geyserPhoto Credit James St. John

Let’s face it – sometimes you have to deal with difficult situations at work, that are all about you. Nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news (ok, most times we don’t like it, but every once in a while it is delicious). But I’m not talking about getting to say “I told you so,” no matter how professionally. The subject of today’s blog is how to leave your job with grace and your dignity intact, regardless of how it happens. Whether you are resigning, being laid off, or fired, people will remember how you handle the situation. Here are some tips for demonstrating grace under pressure:


Giving Notice – The minimum standard is 2 weeks’ notice, though if you have enough time and flexibility, you may consider giving a month. Don’t procrastinate from telling your supervisor! The longer you hem and haw, the less time they will actually have to make arrangements for your workload and plan for the transition, and that can sour the entire process. Bite the bullet, and have the conversation as soon as your plans are official at your new organization and you’ve signed on the dotted line.

What About My Clients/Students? – If you work in a service or relationship type of role, you might be more focused on how this transition will affect those who depend on you. Here’s a newsflash: you’re not irreplaceable. Someone else will pick up the slack, even if they don’t do it with your panache. That may mean that another instructor comes in partway through your course to finish it off, or that your client load will be divided up amongst your colleagues. Jobs don’t last forever anymore, so you were going to have to leave at some point anyway.

The best way to serve those who depend on you? Make sure that you and your supervisor have a clear plan in place for the transition, provide all needed information to your colleagues and make yourself available to them during this period. Your organization should also provide you with proper messaging for referring clients or students to their new staff contact. Transparency is key to having this part of the transition come off seamlessly, so if your organization is not forthcoming with a referral process or messaging, ask for it! You may be dealing with these same clients in your new role or in the future, and you want to minimize any collateral damage on your part.

The Not-So-Surprising Meeting – I really hate this part of the process: Your supervisor tells you that they need you in a meeting at such and such a time, and won’t tell you what it’s about. Yay! You may be getting laid off or fired. [Sigh] I wish that I could say this part of the process was less stagnant and without change, but it really isn’t. If you work in a large organization, you can likely expect your supervisor to be present, your union rep (if applicable) and someone from HR. Usually they will give you several hours’ notice of the meeting, which just annoys the heck out of me no matter how many times I experience the end of a contract that is not being renewed; it’s ridiculously difficult to concentrate on getting things done when you know what is coming. That said, there are a number of things you can do to make this process easier on yourself.

1. Smile. Even if you have to force yourself, do it. It’s harder for you to exhibit negative emotions if you are smiling.
2. Take notes. You will have questions and responsibilities. Severing employment can be a messy business, so make sure that you know what you have to do, deadlines, and your contact person. Taking notes also gives you something to focus on during this stressful meeting.
3. Breathe. Simple, right? Except that these meetings can be so emotionally charged that people say stupid things, voices raise several octaves, and you can’t always predict what will actually come out of your mouth. If the meeting was out of the blue, you might not be mentally prepared for what is coming, so always take a deep breath before you say anything. It will help to give you a few seconds to reconsider those nasty comments on the tip of your tongue.
4. Don’t make any commitments during the meeting. You may be presented with information regarding severance, vacation, your leave date, and a host of other options that reflect the terms of employment with that organization or your union. Make sure you have the information, and tell everyone that you will get back to them. This will give you some time to absorb the shock, and consider which options are best for you.

Say Thank You – Thank colleagues, clients, and partners and wish them the best with their future plans. This is the ultimate declaration of grace and dignity. It shows that you are a consummate professional, and you will be remembered for it. This tiny act will make people more predisposed to helping you with networking and other aspects of your job search as you move forward. And who knows? You may be working with them in future positions, so you don’t want new collaborations coloured by a bad departure.

Several years ago, I used many of these tips to handle my unexpected departure from an employer. The organization handled it badly, and by contrast I was a model of professionalism (mostly because I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of seeing that they had gotten to me). The outcome? Former colleagues actually reached out to me to assist with networking and offer support because I had exhibited such grace and they couldn’t believe how I had been treated in return.

Need help with your transition? Ask me how coaching can help you move forward, and remember to always leave your positions with grace & dignity.