On Leaving Work

background image by Avi Richards

21st century brings job mobility. Young people are changing jobs every couple years now. I changed more jobs during my 11 years career than my mom changed titles within the same hospital she works for 30 years now. Their generation just didn’t do that much often. But we do. And it would be good if we are able to leave in a decent way. We usually try our best. Actually the exit from the company would be something your current coworkers will either appreciate or complain about in future. I’m assuming you’re working with people you like. If you don’t like them, well, then why should you be working there in the first place? There are 4 million open vacancies currently in US. Imagine, 4 million. US could employ a small country like Lithuania just to fill these positions.

Let’s focus on the happy path: you like people that you work with. It’s important to establish this condition before you continue reading.

So how do we leave properly? What principles should one use to leave the job decently?

There’s not any particular answer on this question. I will try to give you my personal perspective and framework that you might adapt to your particular position.

Plan Ahead

On the day you will be announcing your departure to your manager or boss you have to have the plan how will you be parting. It’s crucial for you so that you could estimate the amount of time you will need to stay with the company until that last day. It’s usually a good idea to give your current employer two weeks to digest the departure and prepare for replacement or reorganization.

Sometimes you need less time for that. Sometimes you don’t have these two weeks because you would like to spend them somehow different. Sometimes you will just have to start next Monday. Planning ahead will give you a good idea how to communicate that.

Having less time doesn’t mean any of the further items described here shall be omitted, but you can dramatically reduce the time spent on them and just o touch base.

Write Down Your Responsibilities

Usually your job comes with a defined list of responsibilities, things that you have to do every day or every week, your performance indicators, etc. They are great for corporate world to provide you a guidance on what you should be doing. In startups and even medium sized companies this might be different. As of my career of software engineer, devops, engineering manager, team lead, senior software engineer, etc I’ve never received such responsibility sheet. It was always verbal. You need to find things to be responsible for yourself. Usually it’s something related to the code in my case, might be different in yours.

So go ahead and write down your findings on responsibilities. This will help you estimate the time needed to just go through the list with someone that will be stepping up or will be a nice to have document on somebody’s first day at work.

These things usually can be structured in the list of 5-10-20 items depending on the complexity of work. Make sure you will include mundane day to day tasks as well as projects. There isn’t too much information scenario here. Talk to Your Manager

Well, once you have this list you can talk to your manager about departing. It’s important to communicate clearly and consistently here. Do not give a chance of doubt in what you’re saying. You’re leaving the company. Period. They might want you to stay and make you a counteroffer. Accepting those isn’t usually a good idea unless you’re irreplacable in the company. Even then it’s not a good idea. Accepting counteroffer usually puts you in the position of “not so loyal fellas” that would be first to get fired and replaced on a comfortable occasion.

When talking make sure that you will tell the last day you will be working for the company. You can discuss this. It’s your call here whether you would accept it and on what terms.

Discuss How

Your manager will probably need a couple minutes or hours to talk to other people and/or supervisors to be able to talk about your departure further. Please give that time and meet next day if possible. Then you both will have a good idea how will things proceed.

This meeting would be a perfect time to share that responsibilities list with your manager and discuss how you shall be passing them on. Identify the person or a group of people that will be your heirs. Probably you will be working quite a lot with these people during the rest of your employment. Passing Your Legacy

This is actually the time for you to shine. Your professionalism, your cooperation and communication skills and teaching abilities will tested to the limit here. If you ever had a crazy idea to become a teacher this would give you a chance to be in teacher’s shoes.

Again, you had your plan compiled previously. Present it to the heirs. Let them go through it and try to figure out what they already know and what parts are they completely unaware of. It will dramatically speed up your timeline.

Don’t pass on things that you find obvious or simple. It’s a very relative term. Something simple for you might turn our complex for heirs.

From my very recent experience it’s the best idea to have a bunch of sessions that would be related to each specific topic or a bunch of related topics in your responsibility list. Take one session at the time, present things and let people ask questions. Analogically with Pareto’s principle, the success of this operation depends 80% on the person that passes on the knowledge and 20% on the person that accepts it. Try to find a way to the mind of your heirs and help them put the information in the logical order that they prefer. It takes a lot of effort to do it right, but once done it will create reputation points for you.


Usually once it will be announced that you’re leaving people will start communicating a bit more with you. Yeah, they will ask you “what’s your next play?”, “where to?”, “what will we do without you?” and things like that. You will be able to gather a lot of useful feedback from your coworkers on the things you’ve been working on together, on your attitude and yourself as a person. Although this is a very pleasant experience, but try to be humble. In US people tend to talk about good and great things you did, they will rarely mention something that didn’t work out that well. Something normal for European or Asian would be fascinating for American. Keeping that in mind helps being humble. Again, being humble adds even more reputation points for you. Or multiplies them, whatever counting schema you’re using ;) Final Thoughts

Make it right. It’s a good idea to keep yourself very clear with a memory of you doing great job when leaving rather than having a “oh I’ve forgot this another thing” moments.

These new brave times in the world make human connections shorter. We tend to loose contact with people in less time that we used before. We tend to stay with employers shorter. We pivot. If anything to say about this time my call would be “time moves faster now”. Knowing how to finish things properly, how to leave properly is often a forgotten culture, but it’s very topic for these times we live in.

Thanks for reading my thoughts and the last thing I would like to share with you is a piece by Mikhail Zhvanetsky. Sadly my English command is not anywhere near that I could translate it, so if you know a good translation please share with me via twitter DM.

Жизнь коротка. И надо уметь.
Надо уметь уходить с плохого фильма. Бросать плохую книгу.
Уходить от плохого человека.
Их много.
Дела неидущие бросать.
Даже от посредственности уходить.
Их много. Время дороже.
Лучше поспать.
Лучше поесть.
Лучше посмотреть на огонь, на ребенка, на женщину, на воду.
Музыка стала врагом человека.
Музыка навязывается, лезет в уши.
Через стены.
Через потолок.
Через пол.
Вдыхаешь музыку и удары синтезаторов.
Низкие бьют в грудь, высокие зудят под пломбами.
Спектакль – менее наглый, но с него тоже не уйдешь.
Шикают. Одергивают.
Ставят подножку.
Компьютер – прилипчив, светится, как привидение, зазывает, как восточный базар.
Копаешься, ищешь, ищешь.
Ну находишь что-то, пытаешься это приспособить, выбрасываешь,
снова копаешься, нашел что-то, повертел в голове, выбросил.
Мысли общие.
Слова общие...
Жизнь коротка.
И только книга деликатна.
Снял с полки. Полистал. Поставил.
В ней нет наглости.
Она не проникает в тебя без спросу.
Стоит на полке, молчит, ждет, когда возьмут в теплые руки.
И она раскроется.
Если бы с людьми так.
Нас много. Всех не полистаешь.
Даже одного.
Даже своего.
Даже себя.
Жизнь коротка.
Что-то откроется само.
Для чего-то установишь правила.
На остальное нет времени.
Закон один: уходить.
Захлопывать или не открывать!
Чтобы не отдать этому миг, назначенный для другого.
©️ Михаил Жванецкий