How to Quit a Job

Credit @philip

My son’s beloved preschool teacher unexpectedly quit before Christmas. We live in an expensive area of the country and, understandably, it turns certain industries into revolving doors of employment. Who can live in the Bay Area on small salaries? Not many.

Though this is a really logical problem, her departure was a total shock to the community. I try not to coach people who aren’t paying me (and I often fail miserably!) but I felt compelled one day while I discussed her departure with the school administrator.

“I know it’s a surprise,” I said gently. “But I have to say, no one teaches people how to quit jobs.”

Except, in my work, I do. Whenever someone tells me they’re thinking about quitting their job, I tell them to stop the presses. I tell them to sit quietly and make a bucket list of everything they’d want to do before they left. Is there a skill they wanted to grow? A colleague they’ve always wanted to collaborate with? A client they wanted exposure to, a new responsibility to learn, some professional development opportunity within reach?

Make the list. Then, pursue the list.

See, you don’t have to change everything to change some things. We think we need to change employers because we aren’t actually parsing out the problem. Identifying what you want helps you raise your hand for those opportunities.

(By the way, half the time when you ask for the thing you want, you get it. I KNOW! It’s highly possible that you can get what you’re hungry for without changing who gives you a paycheck.)

While you’re identifying what you want, I will plant one more seed — are you changing jobs when you really should be changing apartments? Are you trying to fix your marriage by quitting your job? Make sure you’re trying to solve the right issue. You’d be surprised how often we solve the wrong problems because we’re afraid of conflict and Big Conversations.

Still think you need to quit? Time for a plan. (Incidentally, Monteiro has some good thoughts about giving more than 2 weeks notice. I totally agree.)

I have long advocated for the concept of alumni when it comes to former employees. If departures are handled well, there is no reason anyone needs to be angry and bitter. The work is simply no longer a match. (UNCLICK)

To the best of your ability, leave like a future alumnus. When I left my job before starting Plucky, I had to quit 12 times. That is not a typo! My departure conversations were with a variety of leaders, some happening in the office and some in nearby coffee shops. Whether you’ve had a rich growth path or a broken, bumpy road, it’s a unique moment to be grateful and say thanks. You learned something in that place.

Like with everything in life, you can’t control how someone else hears your words — but you can make the effort to be honest and real.

Once you work out a departure timeline, prepare yourself for a breakup period. Even in the most graceful of exits, it will happen because both sides start to retreat, pulling back from each other to blunt the pain. This is emotional survival at its best; it’s really normal. There will be a time months from now when you can come back to the office for a visit and all sides will be genuinely happy to see each other but first you have to get through an ending.

For, dear readers, the grace with which you deliver quitting news (or receive quitting news, for that matter) speaks volumes about your character. Don’t quit like a resource; quit like a human being. The way you handle moments like these in your career — the ones no one ever teaches you about — have huge potential for your legacy.

After all, it’s a small world… and your industry is even smaller.

Are you a manager who fears an employee quitting? Great. You’re a prime target for Plucky manager training in NYC this summer. We will talk about how to monitor your team members so you’re not caught by surprise and how to have hard conversations. Join us!