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Saying Goodbye Gracefully
Give Company a Leg Up By Leaving on Good Footing

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 24, 2005

Sheri Miller once returned from a two-week vacation to find a two-week-old e-mail from one of her employees saying he had resigned and was giving his two weeks' notice. No more information, no note, not even a voice-mail message.

Miller called him and found out he had been wanting to leave the area, and he had actually already moved.

"At that point, I just thanked him and wished him well," said Miller, a director of sales for Pathlore Software Corp. of Columbus, Ohio.

Saying goodbye is never easy, whether leaving an old flame or a job. But no matter how tough it is, there are good ways to leave and, as demonstrated by Miller's former employee, not-such-good ways.

Leaving a job is part of the work world, and Miller understands that. "People's lives take different turns," she said. But many don't understand that leaving an organization with little preparation or notice not only leaves the company, co-workers and clients in the lurch, but it also essentially cancels out any future good contact the departing employee could have with that company or its employees.

Miller has had more good experiences with departing employees than bad ones, and that bodes well for more than just the company. "I'm looking out for if they leave on good footing. There are those occasions when people come back to companies they worked for," she said. (And, yes, she has employees who have left and returned.)

The good ones put a report together with information about their accounts and clients before they leave. And over the course of their last two weeks, Miller will work with them to figure out how the company should contact each of that person's accounts, she said.

"I always encourage them to send an e-mail to the executive team and people they had contact with and let them know the reason for leaving," she said.

Unless, of course, that reason isn't so positive. Like the guy who left because he wanted a management position and he did not see that happening in his organization. It was an understandable reason to move on, she said, but he was not necessarily leaving with, well, joy in his heart. "He did not send a going-away note," Miller said.

Maryann Billington, senior vice president for the Colorado-based Lore International Institute, an executive coaching and development company, said the burden of responsibility falls on the person who is leaving "to make sure all the key people in the organization you're leaving and the one you're joining are appropriately catered to," she said. Employees can stumble over their resignations if they spring them on the company without much notice or if the company hears about it from someone outside.

"It's like a choreography. You have to be thoughtful of what step comes after what step," she said.

Billington works mostly with senior-level executives. A few of those at the top levels have created entire "transition plans" -- or formal set of steps -- to hand to the incoming executive explaining which issues remain, what the departing executive has done and how. She wishes all executives would do that.

People who are leaving must remember to "plan the move with the expectation they can return to that firm again," Billington said.

Jim Hill of Illinois-based FlagShip Integration Services Inc. does not necessarily want to return to his previous employer, but in preparing that company for his departure, he maintained a collegial relationship that has led him to clients at his current position.

Hill had been asked, shortly after he opened a Chicago office for his former company, to go to China and do the same thing. He had little desire to uproot himself again, so he eloquently bowed out. He knew it would help his former employer if he prepared the company for his departure. It has suited Hill, as well.

At his old job, Hill said employees would walk out in the middle of the night shift. "No warning, no goodbye. They would just up and leave," he said. Although a two-week notice is rarely a requirement, it is, he said, common decency. Trying to slip out, perhaps to avoid an uncomfortable confrontation, is not going to be easy for anyone in the long run.

Managers will understand a departure, particularly if it is handled well. It happens all the time. As Hill put it:

"You can't knock someone for moving on to improve their career."

Join Amy Joyce from 11 a.m. to noon Tuesday to discuss your life at work. You can e-mail her atlifeatwork@washpost.com.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company