Have I been going about quitting all wrong?
May 22, 2013 10:59 AM   Subscribe

I'm about to quit my job. I'm becoming increasingly aware that this is going to come as a huge surprise to my boss and coworkers. Should I have been dropping hints?

The gory details: I'm in academia (but not a professor) and I'm leaving for a new industry, in large part because I don't like my long-term job prospects in academia. I haven't had to use any of my current coworkers/bosses for references. I'm planning to give just over a month's notice, although I could extend this, and I'm carefully planning ways to wrap up my current projects and documenting things that the next person in my position will have to do. I have not told any of my coworkers that I'm planning on quitting because I've always believed that it was unprofessional to tell anyone other than your boss first, but this has become increasingly difficult over the past month or so - I'm constantly running up against "Oops, can't talk about that!" topics in conversation with coworkers.

I've been careful to not make promises or specific plans for things that will happen after I'm planning to be gone. I've made dissatisfied noises about my job to coworkers (starting long before I began to make my exit plan), and have had some sincere heart-to-hearts with my boss about what I want from but am not getting from this job. But no one seems to think that I would actually *leave* (I've been here a few years and not one person has left our department since a year or two before I started, so it's not like they're crazy to think this). Also I don't think it would ever cross their minds that I would leave our field.

Is this just normal? When I've left previous jobs (all in the academic/nonprofit world) either I left when a grant ran out and my position was no longer funded, or I was in a place that was an obvious bad fit for me and the organization and they were happy to see me go, or my boss actively helped me look for a better job and wrote me glowing references and things.

tl;dr: I have no experience leaving a pretty good job where they're happy with my work, and I'm afraid of how my coworkers (particularly my boss, who is well-meaning but a little bit prone to freakouts) will react, and I wonder whether there's anything I could have done to make this easier (short of months of slovenly work and loud complaining).
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You can't control people's reactions, unfortunately. If they're the kind of people who freak out, they may freak out. But that's on them, not you.

Assuming you are not under a contract, your employment is at-will. You are free to stand up right now, walk out without a word and never come back. Two weeks notice is a common courtesy, but beyond that nothing is owed or expected. It happens all the time and they'll learn to love again.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:02 AM on May 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

It's normal to have some guilt that you're abandoning people when you quit a job. This is because it's really hard to keep professional and personal relationships completely distinct, so quitting feels personal, like a breakup.

It sounds like you're approaching it in 100% the most professional and responsible way possible. Better than most, I'd say. Keep on as you were, don't let it worry you, and remember that it is not your responsibility to make your boss feel good about you leaving.
posted by Andrhia at 11:03 AM on May 22, 2013 [8 favorites]

I agree with both the responses so far, but wanted to add: who cares if they freak out? Seriously? This is an irrelevant concern.
posted by Kololo at 11:06 AM on May 22, 2013

Nope, you're doin' fine! No hints necessary. Any employee can leave at any time and all bosses and companies should be prepared for that.

I know you've also been careful not to make specific plans for things that will happen after you leave, but that even seems odd to me. Unless you're talking spending thousands on an upcoming conference that you wouldn't be able to go to, or something. But along the lines of "My plans for this project I'll deliver six months from now are..." You can still talk about that stuff, and should, otherwise that is just weird if you suddenly stop talking about the future at your job.

Just give your two-weeks notice when the time is right, or whatever is typical in your industry. Prepare meticulous training or documentation materials. Assure your boss that you're so grateful for the opportunity to have worked there. Let them know they can reach out to you if they have questions on your job after you leave. Be classy, be grateful, be thorough, be positive and you'll be way ahead of the game!
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 11:07 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I quite my last job, it was a case of stunned silence. But, as kololo says, who cares! Whee, you're free! You're giving them a healthy amount of notice, so they can come to terms with it.

posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:08 AM on May 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

I would start getting any relavant documentation or projects done now - or as much as you can without obvious notice. Give only the standard notice before you leave (2 weeks for most businesses, but I am unsure for your academic position - but it is summer break isn't it?)

As other's have wisely said, you can't control their reaction. Companies, even schools, have to be prepared for people to leave - or even to get sick.

