How To Quit Your Job Gracefully (If You're Not Greg Smith)

When an executive at Goldman Sachs resigned yesterday, he did so in a public and high-profile way that most poor working schlubs could only dream of. Greg Smith wrote a much-shared op-ed in The New York Times explaining his decision and—within the first paragraph, no less—described a corporate culture that is "as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it." He further shared his displeasure with many of the staff at the top-tier investment bank, revealing that in the past year he's seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as "muppets." After almost 12 years with the company, he writes that he "can no longer in good conscience say that I identify what it stands for." As a final twist of the knife, he specifically blames CEO Lloyd Blankfein and president Gary Cohn, who he says "lost hold of the firm's culture on their watch." Ouch. 

Many on Twitter are calling Smith a hero, applauding him for doing the right thing. The article currently sits at the top of the "Most E-mailed," "Most Viewed," and "Most Blogged" lists on Perhaps The Wall Street Journal has the most fitting title, referring to the resignation letter as "the fantasy job exit." Fantasy indeed.  

For most people, leaving a job doesn't garner worldwide support, or any public notice at all. The very prospect of quitting requires courage, good financial planning, and a solid exit strategy. Most importantly, although you might be unhappy in your current position, it almost always pays to leave on good terms. You know the saying—"Don't burn bridges."  

Assuming you don't work at a place as toxic as Goldman Sachs circa 2012, here are five ways to gracefully quit your job to ensure your career stays on track, and your contacts intact.

1.  Keep your colleagues in the dark when you're on the job hunt.  

Although you've probably made some close friends in the workplace, office gossip and rumors have a tendency to spread in close quarters. Try to keep your future job move to yourself whenever possible. The last thing you want to do is to inadvertently inform your boss that you're thinking of leaving before you're truly ready to walk out the door.

2.  Refrain from social-media boss-bashing. 

When "heros" like Smith stand up and shout, it can inspire others to do the same. Social networks make this sharing that much easier (especially during late-night surfing sessions when digital courage seeps through your veins). As Steven Demaio explains in a post on the Harvard Business Review, if you are going to write about your decision online, take responsibility for what you're doing. Make sure to discuss why it's important for you to make a professional change in your life, versus denouncing your current workplace.

3.  Do it in person, and follow up with an official letter. 

No one likes an "email break-up," especially your manager. Take the time to book an appointment with your employer to resign in person. While an official resignation letter might be necessary based on your employment contract, you can hand this in to your boss during your meeting instead of emailing it to him or her before your discussion.

4.  Keep your options open. 

Quitting your job might mean that you never want to step foot in your current office again, but if you are still on good terms with your employer, it's good to stay in contact with that individual in case there is an opportunity to work together down the road. With our increasingly wired world, you just never know when you might run into your boss again at another company and be asking for a job. In short, it's a great idea during your exit meeting to mention that you're open to staying in touch and being a friend of the firm in the future.

5.  Avoid getting emotional in your final days. 

After investing years in a company, it's easy to get emotional about departing. Oftentimes there is pent-up frustration, even anger, but try to keep the emotion out of your decision. My father gave me good advice in the early days of my career. He always suggested that I remove the words "I feel" from either verbal conversations or written conversations in the workplace, always emphasizing the facts versus the feelings.

Related: Quitting Is The New Mission Statement

Want more career tips from the pros? Check out the rest of Amber Mac's Work Flow series. For more leadership coverage, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

[Image: Flickr user Nik Azwaa Azmi]

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  • Rebecca Wilson

    Great advice, really!

    I especially like the bit at the end where your father made the suggestion of removing the words "I feel" from workplace conversations. This is something I think I do often but never really took a step back to realize it; this is great advice even if you aren't thinking about leaving your current job.

  • Jack Dsonice

    Great article. Solid advice. 

    I would add that in your resignation letter never say anything negative about your colleagues, boss or the company. Thank everyone for their help and support and offer a way for them to contact you if they have questions.  Offer to help transition your work to the designated person (do not choose one) in an orderly manner.

    I completely agree with the advice "don't burn any bridges". 

    It is a small world and it is getting smaller by the second. 

  • Doug Brockway

    Great advice Amber. I do think that though that in some cases it can serve you well to let others know via the grapevine that you are looking for new opportunities. Particularly in a situation where the individual is not fully appreciated or compensated appropriately for their talent and efforts. While one has to be careful, this strategy can serve as a "cannon over the bow" of one's employer and let them know that if they don't do something to remedy the situation, they risk losing a talented performer.