Years ago, I was Amazon’s director of social responsibility, running a program auditing labor conditions in the factories that made Amazon’s branded products. The job was high-pressure, fast-paced, with endless opportunities for impact and growth—and endless opportunities for work, which eventually proved incompatible with the rest of my life.
While plenty of people thrived in that environment, I witnessed many departures during my time there. Surprisingly, the worst endings were not of those who got fired, but of those who quit. In other words, those who could choose their timing and narrative often chose badly, leaving colleagues in the lurch—or in the dark entirely, ghosting without any notice at all.
But quitting a job badly can undermine the better life you’re leaving for. As in our personal relationships, closure is critical to our ability to move forward.
Quitting is very much en vogue among those who can afford it. Workers, particularly those under 40, were increasingly demanding greater purpose and flexibility. The pandemic accelerated the trend: In September, some 4.4 million workers joined The Great Resignation and voluntarily quit their jobs—the largest monthly tally on record.
Of the millions of quitters out there, those who left with grace and closure will have a much easier time moving on because of the peace of mind that they feel and radiate—not to mention the positive references from their previous employers.
As a hiring manager, my internal alarm bells sounded when candidates struggled to explain why they left or wanted to leave jobs. Negative reasons were fine—they were interviewing with me, after all—but better when they could speak to them cleanly and fairly (A helpful test is asking, “Would I mind if they spoke about me the same way to their next employer?”).
For the sake of our mental health, integrity, employability, and people around us, let’s learn to quit well. You may not have loved every minute of a job, but you learned something from all of it. And of course, former colleagues can pop up anywhere, from your next workplace to the remote island where you fled to reset. Even if the people don’t follow you, your reputation and relationships will.
When I decided it was time for me to leave Amazon, I was determined to go on a positive note. I engaged a career coach on my own dime and time who helped me develop a plan.
Choose one reason and stick to it
Inevitably, everyone will ask why you’re leaving, and you should have a single simple story at the ready. Were there many reasons that I left Amazon? Yes. Was a reason of spending more time with my kids the most true and least complicated? Definitely.
You don’t need to share the messy multitudes of your reasoning with everyone; and you certainly shouldn’t circulate multiple versions of your story, resulting in one big complicated lie. As Mark Twain once said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”So, if you can tell only one truth, even better.
Decide whom to tell when
We’ve become accustomed to blasting out news on Slack or social media and assuming everyone sees it. But they don’t. And the people you’re closest to deserve to be told first, by you.
After my manager, I wanted to tell my direct reports one-on-one, followed by the rest of our team, then our closest internal partners. This required some Herculean scheduling—and resisting my natural tendency to be honest when asked what’s up? by someone not on my shortlist.
Tie up loose ends
Leaving projects unfinished does not mean your boss will come chasing after you with a lucrative consulting contract. The only thing you’ll get from the people you stuck with your work is a bad reference when a future employer asks about you, no matter what good work you did up until that point. The “recency effect,” in which people remember the latest information most accurately, is real and strong.
Like Marie Kondo discarding a sweater, acknowledge what that soon-to-be-old job brought into your life. The health benefits of gratitude are well-known; and future prospective employers want to know what you learned from your previous roles, not what you hated about them. I hand wrote notes to everyone on my team and others I had worked with, letting them know what I appreciated about them.
Know that the organization is unlikely to miss you
One person leaving a big organization is like taking a cup of water out of the ocean. I know I did good work while I was at Amazon, and helped lay the foundation for good work to come. But I was under no illusions of being irreplaceable.
Make it positive
Went through a lousy experience? Do all of the above anyway. The story we tell becomes our reality; and even if the job felt like a disaster, there is an important reason that you went there in the first place that is worth recognizing.
Granted, I never experienced or witnessed harassment or abuse; if you have, you have full permission to get out as fast as you can. I had an enthusiastic team, a manager whom I genuinely liked and admired, and purposeful work—though I might not have seen all of that so clearly had I rushed out the door.
When I walked off of the Amazon campus for the last time, the only weight I was bearing was one box of personal belongings from my office and one box of farewell gifts from my team. I left with no other baggage and an almost ludicrous amount of positivity and gratitude, able to march happily onto my next chapter.
As we look to recover from the pandemic and create a more humane future of work, let us say a proper farewell to what is ending, so we can move onto the better life that lies ahead.
Christine Bader is the author of The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist: When Girl Meets Oil, and a cofounder of The Life I Want, a storytelling project imagining a more humane future of work. She was Amazon’s director of social responsibility from 2015 to 2017.