from mine, and it’s possible for emotionally mature adults to go either of the above routes successfully, but each is not without its advantages and disadvantages. Given the above concerns and my recent experience with departing and incoming team members, I’m currently in favor of a short, clean break when transitioning between roles in the same company. Make a decision and move on. Don’t jeopardize the engagement and morale of the remaining team by having others around who don’t want to be there any more. Don’t play with the emotions and loyalties of the transitioning employee by tugging him/her in two directions for an extended period. Let the change happen and let everyone start fresh with their new circumstance. The team and the business will survive. Just do it.

What do you think?

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