Unless you plan to work for your company for ever, at some point you’ll need to resign. In PR, with average agency churn rates standing at 30%, that’s probably every three years. For in-house staff, my sense is that it’s about the same. Believe it or not, there is a right and a wrong way to resign. Get it wrong, and you’ll burn your bridges and tarnish the reputation you’ve so carefully built up. Get it right, and the door may be open to come back if the grass didn’t prove to be greener.
Since this isn’t something we do often (at least I hope not), here are a few pointers to make sure it goes well:
Don’t resign out of the blue – if you’re thinking of a change of employer or career, discuss it with your manager first. They may be able to adapt your role to suit your goals or have the power to remove the insurmountable barrier you perceive. We all have wobbles, so you might find the discussion to be cathartic and not as daunting as you initially thought.
Resign to your line manager – not the HR team. This person has mentored you, trained you, appraised you, backed you up, and invested a lot of time in your career. Just because that journey is ending, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to them first. There are few things more annoying from a manager’s perspective to find their report has resigned to someone else. And for the HR team, it’s not great having people knock on the door and resign for reasons beyond their direct control. Job satisfaction – that ain’t.
Keep an open mind – if you are good at your job, it’s likely your employer will want you to stay. Sadly employers are not clairvoyant and can’t see inside your head at all times. So mistakes are occasionally made – and can be corrected. Be prepared for your employer to counter your offer (that’s easily done) but more importantly to adapt your role / change your location / change your department. Even if you feel your mind is made up, you should at least explore the options.
Put it in writing – follow up with a letter to your line manager. This is a chance to say thank you – and you should probably take it. Make sure you’ve spelt and formatted your letter correctly. You want to leave a positive, professional impression – so that scribbled ‘I’m off’ note probably doesn’t cut it.
Agree a reasonable end date – your new company will naturally want you to start tomorrow. You don’t want a prolonged handover, but you should ensure sufficient time to find a replacement or to reallocate your workload. Hand things over in strong state, perhaps even training up your successor.
Keep up the pace – performing well during your notice period is the hallmark of a professional. Once the end is in sight, I’ve seen many PR pros do their best work to end on a high. These people have gone on to great things at their next employer. Some have even come back to the firm. Those that just spin down, clock watch and slope off on the strike of 5.30pm amount to little. In fact, you run the risk of irritating your former team mates who have to then carry the burden.
Arrange an exit interview – this would normally be with the HR team or a senior director. All companies want to learn, so approach this like the company’s appraisal. Constructive feedback is always welcomed since firms don’t like to make the same mistake twice. But this isn’t a forum to give the company a piece of your mind. Sure, you might feel like it, and perhaps it’s even warranted, but don’t curse the dark, light a candle.
Go for goodbye drinks – again this can be cathartic and reaffirms personal bonds with your team mates. Part on good terms with them.
Don’t make a lot of noise – you’re not the first to leave and you won’t be the last. However important this transition may seem to you, your company will still be there tomorrow, and your co-workers will sit at the same desks, doing the same jobs. Bow out gracefully, perhaps with a short email to your immediate contacts, rather than a group wide vale dictum to those who never knew you.
Keep your head – working in a fulfilling role is an emotional process. Bringing it to an end is too. It’s easy to upset people’s feelings during the discussions and transition, so keep your head and your cool.
Keep in touch – make sure your HR team has your future contact details. Try to keep in touch with them and your manager. It’s worth keeping these lines of communication open. You never know what the future may hold.