Life at Work

Exits Without Honor

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 25, 2005

Palms sweating, words rehearsed, day shot until that moment comes: resignation time.

Resigning from a job leaves many workers in a state of freak-out, and lots of them leave incredibly ungracefully.

Like the person who resigned via night drop box at the bank. (Yes, really.) Or those who never returned to work, instead just leaving their file drawer keys in the mailbox.

Most managers have some sort of horror story about workers who cut and ran. Sure, it might seem to make life easier for workers who are too nervous to tell their boss they are leaving. But what they forget is they probably aren't the first to leave and won't be the last. And leaving in a klutzy way, though it may save a moment of stress, will mark them forever. Leaving without proper notice strands managers and leaves them resentful as they scramble to find a new -- hopefully better -- replacement than the crude quitter.

Nancy Palazza, founder of Alternative Employment Specialists in Herndon, has her share of stories. There was even a time when she would prepare to leave for vacation and her employees would joke, "I wonder who's going to quit this time."

That's because twice when Palazza went away, an employee quit without waiting for her to return (or, more likely, waited for her to leave before sneaking out).

"She called the person in charge while I was gone and said, 'I'm moving to California and going to art school,' " Palazza recalled of one worker. The employee returned her keys late one night so she wouldn't have to see anyone. Leaving is not a crime, folks.

The woman did, however, send Palazza a letter about a year ago saying she had been going through some personal things and "didn't want us to hate her," Palazza said. "We didn't hate her. But I'm a big believer in not burning any bridge."

Palazza said she was happy her other employees didn't call her on vacation to tell her the news. "It would have spoiled it," she said. "There wasn't really anything I could have done."

Bad resignations -- when employees leave without any notice or say negative things about the company or boss on the way out -- can leave a really bad impression, said Clay Parcells, regional managing director of Right Management Consultants Inc. But it can also leave a bad impression on co-workers about the company or manager, particularly if the departing worker was a good employee.

Managers should try to encourage employees to give a decent amount of notice if they decide to move on, and managers should accept resignations (good ones) gracefully. Otherwise, employees will be too nervous to resign with proper notice and possibly will leave on a worse note.

"Good resignations are when they give good notice and resign for a better opportunity," Parcells said.

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