What’s the best way to leave your job?
Quitting a job isn’t the most popular New Year’s resolution, but many of us have had fantasies about starting another year by leaving the office forever, perhaps in a blaze of glory—recall Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who cursed out passengers over the intercom, grabbed a beer, and jumped out of the plane via the emergency slide (paywall) before being subsequently arrested.
The folks in HR don’t generally recommend it. If you value your reputation, and plan on working again in the same field, leaving on reasonably amicable terms is a good idea.
There are seven basic ways of resigning, according to a Harvard Business Review article by Anthony Klotz and Mark Bolino, a pair of business professors who surveyed more than 500 managers and employees. The styles range from accommodating to destructive.
From the employer’s perspective, the preferred methods are what Klotz and Bolino call Grateful and In the Loop. Grateful employees, who may be leaving reluctantly, are conscious their departure is going to be a problem, so they work with their managers to find or train replacements. They also may have kept their bosses informed about their potential departure, so it wasn’t a surprise.
Laszlo Bock, the departing head of HR at Google, offered a textbook example of the grateful departure. After announcing his intention to leave in July, he stayed at the company through the end of the year, managing the transition for his successor, Eileen Naughton. He finally signed off with a post on LinkedIn thanking Google for his decade there.
Most employees—31%, according to the survey—choose to leave By the Book, by notifying their manager, explaining their reasons for leaving and giving their required notice. Another common style is the Perfunctory (29%) departure, where employees do the minimum of what is expected, but no more, and don’t explain why they’re leaving.
On the flip side, conflict-averse employees often favor the Avoidant resignation. Instead of telling their manager in person, they inform HR or resign via email, which leaves a bad impression with employers.
Also predictably unpopular is the Bridge-Burning exit, where the worker tries to exact some revenge, often by lashing out at their managers or fellow employees. Not all bridge burners are as dramatic as JetBlue’s Slater. In November, Michael Stuban retired after 35 years with the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission without any obvious acrimony, but made one slight departure from the routine. Instead of emailing his exit interview form to just HR, he hit “reply all.” As a result, 2,000 co-workers read how Stuban vented about the commission’s rudderless leadership, poor morale, and cronyism in hiring.
Most confounding to employers—and fortunately for them, the rarest method of quitting (just 4%)—is the Impulsive exit, where the worker gives no notice but simply walks off the job or fails to show up. Not quite sure of the departed worker’s intentions, managers are left in limbo. Like ghosting your way out of a relationship, it’s not just a way to avoid conflict, but can cause maximum damage to the other party.
If you want a glowing recommendation, keep your managers in the loop; if you want want to make their lives miserable, don’t say anything at all.