Sara* was sick and tired of the way she was being treated at work, so she decided it was time to leave. She totally planned to let her boss know how she felt about things on her way out.
There was no way to know that three years later she would be interviewing for another job - and her interviewer would be the very person she unloaded on when she left her former workplace.
“This is not unusual,” says Pamper Garner Crangle, President of Pamper Garner and Associates, a consulting firm that helps companies manage and measure “people problems.”
“People get emotional and feel the need to vent before they leave a job. They often don’t care how they come across because they are leaving. But, I try to remind them that how they express their frustration is very important in the world of business. I tell people that your reputation often precedes you. If you handle things poorly at one company, chances are good that it will get around to other companies in the area. Like Sara, you never know when you will have to interview with someone you threw a tantrum in front of years ago.”
Studies indicate that lack of loyalty is one reason people feel justified in leaving a company badly.
"Years ago most people were very loyal to their place of employment,” Crangle says. “Today, many young people have seen their parents work in a loyal fashion for many years, sacrificing time for their marriage and family relationships, only to be downsized. So they have decided they don’t want to put in extra hours or put their personal ownership in the workplace.”
Even if you don't feel a sense of loyalty to your company, there are good reasons not to leave on a sour note. Two of those reasons include future references and job possibilities.
“I think sometimes people forget the importance of relationships,” Crangle shares. “In a day and age where broken relationships are all around us, people tend to think of leaving a job like trading in a used car for a new one or getting a new cell phone.”
Regardless of whether you feel loyal to a company or not, attitude and presentation can make or break a conversation. Believe it or not, saying goodbye respectfully and finishing well can impact your long-term career.
You can avoid burning bridges when you leave your job by following these tips:
Give a proper notice. Two weeks is generally acceptable, but in some cases more time can ensure a good transition. Offering to work out a longer notice gives the company options and allows you to leave on a good note.
Keep your comments positive. You may be unhappy and ready to tell your boss some ways to improve the workplace, but should you? Your best bet is to keep your comments positive - or at least balanced. You never know what the future holds.
Stay focused. When you know you are leaving, it is easy to let things go. Staying focused and completing any unfinished business is powerful when you are looking for references in the future.
Do a good job training your replacement. Help and support your replacement as much as possible. Even if they want the scoop about the workplace, keep your comments positive and respectful. If they ask why you are leaving, give an appropriate answer. Perhaps you could say it was time for a change or you need to experience a different environment. Or maybe you could say that your priorities have changed. You don’t have to go into detail.
There are many entrances and exits in life, both personally and professionally. Your reputation hinges on the first impression and the last impression you leave. It is sometimes tempting to sever ties with others, but we live in a small world. Although it takes more effort, it will benefit you to maintain a good relationship with those for whom you worked. You never know when you will run into those people again.
*Not her real name