Graceful Goodbyes by Cheryl Wisniewski

I know the issue of leaving a job gracefully is probably not at the forefront of our minds given the questionable economic times.  However, my time in workforce development makes me consider these issues.  So first let me say that I am not in any way advocating you leaving your job during this recession unless you find it’s absolutely necessary and/or you have another one secured. This is my official disclaimer.

Nevertheless, if you must leave, there are a few basic rules that you should follow regardless of whether you liked your job.  The lesson here is to never, ever burn your bridges.  You never know when people in your past could influence those in your future.  With this in mind, I offer you some advice in regards to bowing out gracefully.

Always let your boss be the first to know.
It’s only natural that you are excited about your new job and you want to tell everyone.  Friends and family are one thing, but do not leak this information to your co-workers before telling your boss.  If you find yourself asking “why,” you need only to consider the rumor mill, known as all office culture.  Gossip spreads like wildfire. Similarly, if you are working directly with clients, do not tell them before you tell your boss. For instance, consider a scenario where a client tells your boss she’s sad to see you go. Pretty awkward, right?

Give at Least Two Weeks Notice
When you get to this point you are one of two things (or both). You are either super giddy about starting a new chapter in your life or you’re frustrated and ready to run out the front door of your office and never look back. Even if you’re not happy, it’s so important to see the big picture here.  The clients that you have been serving do not deserve to feel the effects of your sudden absence. Additionally, two weeks allows the organization to start the hiring process and, in some cases, may even allow for some on-the-job training for your replacement.  Also, be sure to give your notice in writing, not a hastily written e-mail. Having a letter on file is beneficial for human resources and serves as documentation that you gave your notice on a specific date and in a respectful manner.  The higher level you are, the more time is expected in giving notice.

Leave on Good Terms
If you’re unhappy, do not be unduly tempted to tell your boss what you think of him/her. It’s totally unproductive and only makes you look bad. (I have a family member who did this. Trust me. It’s bad.) It serves no real purpose and will not help to fix whatever issues exist with the organization as you perceive them.  If there was something you were unhappy about or was particularly difficult, do what you can to fix the situation. Schedule some time to talk with your boss in private or be honest – but not mean or personal- during your exit interview. Be helpful, not hurtful. If you’re not trying to help with a solution, you are invariably part of the problem.

Don’t Burn your Bridges
Yes, I’m back here again, but it is the moral of the story, after all. The job you’re leaving will always be on your resume. How many job applications have you filled out that ask if the potential employer may contact your previous employers? I imagine that it’s all of them. Your new employer may require references and your previous boss should be a great one. What would happen if your new boss reaches a human resources rep and asks if they would consider rehiring you? What would they say? Remember, the nonprofit world is a very small one.

In conclusion, the nonprofit world – or any business environment, really – is all about relationships. In this sector, particularly in an insular city like Chicago, who you know can advance your career or better serve your clients.  Keeping solid relationships is essential to success.

Cheryl is the Deputy Director of Development for Mujeres Latinas en Acción in the Pilsen neighborhood. She has worked in the nonprofit sector for the past ten years with seven of those years being in a fundraising role. In addition to grant writing and corporate/foundation relations, she has broad experience in program planning, evaluation, and communications. Cheryl graduated with a BS in Mass Communication from Illinois State University in 2000 and earned her master’s degree in Nonprofit Management from DePaul University in 2008. She has been a member of YNPN Chicago since 2003 and currently serves as the Celebration Committee Co-Chair. She also serves on the Board of Directors for Latinos in Development.

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