Exit sign
It's more complicated than it looks
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January 11, 2022 6:58 AM EST

“It’s not the Great Resignation; it’s the Great Awakening.”

That’s the characterization of the current workplace exodus from Mita Mallick, head of inclusion, equity, and impact for financial-tech startup Carta. A lot of norms around quitting US workplaces—from two weeks’ notice to exit interviews—have stayed intact in the pandemic. One big backdrop, though, cannot be ignored: More people are leaving without another job lined up, which makes transitions, and the conversation between employee and employer and everyone else, a little different, even awkward.

“If someone is quitting without another job, the manager should do some serious self-reflection on what role they have played in this employee leaving,” says Mallick. How you treat someone on the way out the door is something they will never forget.”

The US Labor Department reported last week that the so-called quits rate–an economic indicator captured in the agency’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey–surged to a record in November. The percentage of people quitting who don’t have a new role lined up might be as high as 28%, according to other surveys.

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Even those who haven’t quit still spend a lot of time plotting their next move. Fairygodboss, a community for women to advance their careers, says the top conversations of 2021 “were about quitting, leaving toxic workplaces, and what to do after being fired, reflecting the greater shift happening in the workforce.” Among women of color, one in three says she plans to leave her job in 2022. And given current fears surrounding the Omicron variant and the uncertain state of schools and a vaccine for the under-five set, working parents across sectors are feeling even more burnout.

As the Great Resignation is appearing to get even greater, we asked workplace experts for the new rules of quitting and to break down common themes from both the departing employee’s and manager’s perspectives.

REPUTATION

EMPLOYEE: You will be judged by how you quit.

“The impression you leave when quitting your job is just as important as the one you make when you accept an offer,” says Lupe Colangelo, partnerships manager at General Assembly, which trains workers in coding and other skills. “There’s a lot of discourse about what you ‘owe’ your employer (or what you don’t ‘owe’ them), but the reality is that your reputation will always impact your career.”

Some do’s and don’ts: Don’t quit over email. Stick to an order of informing various affected parties (read on for a communications plan). This is also not a time to throw grenades over how dysfunctional everything is.

MANAGER: You will be judged by how you react.

If someone is leaving with no Plan B, this is a reckoning for you and requires some reflection. Says Chris Ronzio, CEO and founder of Trainual, which helps businesses onboard and train employees: “The big question to ask is ‘What could we have done to keep you?’”

When someone gives notice, it’s usually too late to change their mind. But there are some to-dos, says Ronzio: “take the opportunity to get as much feedback as possible. Ask about the culture from their standpoint. Ask if they were doing the job they were hired to do, or something dramatically different. Ask them about perceived limitations for their growth. And ask them what the number-one thing that pulled them away was, so that you can do a better job retaining the employees that you have left.”

A big caution: Given how hard it is to find talent, you might be tempted to throw money at the departing employee. That’s a short-term fix, and they’ll likely end up leaving shortly after anyway, according to Ronzio, as “salary issues are usually just one symptom of a larger set of problems.”

THE NOTICE PERIOD

BOTH OF YOU: Don’t draw this out.

“It’s not a good look to give less than two weeks notice, leaving your team or boss in a lurch. Nor is it a wise idea to make a scene,” advises Melody Wilding, executive coach and author of Trust Yourself: Stop Overthinking and Channel Your Emotions for Success at Work.

This is also a confusing time, as your departure has implications both up and down your company’s hierarchy. Wilding warns that employees often “end up overextending themselves–sometimes overpromising and under-delivering–or creating confusion and miscommunication. If you offer to help past your end date, you may end up annoyed and resentful when requests from your prior employer hit your inbox.”

Kimberly Brown, founder of leadership development company Manifest Yourself, advises drafting a memo that preemptively takes on the post-you transition. “Do your best to share a ‘wrap up’ document with your manager that details the status of all of your work assignments so it’s easy for them to transition your work to a new team member,” says Brown, author of Next Move, Best Move: Transitioning Into a Career You’ll Love.

Employers would be better off not expecting much real work in these final weeks.

MANAGING COMMUNICATION (or the WHY of quitting)

EMPLOYEE: There’s an order of operations to quitting:

  • Tell your manager.
  • With your manager’s guidance, tell your team.
  • Tell and thank senior leaders, peer group, and others who have helped along the way. Says Ronzio: “a direct message to them goes a long way and is an investment in maintaining the future relationship.”
  • Stay classy until the end. “Before you log off, send out a final farewell email with your contact information to invite your colleagues to keep in touch with you,” says Brown. “In many organizations, it’s frowned upon (and even illegal) to take contact information of clients or coworkers, but if you’re able to proactively share your information, it’s a great way to keep in touch.”

EMPLOYER: Things to discuss together–but where you must take the lead–are the broader announcements to the company and world (think LinkedIn and other social platforms) and how they are worded. This is where communications are getting more complicated right now, since so many people are not leaving for a dream job, let alone any job at all. You want to agree on the language. So it’s not: “We wish Lourdes well in her next role, wherever and whenever that may be. Please join me in congratulating her on deciding she no longer wants to be here…” More like: “Lourdes has decided to move on from us to pursue her passion in xyz. We are so grateful to her and wish her well.”

It also helps if the employer or a representative, such as the supervisor of the person leaving, meets with teams to allay concerns. This is also a time to commit to meeting workers more often, say every six months, to ask if they still see themselves in the company or where they see themselves next.

LOGISTICS OF LEAVING

BOTH: It can ease a lot of the final days of awkwardness if you are aligned not only on messaging but also on small details like whether vacation days or bonuses are paid out. It’s also gotten tougher to parse in the pandemic because the time between home and work is so blurry.

Still, every company should have playbooks and policies on whether vacation days roll over or what the policy is when an employee departs, says Ronzio. “I think we’re moving toward a future where companies will pay out fixed vacation time across the board whether required by state law or not (you’ve earned it, after all), but that will also come with more structure on things like ‘unlimited vacation,’ which can’t be accounted for and paid out.”

Finally, do schedule an exit interview with departing talent, preferably with human resources. “Ensure every employee leaving has an exit interview,” says Mallick. “Our employees are our forgotten consumers. If we receive a complaint during an exit interview, let’s address it with the same sense of urgency and understand the root causes so we don’t have more talent walking out the door.”

 

S. Mitra Kalita is co-founder and CEO of URL Media, a network of Black and Brown news and information outlets that share content, revenue, and distribution. She also is publisher of Epicenter-NYC, a community journalism initiative in Queens. A veteran journalist, Mitra most recently worked at CNN, and is the author of two books. Follow her on Twitter @mitrakalita. If someone forwarded this to you, sign up here to have Mitra’s columns and Charter newsletters delivered to you by email.

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