Learning to Leave During the Great Resignation

There is no doubt that the pandemic has taken a toll on businesses around the world. The economic haunt caused many companies to close up shop. The last year left many leaders so eager to return back to the way it once was and the vaccine offered so much hope. As employers try and reach a new normal, many are beginning to call employees back into the office. But forcing employees to go back to work communicated to many that companies didn’t value their desires. Especially for highly sought after talent, many realized they had choices.

The pandemic has given many employees some time to reassess their priorities. They determined they want to avoid commutes; they want to spend more time with their family; they want to avoid office micro aggressions and drama; and they want to continue to work from home. They realized they can be productive and do their work at home. After all, how many of us felt that, on some days, we commuted to work only to sit in front a computer all day? 

Now, employers have another challenge on their hands. Workplaces are seeing a trend in employees quitting their jobs – by the masses. Experts are calling this era the Great Resignation, and employees who have choices are choosing to exercise their right to choose their own priorities. 

I have been exposed to my fair share of departing colleagues seeking advice on how to part ways. And for so many I spoke with, it had to do with their mental health – the workplace shenanigans they put up with for so long no longer suited them; coupled with many of the issues I listed above. Many employers just didn’t rise up to the challenge of being a source of comfort during this difficult time. In the last year, I entered (and exited) the world of recruiting after I left a prior employer, which opened my eyes to how all entries and departures work, in general. If you are one of those struggling with how to politely part ways during the Great Resignation, below I share some things I have learned that go beyond what everyone else is probably telling you: “you have to do what is best for you”….the most overused consolation in the book.

  1. You are one but many. The first thing to note and assure yourself is that you are probably one of many departures leaving your workplace every day. You may not hear about them, but they are happening. I am not saying you are not valuable, but it may reassure you to know you are not the only one.
  2. Other companies might be looking for you! If you are smart, experienced, and dedicated, and you are not a white male, you are probably a hot commodity and highly sought after. So, start networking. You don’t need to stay where you are.
  3. Don’t fret so much about walking AWAY from something; you are walking INTO something great. It might not be here yet, but it will come along.
  4. It’s all a transaction. You may be a little anxious about the whole experience. Just think of it all as a transaction. You need to do X, Y, Z (you need to leave this job because you are unhappy and undervalued, you need to move into your next job for more happiness and a better opportunity, you need to give your notice in order to move into your next job). It’s logic and very matter of fact. Put your emotions aside.
  5. Delivery. If you feel like you must deliver the news in person, I have led the conversation with, “I have something difficult to talk to you about today. I received an amazing opportunity that I can’t pass up (to do X). X will be my last day. I appreciate the opportunity to grow here and work on X.” If they are good leaders, they will be happy for you. Otherwise, you owe no kind of delivery method to anyone. Submitting your resignation in writing is completely fine and acceptable. Another thing to note is that you are under no obligation to give two weeks. In fact, putting in one’s notice on the day they are done is also a regular occurrence at horrible workplaces, because of what people are experiencing. 
  6. An awkward 2 weeks. The last few weeks are always awkward if you choose to go with 2 weeks. Simply regularly address your departure in these two weeks ahead of you, ask what people need to continue the work, create an exit plan and move all of your files offline. Email all of your partners; thank them for the opportunity to work together and hope you can stay connected in the future. They are also used to the world of sign-ons and departures – don’t feel like this will be a shock to them. Politely connect with them on LinkedIn and exit politely and with little detail other than “I’ve been offered a great opportunity”. Keep conversations short and focus on closing everything out on your end before trying to close up with the team.
  7. Feeling bad for your co-workers? Don’t. You may feel a connection and some sort of responsibility to your co-workers and you might feel bad leaving them, but don’t. Here are a few points to note about people departing: co-workers will secretly view this as an opportunity (could they get a promotion?); they will not feel as bad as they say they do (“what will we do without you?” – everyone says it, very few mean it).
  8. Prepare your digital footprint. Things to note about leaving some companies: they will search your files and emails, they have sat in on Teams and Zoom calls without people knowing, they have sat in on phone calls and searched phone history, etc. Just prepare yourself and your files in case there is anything you may not wish to share. In addition, you will be cut off, perhaps sooner than you expect. Save everything into personal drives as soon as possible. Leave nothing for them to use as their own material that you have created. If you have a company phone, stop using it and get permission to transfer the number immediately.
  9. Be prepared to be blamed when you leave; it all shall pass. Years ago, my VPAA got a new position at a larger institution. Upon departing, he told me to be prepared that everyone will blame him for everything gone wrong, because it was ‘the way’. He said it very matter of fact and he was content with this knowledge; he was Buddhist. He told me in order to prepare me for the ritual of departures and life. I will never forget that. As I have watched many departures in academia, and even people breaking up in life, I always think of this statement. It is true for everyone who has departed in some way. It is the nature of things. Don’t take it personally.

In the end, this will be just a blip on your timeline. You will be so happy and proud of yourself that you swiftly made this decision. And the honest truth is that none of it matters. A resume doesn’t say the nature of departures and you will always be able to select your references. After screening/interviewing probably over 100 candidates at this point, I can tell you that the process doesn’t really lend itself to finding out exactly how people operate on the job and the nature of their departures. In other words, people will have no idea that you departed in any particular way. You are leaving in a good place and in a good way. People walk away all the time.