I understand your guilt. Your plans for the future projects are most likely written down or understood by other workers right? That means the next person will just take over those tasks.

If you have made good connections there, they shouldn't really hate you. People have to move on to better jobs. Good luck with the new one!
posted by Crystalinne at 11:14 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

In a very similar situation here -- working academia, planning to quit as soon as I can. I've started a training manual for the person taking my place. Sometimes I talk to my boss and I feel a little guilty, but I know that I'm doing what's best for me.

I think what you're going through and what you're feeling is normal.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 11:28 AM on May 22, 2013

First, you have done everything right so far. Some things are surprising and that's ok in the world of business. You don't have to act out a screenplay before you make any moves.

I'm planning to give just over a month's notice

One thing you should be prepared for is your last day being the day you give notice. In other words, you give a month's notice and they say fine, leave today. If this is "Yay, bonus vacation month!" to you - great! If it means "how will I pay my bills?" cut your notice down to the standard two weeks. On that same note, make sure you have all your personal items out of the office and any files you need off your computer before you give notice.
posted by mikepop at 11:34 AM on May 22, 2013 [16 favorites]

A good manager is ready for any employee to leave at any time for any reason -- if you were hit by a bus on your way home tonight, processes should be in place for someone to substitute for you with a minimum of lost time and effort. That's just good management, because we can't predict hit-by-a-bus-related personnel actions.

You can help your manager with this by documenting your processes and tasks (as you appear to be doing), but you can't help it if they're unprepared at a basic level to replace you at any time for any amount of time.

Keep your head down, defer what you can without drawing attention to yourself, and give that month's notice only after you've secured your next job (and as mikepop says, be ready to be let go immediately when you give notice).
posted by Etrigan at 11:39 AM on May 22, 2013

Should I have been dropping hints?...I've made dissatisfied noises about my job to coworkers.. I wonder whether there's anything I could have done to make this easier (short of months of slovenly work and loud complaining).

No, you should not have. It is good that you did not "drop hints" although I do not know how professional it was to "make noises" to coworkers (the talks with your boss were fine). If you make it known that you are a dissatisfied employee, that can be a good way to become an ex-employee on someone else's terms. You want to quit on your terms. So, I think you have general handled things the right way by being reticent about your plans.

Please remember that your employer will always do what it thinks is in its best interests, so you should feel free to do the same for yourself.

I join mikepop's comment that they do not have to accept any notice period. You can be asked to leave on the spot, so you should also be prepared for that.
posted by Tanizaki at 11:52 AM on May 22, 2013

One thing you should be prepared for is your last day being the day you give notice. In other words, you give a month's notice and they say fine, leave today.
i also work in a university in a non-teaching position and this strikes me as very unlikely. it does seem that after you announce that you're leaving it might be awkward, and 2 awkward weeks might be preferable to four, though.
posted by katieanne at 11:56 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Re-reading I'm not clear if you have a firm offer of a new job yet. Even if it means giving less notice, do not quit your current job (or give hints!) until you have a signed offer from your new employer in hand.
posted by mikepop at 11:56 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

The thing you can do to make it easier for you is to give the shortest possible notice. You are an employee not a spouse. I wouldn't stand for that bullying boss either.
posted by BenPens at 11:59 AM on May 22, 2013

You're planning to give a month's notice, plus wrap up loose ends and provide documentation to aid your replacement.... I'd say you're going about this very professionally already; no, there's no need to give warning that you're going to give notice.

The only thing I'd suggest is, quietly remove personal objects and files beforehand; some employers, no matter how much notice they're given or how trustworthy and/or dedicated an employee has been, have security immediately escort the departing employee off the property. So, clean personal property out of your desk while maybe leaving some obvious stuff (framed pictures, coffee mug, etc.) on top; delete or remove personal files on your computer or work phone. Don't delete the company's files, you understand: just your private stuff. Good luck!
posted by easily confused at 12:01 PM on May 22, 2013

It sounds like you are planning to leave gracefully, which is great. In terms of your actual resignation you're correct: you resign privately, to your boss. Then the two of you figure out how to tell other people -- often through a note from you, or from your boss. Normally you don't announce until your boss has a plan in place to replace you, and knows who will do your work in the interim. Figuring that out may take a few days or even longer. (For example your boss may need to get approval to replace you, or may want to convert the position into something different.)

