Just so we’re clear: I’m not leaving my employer. I know my boss occasionally checks in on this blog, so I thought I should get that out of the way.
But people do leave employers quite often. In fact, everyone leaves eventually, one way or the other, so why are we so reluctant to talk about it and why, when it happens, do so many people seem to get it wrong?
So here are my favourite stupid ways to leave your employer:
- The Secret Exit. These are the people who just seem to disappear one day. Perhaps they were on holiday and never came back. Perhaps they were sick and just stopped taking your calls when you touched base to see how they were getting on with that fit note. But for whatever reason, they decide that the thing to do is to just slip away.
I think they hope that we won’t notice and they’ll keep getting paid. But we expect you to be in contact, so if we can’t reach you, we’ll notice, and we’ll worry. And then we’ll stop your pay, because evidence shows that not paying someone is a fantastic way of getting them to pick up the phone and give you a call.
- The Hand Grenade Exit. These are the people who leave surrounded by noise, fire and destruction. The classic HGX is the person who raises a really huge grievance for the first time in the same letter as the one tendering their resignation. We’ll look into your allegations, of course, because we’re professionals. But if you’re no longer our employee, we don’t owe you an explanation.
There are lots of variations on the HGX. Quieter but equally destructive is the one where the employee walks away without leaving any clues to what they were actually working on when they left – frequently after dozens of emails asking for a handover.
The most destructive HGX, though is the one where the leaver decides to lay down some “truth bombs” and heads for the exit in a wake of gossip, innuendo and scandal that will keep your friendly neighbourhood HR professional tied up in (mostly baseless) casework for months! Social media has made this one more common, lately.
- The Constructive Resignation. “Constructive dismissal” is when an employer makes an employee’s position untenable, forcing them to resign (usually unfairly). The constructive resignation is when employees make an employer’s position untenable, forcing us to fire them.
I remember the case of a non-UK soldier, conscripted and deployed to an operation in which he wanted to play no part at all, so he performed acts of increasing disobedience until his leaders had him court-martialled and imprisoned. After his sentence, he was discharged. I can understand how that came to happen. Why we encounter this behaviour in the normal workplace is a mystery I am yet to solve.
- The Avoidable Dismissal. An employee is “bang to rights” on a gross misconduct case but hangs around, waiting for the investigation to conclude and the hearing to convene. He or she offers no defence is dismissed for gross misconduct and, nodding sadly, says “I knew I was going to be fired as soon as you found out”.
To which I can only respond, in frustration, “Well, then why didn’t you resign??”
A reference that says “resigned pending an investigation into allegations of gross misconduct” may not look great, but it definitely looks better than “dismissed for gross misconduct”.
It’s not that the employee just wants to hang on as long as possible for the salary. And it’s not that they are holding out hope for a final warning. I think it’s actually connected to the phenomenon of constructive resignation: people don’t realize that they have a choice.
You have a choice about who you work for and where you work. You have a choice to make, every morning, about whether you want to keep on doing that. But we do it so often – and so often when we really don’t want to do it – that we forget that it is a choice. We feel locked in and unable to escape and as if the option of not working for the people we do or where we do doesn’t exist.
You have a choice and one of your most important choices you can make about leaving a role isn’t when or where you go, but how. Leaving a role like a professional means conducting a full handover of your duties, agreeing a sensible final day and sticking to it, and planning a private exit interview with your line manager or HR representative to make sure that any problems or concerns are communicated in detail.
Partly, it’s about remembering that it’s a small world and you never know when you might want to come back or find yourself working for someone from a previous company. But it’s also about who you want to see in the mirror the next morning: The liar? The spiteful gossip? The opportunist? The manipulator?
Or the professional?