When dancing to the tunes of your swan song, tread with care, tread with respect, but don’t tread on your friends and colleagues that you’re leaving behind.
Leaving an organization, especially if it is a good one, can be depressing.
However, more often than not, it can also be either anger induced (quitting) or anger triggering (laid off, fired). Both ways, it’s crappy, and no one likes to go through the process of investing themselves with a company for some time, before being made to leave.
As the lead of my team, I had the somewhat fortunate (or unfortunate in some ways) experience to both process the first departure of a member in my team, and then going through the departure process myself, in a short time span of two months.
This was also my third full-time job, and I would like to share my POV on some points to bow out with grace, along with the tunes of your “ swan song¹ ”.
Work on a transition plan, ASAP!
In all honesty, I wanted to prioritize this discussion point lower down the list but ultimately decided against that due to its importance. The implications of a poorly planned transition can be quite a messy affair. Ex-colleagues being unsure of the state of certain roles and knowledge transferred. Or like the ghost of Hamlet, haunting you after having left the company. Worse still, being labeled as an irresponsible and disgruntled ex-employee.
If you subscribe to the Kanban methodology like the above, you could use that. Or if you prefer writing up your transition tasks as a checklist, that works too. Just make sure you label the status on each task as you start on them and complete them, and also add in the remarks whenever necessary — e.g. the assigned personnel(s) involved — for referencing back in the future.
Do your handover properly!
Hold up, I’m a human with emotions too, and I assure you that similar to some of you, the following has played out in my mind many times for some of my previous jobs…
DON’T DO IT!
Don’t do it!
Maybe I’ll emphasize it one more time for its importance — DON’T DO IT
Think about your coworkers and friends who will be taking over your work. You may think that you are getting back at the company by not participating in the handover process, but those that will truly suffer are the folks that you had worked with every day. Without your knowledge, you are leaving them to be hung out to dry in the long term, where they have to pick the pieces after you.
Don’t just do the bare minimum, but try to go above and beyond whenever you can. In my case, I tried my best to fill any missing gaps in my roles and answer questions whenever I can, on top of the basic documentation. This will go a long way for them, and they will be grateful to you for putting in the effort.
Other optional choices that I did, was to go with no leave taken during my notice period and lengthening my notice period slightly, both choices taken for helping with the takeover. For the first one, if the leave can be encashed, it would be a desirable option. Lengthening the notice period can also work if you have evaluated that you will need more than your contractual notice period to tie up the loose ends. Both are again, optional, and you should make the choice yourself on whether to do it here.
And yea, I know that I mentioned before that we shouldn’t hope for ex-colleagues to be contacting us after our departure. However, there are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. As imperfect humans, we’re bound to have missed out on a few points during our handover process. Do your colleagues a favor and share your contact points if possible, and it may help you out when you apply back to the same company in the future.
Fortify your bridges, don’t go around burning them
Just to differentiate from the last point, you can be doing your handover properly, but still, be treating your boss and colleagues horribly along the way.
I have had an ex-colleague who did something similar to these lines. In the midst of leaving the company, he started playing Hearthstone during working hours. Openly. This quickly earned him the disdain of everyone else, even when they agreed with the shortcomings of the company.
In the last few months with your company, talk to your friends and coworkers. Exchange contacts with them if you want to. Get to know them outside of the company. Reconcile broken relations if possible, if not that’s fine too.
I think it goes without saying, but don’t sabotage things on your way out! Lest you want to be a wizard exiled to his own island.
Some industries are small enough where the word can spread quickly, and negative sentiments are even more contagious. However, if the word on the street of you is generally positive, that will help you out a great deal, both with succeeding at your new employment and/or future prospects.
For departing leads — take good care of your team, they deserve it.
As a lead, when I was planning my departure, I made it a priority to inform my direct team first. This included all of the individuals I help to directly manage, and also managerial-level employees (in my industry, they are called Product Managers) whose plans can be severely impacted if I do not notify them early.
For the team members that I directly managed, the stakes were more personal. I had prior knowledge of their aspirations and have worked with them towards these aspirations, be it in the work they do in the company or outside of work.
In light of my impending absence, I immediately drafted the options they could take in order to advance these aspirations. This was followed by arranging one-on-ones to inform of my incoming departure and then presenting the options. I did these one-on-ones as early as possible, to give them the breathing space to think through and the time for me to exact the changes.
Besides the handover work, I also tried to retain my usual demeanor (such as completing work in a timely manner). If I was regarded as an inspiration to my team, I wanted to keep it that way and leave their morale held high. Lastly, I ended off with retaining the relations, be it setting up mentoring sessions outside of the company, giving them LinkedIn recommendations, and organizing concluding one-on-one sessions for closure.
Bonus — For bosses or leads processing the departure, if you’re reading this, give your departing employees the closure and whatever aid they need.
Whether the departure was caused by the company or you, directly or indirectly, the time for regrets and blame has passed. Focus your employee’s final days, and let them leave on a good note.
If you can, arrange a private session with the employee to talk with them, and also coworkers close to the employee, to try to find out why he/she wants to leave.
Even if you figured out what went wrong, but your counter-offer is not accepted, having lent that listening ear and made the attempt to make things right, could make a world of difference to that departing employee. From personal experience, I am very fortunate to have been on the receiving end of this, and it did keep my spirits up for the remainder of my employment.
Beyond the emotional support, physically support your departing employees too whenever you can (equipment, assets, etc.). They are still your employees, and shouldn’t be discriminated against.
In the case where the employee has departed, the journey has not yet ended! A disgruntled employee may end up on public forums like Glassdoor to vent their frustrations. While I am neutral towards such actions, and we can argue to all ends on whether such acts are justified, but as humans with emotions, we all seek closure for the perceived injustice inflicted upon us, and quitting a job or being fired only further widens the “leakage” of emotions.
One of the leads in my previous companies did something completely unprecedented and reached out to the ex-employee. Through this, he tried to resolve the unhappiness that the ex-employee had faced, and took the feedback given. The end result was an amended Glassdoor review and a slightly happier ex-employee who had gotten some closure.
If anything, don’t take that review and try to defend/justify the company with your current employees! Most of what’s real about the company can be easily observed by any employee, and justifying (hence unintentionally legitimizing the review) will work against the company if current employees agree with it. View the feedback constructively, and use it to fix existing problems.
To be completely honest, I never intended to write this at the point of resignation. However, after experiencing many different interactions with my co-workers and friends in my last months with them, I wanted to do right by them. After all, if the handover is out of joint, I should be the one to help set it right, and not have my co-workers and friends bear the full brunt of my departure.
Anyway, to sum up, make your transition plan, continue to build and not burn existing bridges, and hand over your tasks properly. If you’re a leader, prioritize your team members too. As the protagonist of your own story, strive to get yourself to a better vantage point, instead of working towards pulling others down.
Not all tales of departure may end well. It may still end up badly, like in Romeo and Juliet. However, by striving to make a difference, who knows, you may get to reap the rewards in the long term — birthing a success story from the initial tragedy, like that of The Tempest.
swan song¹ — The swan song is a metaphorical phrase for a final gesture, effort, or performance given just before retirement