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Exits Without Honor
Employers Recount Resignation Horror Stories

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.

He remembers a time when he worked for a company in Texas and every time he went away on vacation, someone would quit. "They should be person enough to do this face to face," he said. "But it turned out well because they were the people I wanted to go anyway."

There are many employees who wonder if they should wait until a boss returns from a trip to give a resignation in person or call the boss as soon as they know they are leaving, even if that means a quick phone conversation from 1,000 miles away.

Palazza votes for waiting to give the news in person. "I would rather they wait until I'm back from vacation," she said. Also, she says that once someone gives notice, he or she has mentally checked out anyway. So it doesn't phase Palazza if the notice is shorter because that employee waits until the boss returns to the office.

However, Alison Green, chief of staff at the D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, said she would much rather an employee call her while she is away than to wait to resign in person. Rehiring takes time, she said. She wants to know as soon as possible that she needs to go through rsums, find the right people to interview and replace those resigners.

"As someone in charge of hiring for my organization, while having these conversations face-to-face is nice when you have that luxury, I would MUCH rather know as soon as possible that an employee is leaving, even if it means the news has to be delivered by carrier pigeon . . . so that we can swing into motion immediately to begin the hiring search," Green said via e-mail.

Hiring at her organization for a professional, white-collar job takes at least a month, she said. She broke it down: At least two weeks of advertising and rsum gathering (though three is better). Up to a week to screen candidates by phone. Another week or so to conduct in-person interviews. And then, if they are able to find the right person at that point, it usually will be another two to three weeks before the new hire can start.

"Having the resigning employee give notice right away is crucial -- it's a challenge to have any overlap between the outgoing and the incoming person for training as it is," she said.

But, she added, she's not the type of boss employees fear will berate them for leaving and immediately toss them out the door -- a real concern among some employees who are saying goodbye.

"I've heard horror stories where people say they have to go, and they are shut out immediately and not paid," Palazza said. It's important, she said, to calmly listen to the employee who is leaving, have a conversation about why and pay for additional time worked. "It's so important for other employees to see how you handle the situation."

Join Amy again Jan. 3 at washingtonpost.com from 11 a.m. to noon to discuss your life at work. You can e-mail her at lifeatwork@washpost.com with your column idea.

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