how to leave a job gracefully
February 17, 2005 6:58 AM   Subscribe

My grant-funded contract job is wrapping up in two months. I've never left a job without quitting or taking another job before and I'm not sure what's expected or what to do. What did you do when you left your job?

I got a "Thanks for all your hard work" memo from my boss basically outlining when my last day of work would be and telling me what they expected of me in the remaining weeks. I had sort of thought I might be kept on, but this was pretty clear evidence that they won't be doing that. I'd like to leave on a good foot but since my job for the next eight weeks is pretty much "Find and train a volunteer to do your job for free" I'm not optimistic that I can do this as well as they would like me to. I'm spending a lot of the next few weeks documenting what I've been doing so that hopefully people can pick up where I left off.

I've enjoyed the job somewhat but won't be unhappy to leave. I've got a lot of accumulated sick leave and some vacation time and personal time. Since I've only got eight weeks of part-time work left, taking vacation might be awkward since I'll be pretty busy. Theoretically I'll get unused vacation time paid out to me when I leave, but I worry this won't happen or will be a hassle.

I like some of my colleagues, dislike other ones, and probably won't go back to the place after my last day of work. How do I make a graceful exit? Was there anything you did or did not do when you left a job that was helpful or harmful. Any advice?
posted by jessamyn to Work & Money (8 answers total)
For the vacation time, speak with the person who does HR/payroll and just ask what the rules/policy are about that. They should have a system in place. You probably won't get the sick leave paid; that seems to be standard from my experience.
To be polite and professional, I have been taught that one should write a short note to your supervisor and give it to them on your last day, just saying thank you for the opportunity to work there, for the experience gained, etc. It doesn't have to be personal or lengthy, but is a good way to leave on a high note, and that is always a good thing if you are going to include this job on your resume later on. As for relationships with individual people you like, give them your personal email and keep in touch. They could also be resources later on, you never know!
posted by turtlegirl at 7:28 AM on February 17, 2005

Here is what I've learned over the years:

1) Clarify what you'll be working on: Tell your boss exactly what your concerns are about finding and training your (volunteer) replacement. If you can present her/him with some ideas (he/she must select the final candidate, the training will consist of these materials and this much of your time, assuming someone is hired by X date, etc.) that alleviate some of your discomfort, you should definitely do so.

2) Take care of HR administrivia: It is not unprofessional or rude to expect that you will be given all of the benefits that come with your job. It perfectly acceptable to approach your boss to discuss how you would like to handle accumulated leave time-- "I have this much vacation time left and would like confirm that it will be paid out to me with my last check. If this is not the case, I'd like to discuss when it would be least disruptive to take the time." I have learned to leave accumulated sick and personal leave alone... if I didn't use them, too bad for me. Most employers get rather bitter when they see someone very obviously taking the time simpy to take the time.

3) Clear out your work space: Get your desk/work area cleaned out in stages so that you can avoid the drama of lugging a box out on your last day.

4) Official farewell: On your last day, send an email to those colleagues you like (as well as those you may not like but who may be useful later) telling them you have enjoyed working with them and include new contact information.
posted by idest at 7:32 AM on February 17, 2005

I'll leave the HR/financial stuff to others. I was in a similar situation (part-time/training a replacement) except the leaving was of my own choosing, not the company's. But still- It doesn't sound like you're terribly emotionally engaged with the company, or have been there for long. (I.e. Will there be a farewell party?)

I consciously dis-engaged myself from the daily goings on, so that on "the day" it was weird saying goodbye but anti-climatic. It may help to start some other project outside of work in parallel, so that your mind is focussed on other things. I was in grad school when I left so I always had projects. Putting your energy into training someone, probably will help actually (as long as you can put the weird financial part aside). But still- try to set something up so in the days after you're not just sitting around . . .
posted by jeremias at 7:48 AM on February 17, 2005

Why fret? You're on the 'good' side of an iterated prisoner's dilemma; expectations of you are low; the work requested is vague, has no milestones, and is unbenchmarkable; and you're getting paid.

