Picture the scene: in front of the assembled staff the boss says a few words of thanks, a card signed by everyone in the office and a present are offered, there is lots of applause and the person leaving says some words of wisdom, wit and gratitude, and finally a toast is drunk by all….
You too are likely to one day be at the receiving end of this little ceremony in a workplace somewhere: In an ideal world you would of course be leaving of your own accord, with the sincere thanks and blessing of the boss and all the staff – but because real life is well, real, often the situation isn’t anywhere near as idyllic as this. Sometimes the whole thing instead feels like a hideous ordeal that has to be borne through gritted teeth.
People leave work for a complex mix of reasons that are personal, interpersonal and organisational and include elements of both pull and push. In my experience most coaching clients have at some point experienced a difficult work situation - and in most cases the coachee left.
There are a couple of things that it is helpful to know about leaving a place of work that can be useful to remember if you (or a colleague) ever have to leave because things are difficult:
- 1. Others know much more about what really happened than you imagine.
- 2. Acting professionally and graciously leaves a lasting positive impression.
- 3. Choosing one or two people to remain in contact with and adding them to your network is often a win: win.
- 4. The office you leave behind will change - within a few weeks the situation you leave behind will exist only in your mind.
- 5. Establish who will provide a reference before you leave – if necessary raise the question with HR.
When people have to leave work there are often stories upon stories about why they are leaving: official stories put out by the management, stories put out by the person leaving, stories by malicious gossips and counter stories by allies and well-wishers. But even with all these versions of the truth floating about, most co-workers will have a nuanced and complex understanding of what has happened. So that’s the first thing to remember: co-workers often know what is going on, but because they are staying put they often put their heads down.
If the person leaving and the leadership act out their roles in the public leaving ceremony with as much grace as possible, even if it seems like a farce to do so, that will add to the lasting perception for others that things were much more positive than they perhaps seemed on the day to the person leaving.
The whole world is not against you, and even if no one is overly positive pick the people who have been least negative and with whom there is most connection. Make sure those people have a forwarding email for you, and make use of a networking site like Linked in or Twitter to connect and stay connected with those two people. Avoid facebook in these situations as that is often seen as too personal, but very few people will object to being connected to an old work colleague on Linked in – often they are curious about where you will go and what you end up doing. You may even be useful to them in the future.
While it is often the last thing you want to do, keeping an eye on the website of the organisation you have left is helpful because it often reveals the bigger picture. Perhaps a few months after you leave your department is closed down or the company is taken over by a rival firm - and you reluctantly realise that what happened to you was part of a much bigger board game than a story about how well you did or didn’t do, or whether you got on with the boss or not. That is helpful to realise and can be both healing and confidence bosting.
And finally: references… You will have to make some provision for this, much as it might seem tempting never to be in touch with anyone from that organisation ever again! Your referee will usually have to be someone who line manages you. Occasionally you can get away with a more senior friendly colleague of your choice, but that can raise eyebrows, and might jeopardise your chances with a new job. If all else fails ask HR whether they will arrange a reference for you.
The staff room ceremony, the card, presents, the toast – those things come at the end of a gruelling few weeks of someone working out their notice, clearing out their office, and handing over their projects to others. It can be a really tough day for the person leaving - and it is one you too will no doubt also experience at some point in your working life. Be nice.