I’ve had an employee once, as they were telling me they were leaving the company and my team in favor of a new job, sheepishly ask if I was mad at them or angry. I was confused by this notion… let’s explore this.
I’ve not worked in that many different companies, by comparison to some of my colleagues, but I have done my fair share of leaving. I’ve also been left (aka fired) once or twice in my career, early on. Looking back on things, I’ve picked up a few life and career lessons I’d like to share.
- At the end of the day, this is just business (keep it impersonal). We’ve all made personal friendships at our jobs. That’s a great thing. Having friends at work makes the job more fun, more engaging, and feel less like work. You’re likely to spend at least 8 hours of your day there, five days a week, so having personal relationships makes this experience easier. That said, there are dangers here, that must be understood. Friendship bonds will change how you treat situations that are potentially negative for your future. If you’re having trouble with the job, having a group of friends who work there may change your mind about leaving for something better. I’ve always said that being friends with your boss on Facebook (danger Will Robinson, danger!) is a hard no. Crossing social lines like that is a terrible idea, and inviting a superior into your social circle makes it super awkward when you’re thinking about leaving, or venting about something troubling you. Look, the net here is that having friends at work is a good thing, to a point. Don’t let your social life and professional life stomp on each other. The best advice I can give you is to compartmentalize, and realize that friendships and work arrangements are separate. Some people will tell you that you should never go to work for a friend — I agree 100%. Some people will tell you never to be friends with your boss — I mostly disagree there… but be careful about crossing boundaries. I firmly believe that whatever side of the employer/employee relationship you’re on, keep them separated. Don’t take liberties with people just because you’re friends with them, but don’t play the favoritism game either… remember, this is just business.
- People will move on, how they leave is often up to you. As a manager, I’ve had people leave my team, and the company, for greener pastures. Sometimes I’d look at the opportunity and say to myself “that grass is only greener while you’re standing here” but it was not my place to provide that commentary out loud. If you have someone leaving the company, with the exception of them feeling like the company has wronged them, it’s largely you who will determine how they leave. When someone whom you value greatly as part of the team, and depend on, decides to leave you have choices to make. You could be bitter about it, make their life hell and make them feel guilty for leaving. Or you could wish them the best, treat them with professionalism and respect, and have them leave remembering their time at your company fondly. I’ve left jobs for better ones. But I definitely remember the managers who wished me well, or even provided references for me at the new place, fondly and would work with them again. On the flip side, if you’ve decided to leave don’t be a jerk. Do your best to leave the role in good order, with documentation and a transition plan, for the next person to sit in your chair. You’re replaceable, that’s just how this works… so don’t feel like you need to make it more difficult for the next person. You don’t want to put in your two-weeks notice, then do nothing and leave a disaster for the next person who’s hired in. Trust me, your reputation as being a jerk will find you.
- Fight the urge to burn the bridge. If you’re leaving a bad situation, just go. Look, I get it, sometimes you want to walk out with both middle fingers in the air and a trail of destruction behind you. Don’t do it. Just don’t. I’ve watched people do that only to find that their new job, a few month slater, hired the executive leader they worked under at their previous role. Talk about awkward. “I’d never work with those idiots again” is probably not something you want to let escape your head. I know it’s difficult …believe me, I know. But… there will be times in your career where a bridge you’ve burned — either a personal relationship, or one with an organization; will come back to haunt you. Be civil, even when leaving an uncivil situation. “Be the better person” is great advice. It’s difficult to take and act upon, but civility now is so much easier than the alternative later.
- Public ugliness damages both reputations. I’ve watched people leave jobs and publicly get into smear campaigns with previous employers or managers. The end result is alway, always, the same. No matter who is the villain in the story — you both end up covered in shit. Employees who leave in catastrophic explosions are toxic to future employers. Companies who go after employees , whether it’s just being vindictive or because they’re harmed you truly, become toxic places to work and you’ll have a hard time attracting top talent. Nobody wins when mud is thrown, I promise you this. Going out and writing a blog post exposing your previous employers ugly inner shame is deplorable, and while it may make you feel better briefly, it’ll make your future employers think twice about bringing you on. Conversely, suing your employee for leaving for a better job is stupid, and pretty much ensures that top talent will look at you and think “oh hell no”. Leave the ugly behind closed doors, and vent to trusted friends if you have to. Public ugliness will damage both your reputation and the other party — even if you think it won’t.
Whatever job you’re sitting at right now, as you read this, is unlikely to be the last in your career. Be careful of the relationships you form, the way you treat people, and how you leave. These things make up reputations that speak far louder than your resume can. Don’t let brilliant talent be tarnished by dumb, regrettable actions.
Thanks to a former colleague for being the inspiration for this one — good talk bud, much luck!