Work out the last eight weeks in a professional manner, dedicating some of that effort to exceeding the low expectations and solving a few last problems. Simultaneously, start looking for employment. Don't take the vacation time outright, but maybe discuss with your boss the possibility of taking half-days out of it in order to go interview (if that's the kind of job you're going to get next).

Your coworkers have already formed their full opinion of you. Unless you screw up or fail to meet the minimal expectation of 'document what you did', they will give you the same kind of reference now as they would've if you knocked their socks off.
posted by felix at 7:57 AM on February 17, 2005

Definitely clear up vacation time now. Just keep the email short and sweet: "Hi boss-or-HR-person. As you know, my time here is winding down and I've still got some vacation time accrued. How do you want to handle this? I was thinking of taking Fridays off until I'm finished. How does that sit with you?"

I can't tell if you want to stay on or not, so perhaps they don't have a clue that you are, indeed, interested in staying past your contract. If you are interested in continuing on there, send a quick email or have a quick conversation to that effect. When you leave, make sure that you clear out your desk entirely - don't leave anything that they have to deal with. Leave clear instructions for the next person, including anything weird about the position or in-house software programs that you learned along the way. If you want an exit interview, and aren't expected to have one, just ask!

And finally, definitely send everyone a good-bye email with your contact info. It always seemed weird when people just disappeared one day without saying goodbye, and if I ran into them after that, I never quite knew what had happened. It's not a big deal, but tie up all loose ends before leaving.
posted by fionab at 10:58 AM on February 17, 2005

I've always told colleagues well ahead of time, and they've typically wanted to set up various social engagements, like taking me out to lunch, or setting up a farewell party. Be prepared for lots of strange projections from people. Some folks will envy you ("You escaped, you lucky dog!") and others will assume that you got fired and offer all kinds of solicitious advice, while others will avoid you altogether.

I've learned it's a lot easier to get letters of reference before I leave a place than after, so I'd suggest you approach people sooner rather than later about writing such letters.

I've also kept the boss updated on the various projects and given them a memo about where things are at, and which high priority tasks are coming down the pike soon. I make sure to include *everything* as it helps establish all the work I've been doing. This also helps people get prepared for the fact that I'm not likely to finish everything on my to do list. If I want to keep working with the people, I let them know what my hourly rate would be to keep on in a contract mode.
posted by jasper411 at 11:48 AM on February 17, 2005

There's already been much good feedback here, so all I can really add is to be graceful with the cards and the goodbye lunch, if there is one, and at least in my case try not to let my exhilaration show too very much. But certainly check in advance about possible recommendations in the future, and a letter in hand is good to have as well. And the advice about the projected feelings of coworkers is good too, as well as one's own projected feelings-- I tried not to read too much into the attention I got when I left the second to last full time job.

I also found that the manual I wrote for my replacement was an excellent ego boost at a time when I felt I was stepping out into the void (I was heading to grad school). This document, all thirty-five-odd, cross referenced, indexed, illustrated with screenshots pages of it became the thing I was actually proudest of from the entire time I was there.
posted by jokeefe at 5:35 PM on February 17, 2005

Since the public library world is small, how you go out is likely to be very important in getting another PL job in the area (or even out of it). Around here (MI), there doesn't seem to be a protocol, besides the last day cake (any excuse for chocolate). But, a short handwritten note to everyone (including non-professional staff - they have their own grapevines) would be very classy. Doing a bit more than they expect you to do would also probably really pay off. I've seen a lot of informal discussion of candidates for jobs at meetings, dinners, quilting parties, etc., and more than one case where a person didn't get a job because of lukewarm or negative feedback from a former co-worker.

And keep a copy of your documentation. I've found that being able to present a copy of documentation I've written has gone a long way in PL interviews. It is a rare skill.
posted by QIbHom at 6:25 PM on February 17, 2005

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