Employer Branding

How to Leave a Job Without Burning Bridges

When gainfully employed individuals accept a job offer, whether based on seeking a change or an offer that came unexpectedly, they have decided that leaving their current employer is the right move. This begins a new chapter of their career, and the way it’s handled will determine the nature of the relationship with their current (but soon-to-be former) manager and coworkers.

Unless employees work in an extremely toxic work environment, it’s always wise to maintain good relations with former employers. Even after leaving the company, it becomes part of their work history and will most likely be taken into consideration by potential employers in future job interviews. As the saying goes, honey attracts more flies than vinegar, and praise from former employers doesn’t hurt, even if the employee never interacts with them again. Here are some ways to leave a job in good standing, and avoid burning any bridges.

Give Proper Notice

In most industries, two weeks’ notice is the standard amount of time employees give to their employers when leaving a job; however, one month is more appropriate in professional fields. This gives the employer ample time to hire a replacement, get him or her up to speed on the job responsibilities, and allows the departing employee to assist with a smooth transition. Failing to provide proper notice before quitting could put managers and coworkers in a difficult situation and may leave them struggling to backfill the open position, while also covering the responsibilities associated with the job. One never knows when a recommendation from a former employer may be needed, or the opportunity to work together again in some capacity may arise. Providing adequate notice before leaving demonstrates courtesy and respect to employers that should be reciprocated when employees transition out of the company.

There are rare exceptions to providing advance notice, such as if the employee works in a toxic environment or has an unscrupulous boss. If a manager has threatened to sabotage an employee’s career or derail his or her future plans based on leaving the company, or if the job is negatively affecting the employee’s health, it’s best to leave as soon as possible.

Offer to Train Others

While employees may be moving to greener pastures, they shouldn’t treat their final days at the company with an “I’m outta here!” attitude. Remember that a departing employee’s soon-to-be former employer will remain their manager’s and coworkers’ current employer for the foreseeable future, and they want these people on their side when they leave. Employees should let managers and coworkers know that they’re willing to help. There will be plenty of work to be done before leaving, from training others on their role in transferring their assignments, emails, and files. When employees are willing to assist with their transition out of the company, they leave a positive lasting impression, which may prove valuable in case they need assistance from their former employer at some point in the future.

Continue to Serve as a Resource

After beginning a new job, if there’s not a conflict of interest, it’s important that former employees continue to serve as a resource for previous employers for a brief period of time. Questions may arise after employees leave involving accounts, clients, misplaced files, processes, procedures or a number of other issues. A willingness to help even after they’re no longer on the payroll will go a long way toward showing former employers that they’re still a team player. Though former employees are not obligated to do so, letting previous managers and coworkers know that they can rely on them to keep things running smoothly will certainly make them more willing to return the favor should the opportunity arise.

Stay in Touch

Changing jobs doesn’t have to mean losing contact with former coworkers. Today, staying in touch is easier than ever before with social media, texts, emails, and smartphones. While life tends to get busy (especially when starting a new job), employees should make an effort to update their former coworkers on what they’re doing, as well as keeping up with the others’ activities. If at some point in the future an employee needs to turn to former coworkers for referrals, business leads or any type of advice, the former coworkers will be less inclined to help if the only time they hear from the employee is when he or she needs something.

Also, nearly 15 percent of employees who leave a company end up returning as “boomerang rehires.” Obviously, when a candidate accepts a new job, he or she expects the outcome to be successful. But not everything goes according to plan, and in the event the new venture doesn’t work out, staying in touch will increase the chances of a former employer welcoming the individual back, or providing a positive reference should he or she decide to go elsewhere.

Leaving one job and starting another is never an easy process. Transitioning out of one company, then learning a new role at another, all while balancing financial and family responsibilities, can make the process stressful. However, disregarding former employers and coworkers can leave them with a bad impression, which can then affect relationships negatively should a former employee need to rely on them for future business. Employees should always look ahead in their career; however, those who neglect their past may regret it if their career comes full circle.

By John Feldmann

John Feldmann is a Senior Communications Specialist for Insperity in Houston, TX. With over a decade of marketing and employment branding experience in the recruiting and human resources industries, John specializes in employment- and HR-related content development for a variety of media types in order to communicate Insperity's brand to both business professionals and job seekers. Follow John on X @John_Feldmann.