How To Quit Your Job Without Burning Your Bridges

12.27.13 Burning Bridges

Story provided by Forbes – 

Today is my first day at a new job. This is only my third job change in almost 20 years. The second one didn’t really count since the century-old firm I was at dissolved and I didn’t have a trust fund to retire on when it happened, and I didn’t win the lottery the night before either. (In case you were wondering, I still haven’t.)

This career move, 13 years later, was my choice. I didn’t go looking for it, but when it came my way, it took a lot less time to say “yes” to the offer than it did to decide which shoes to wear on my first day of work. I am all at once energized, exhausted, nervous, giddy, a little apprehensive that I will be able to live up to expectations, and anxious to show my new employer that they made the right decision by hiring me.

Of course, when embarking on anything new, I did what most people with a computer do: I turned to Google GOOG -0.25%. Using all the key words I could muster, I searched (and searched, and searched) for tips on how to leave a job gracefully.

Turns out there’s no shortage of advice if you have just been escorted out by the head of human resources (or worse yet, a federal marshal), and allowed to remove only your rubber band ball and cactus.

In such cases, the online wisdom is: As incredibly tempting as it may be, don’t go home and flame your recent employer on Facebook FB -1.78%, and don’t send an email to your former colleagues telling them exactly how you feel, even if you feel sorry that they are still employed and you are ecstatic to have time to travel, read great books and live off afat severance package for awhile. In fact, even once you have spent the severance package, found a new job and home for that rubber band ball and cactus, still don’t flame your old employer on Facebook.

If you must flame your former employer, don’t mess around on Facebook–do it reallybig. That’s what Greg Smith did when he announced his departure from Goldman Sachs via an op-ed piece in the New York Times. But don’t kid yourself: this is no small achievement, as FORBES senior editor Deborah L. Jacobs notes in her post, “Want To Quit Like Greg Smith? Good Luck Getting Your Op-Ed Published.”

Whether Smith burned his bridges is a subject of continuing debate. For the moment, he may be laughing all the way to the bank, since his unconventional announcement reportedly landed him a $1.5 million book deal.

Unlike Smith, though, I had no ax to grind or animosity to vent. I just wanted to make a change. And I really, really, wanted to leave on good terms.

So coming up dry with my Web search, I hired a consultant to help me leave my job without making somebody angry. His advice, which was worth the hour I paid for, consisted of six words: “Not possible so live with it.”

He was right. Here’s what else I learned in the process of making this transition.

Anger will be the first reaction. This emotion, which is bad enough by itself, can also be a stand-in for a range of other ones. It masks fear of change, jealousy, confusion about how to adjust to change, and sadness on the part of those left behind over being abandoned.

Amazingly enough, they get over it—quickly. (That’s what you want, isn’t it?) The furniture and office supplies left behind are looted, and depending on the view from the now empty office, someone else moves in or it is used for much needed storage. Mine is likely a candidate for storage.

One piece of furniture was most likely gone by yesterday morning. It’s an antique stand that converts to a lectern, that I used as my inbox. It has probably been with the firm since its early days. Besides its old appearance it was made for a much shorter person! (I am 5 feet 6 inches tall.)

Confirm any legal obligations. Read your employment agreement and any other documents you signed. They might include a non-compete clause or an obligation to pay for clients you take with you. Even if you don’t have a non-compete, your clients or customers might not be yours, even if you brought them in. They could belong to your (soon to be former) employer. This means that you can’t inform them of your transition or solicit them to follow. It may be your employer who has the right to contact them or you might be able to send them a joint letter.

When in doubt, hire a lawyer. Of course, being a lawyer, that’s what I did. Surgeons don’t do surgery on themselves, and even if lawyers can interpret the law for themselves, I am an estate planning lawyer and know nothing about employment law. (Lawyers will tell you that there are some things we know only because we had to learn them for the bar exam, but I can’t even claim to have that level of knowledge.)

I had my lawyer read all of the documents I had signed during the last 13 years. We had a couple of phone calls and a couple of email exchanges. Then he gave me my marching orders. It was totally worth paying for a couple of hours of his time to give me this peace of mind.

Don’t use your firm’s technology to map your moves. This includes communicating with your future employer, or the other professionals you might consult about the move. Get a private email account (preferably one with minimal advertising in the margins). Use your personal cell phone to talk to potential employers. Keep your plans confidential, especially with respect to your current colleagues. Don’t write your resume at work–even on your lunch hour.

Why be so cagey and cautious? If you’re not, you may quickly find yourself in the position of Googling for tips about what to do when escorted out by human resources with your rubber band ball and cactus.

This is a guest post by Wendy S. Goffe, a trusts and estates lawyer with Stoel Rives in Seattle. You can follow her on .

One thought on “How To Quit Your Job Without Burning Your Bridges

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