I think your instincts are correct that your boss will be happy to have four weeks notice, and won't kick you out immediately. But as others have said, it's only prudent to be ready in case it happens. So yes, remove your personal possessions and clear personal stuff off your work computer.

In terms of emotions, yes people will be surprised. But that's okay. You can help them through it by stressing the upside -- "I have loved it here but am really keen on this new opportunity." Don't talk about the downside of your current employer and don't talk about limited prospects in academia: that will just make them feel sad, and possibly dislike you. There's no upside to that for anyone.

And when you tell people, bear in mind that although you've been thinking about it for months, it will be new to them. Be a little patient explaining the same thing over and over again, about what you're doing and why.
posted by Susan PG at 1:53 PM on May 22, 2013

Oh and I should have added -- be prepared for some weird reactions. Some people will be jealous, or mad at you. People who've been friendly may give you the cold shoulder. People may ask you for career advice or a referral. Somebody might ask you out. All kinds of surprising stuff :-)
posted by Susan PG at 1:57 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I did this a few months ago and my boss was surprised but didn't freak out - seriously if your boss "freaks out" that's just plain unprofessional but you can't control that anyway. My coworkers were surprised as well, but I was relocating and that was that. Your only real obligation is to give enough notice, and then to try wrap up any loose ends as best as you can by doing things such as documenting what you're working on so someone else can pick it up and know what's going on.

Also yeah, clean up your files/desk before you give notice just in case.
posted by fromageball at 1:57 PM on May 22, 2013

You're giving a generous notice period, and that's more then enough time for your employer to plan. Even in academia, employers routinely lay people off with no notice whatsoever. It's likely that they'll be sorry you're leaving, and also wish you well.
posted by theora55 at 3:37 PM on May 22, 2013

No matter what you do, giving notice is always hard. I hated my job when I left it and I still felt guilty because I knew that they were going to have a tough time before they found a replacement. They knew I was unhappy and that I was possibly moving cross-country with my fiance so the announcement wasn't a shock, and I gave three weeks notice (the most I could in my situation) and worked really hard to wrap up loose ends. It's natural to feel bad. But you'll power through it!
posted by radioamy at 8:25 PM on May 22, 2013

Here in NYC, 3 weeks is more common than 2 (IMHO). If I were you, I would ask friends in your city what the standard is and give exactly that much notice. I have given a month's notice when it was just a formality and everyone knew I was leaving. But in a standard quitting situation, a month actually is a little long. I wouldn't even consider more than a month.

Everyone is replaceable, even if they do a great job! Don't let it worry you. This is business. As others have said, they'd lay you off with very minimal notice or severance, and it wouldn't be anything personal there, either.
posted by skbw at 4:25 AM on May 23, 2013

I just left a research job in academia. I prepared in the same way as you are doing. However, it sounds like my work environment was less satisfying for myself and for the entire department.

I gave 4 weeks of notice. I found this to be personally too long, but my boss really appreciated it. I recommend giving the information at the end of the day or at the end of the week to let your boss process it and work through personal reactions. At the time of giving notice, I advised that I was working on a plan/document to turn over projects, wrapping up projects, etc. and would be happy to discuss this when he was ready. I had my resignation letter ready and submitted it during the same meeting. I told coworkers I work closely with on a one-on-one basis, and then sent out an email. While I had many reasons for leaving, I voiced the one that was least offensive and that was relocation. From your information, I would suggest leading with your focus on your long-term career and that academia does not seem to meet your needs/desires but that you appreciate your time and knowledge building of your current position, blah, blah blah.

You will see how it goes and only then will you know if it was the best plan. Three weeks is what I would do in the future if I could. And as all said previously, make sure financially you are ok if they react poorly. And congrats!
posted by Kitty Cornered at 9:09 AM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

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