These days, millions of highly skilled nonprofit professionals are moving on from the organizations that they once called their professional home. For some, the decision to exit is strategic. For others, the decision to leave may not have been their own.
Regardless, the way in which you choose to exit an organization is of paramount importance. Here are five steps that you can take to exit an organization gracefully.
1. Ask for what you need
The activist who inspired millions, Mahatma Gandhi, once famously said, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get it.” Before you leave an organization it is important to consider what you need and how you’ll ask for it.
For example, would you like to ask for a letter of recommendation before your last day? Do you want to be the one to tell your colleagues why you are leaving the organization, in your own words? If you have been offered a severance package, you may want to ask for time to consult legal counsel before signing on the dotted line. Remember, it is up to you—not your employer—to think through what you need, be bold, and to make the ask.
2. Maintain clear lines of communication
Maintaining clear lines of communication can make all the difference in how colleagues and stakeholders perceive your departure.
You may be wondering, "Why does it matter how my departure is perceived?" If you’re strategic about career pivots, you always keep the long game in mind. If you are staying within the same sector, your departure from one organization may not be the end of your collegial relationships. If you are shifting sectors, which is the case for many talented professionals right now, you likely want the option of leveraging your current network to help you get plugged into new opportunities.
In practice, maintaining clear lines of communication might look like putting together a transition plan that details the status of your current projects, or working with your manager to strategize how to share the news of your departure. As you and your manager come up with a plan, consider what you want and need from these wrap-up conversations. One idea is to use them as an opportunity to ask colleagues, when appropriate, for their personal email addresses. If follow-up comes less naturally to you, proactively schedule a future (virtual) coffee check-in before you depart.
If you’ve already left your organization and are focused on maintaining relationships, try sending a simple message to former colleagues asking how they’re doing (and don’t be bashful about sharing an update on where you are, too).
3. Set reasonable boundaries
Just as it can be helpful to set boundaries when starting a new job, it is equally—if not more—important to set them after you have left an organization.
For many of us, a job can feel like so much more. Perhaps the organization where you work is a place where you’ve built lasting friendships, and when you leave, these dynamics may shift.
It is important to remember that your job is above all else, just a job; there will be others. Set reasonable boundaries that position you to maintain relationships, but also recognize that there will be new opportunities to become a part of a new culture when you land your next role. In practice, this might look like limiting the conversations you have with past colleagues for your first few weeks away, reducing the amount of time you spend on social media, or creating a space to store keepsakes from your former job—like office swag or holiday cards—for you to look back on in the future.
4. Practice acceptance
Whether the decision to part ways with an organization is your own or not, as the departure date draws close, doubt may begin to creep in. If you’re leaving by choice, you may ask yourself questions like, “Will this be the right decision for me?” or “If I had done this differently, would I still have made the decision to leave?” If you have been let go or laid off, these questions might be, “What could I have done differently to change the outcome?” or “Is there something wrong with me?” Leaving a job is both a transition and a risk.
There is no way to turn back time and there is no crystal ball to predict the future—especially in the current job market. What is within your control, however, is the practice of acceptance. When you do this, you are acknowledging the transition that you are in and giving yourself permission to feel how you feel in order to move toward your next opportunity. In the spirit of practicing acceptance, you may also want to try these practices to help you thrive in difficult times.
5. Look toward the future
The health pandemic, the crisis of systemic racism, and the free fall of the global economy, all make it hard to look toward the future with confidence.
Despite these challenges, though, there are some bright spots. Professionals now have more time—and more empathy—to welcome networking conversations. Jobs that were once out of reach due to geography requirements may now be accessible. Virtual volunteer opportunities have evolved and can provide ways to connect meaningfully with others while doing work that you love.
As we continue to move forward as a society, so too will bright spots and new opportunities emerge. How you choose to take advantage of these opportunities is up to you. By asking your current employer for what you need, maintaining clear lines of communication, setting reasonable boundaries, and practicing acceptance when looking toward the future, you will set yourself up to thrive.
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