How To Quit A Job Without Burning Bridges (Accidentally)

It’s all about people. It’s about networking and being nice to people and not burning any bridges. Your book is going to impress, but in the end it is people that are going to hire you.” Mike Davidson

Let’s face it, people move on. People quit their jobs for one reason or the other, it’s inevitable. Change, like they say, is the only constant thing in nature. The important thing is not that you’re quitting, but that you are not burning bridges while leaving. Quitting on good terms with your employer is very beneficial to your career. It even helps you transition smoothly to your new job.

Having said that, I’m quite aware of the fact that it is difficult, in some cases, to quit without no hard feelings. Some employers go as far as frustrating you to the extent that the only option is to quit. I’ve also heard stories of employees who, after handing in their quit notice, set out to steal confidential information, or even clients, from their former employers. Stories such as this are everywhere, and it makes me wonder what is going through the mind of the employee.

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To put this in context, I’ll use two examples (I love stories). A couple of years ago, a friend of mine left his former employers, Company A, to go work somewhere else, Company B. The reason he left Company A was because the pressure and pace was unbearable for him. He worked there for only 3 months. A few months after he resumed at Company B, his new employers sent a letter to Company A asking why he was let go, and if he was suitable for the position he was employed in.

Company A sent a very nice response to his new employers basically highlighting his positive attributes and areas where they feel he should work on. It was on the basis of this response that my friend received his confirmation letter from Company B.

Contrast this with an employee who, after resigning, decided to help herself to some confidential information and company property. When I heard this story, I was shocked. The former bosses decided not press charges, after a lot of pleading by the lady and her family members. With the legal community being a small one, it was very easy for the story to make waves. She was blacklisted and found it very difficult to get any job within the legal community.

It is a very small world, and the wrong thing for you to do is to burn bridges and leave a bad taste in the mouth of your former employers. It is better to resign with grace and persevere to the end. If you’ve been enduring hardship, just endure for a little while longer. This is to ensure that on your last day, you will be respected and valued.

The thing about life is, you never know who your future employers/co-worker would be, or who you’ll ask for help/recommendation in future.

How to quit a job without burning bridges accidentally

How to quit a job without burning bridges 

1. Timing

Timing is everything. Personally, I’d advise that you wait until you’ve gotten a new job before resigning from your old one. Or if you do not have any new job offers waiting for you, ensure that you have saved for a while. That way, you have something to rely on while you sort yourself out.

Another thing about timing is to know when to leave or stay. If your sole aim of leaving is for higher pay and nothing else, maybe you should try asking for a pay increase. Here are 5 things you should consider before asking for that pay increase. If you genuinely want to leave because of better work opportunities, then by all means, go for it.

Talking about timing, a few months ago, a lot of people left my cousin’s office. Maybe because of pay or something else. Anyway, she also wanted to leave, and when I asked why, she said because others (her close friends) were leaving, and she didn’t want to be left behind. Of course I talked her out of it. Since she didn’t have any genuine reason for leaving, I told her to stay. One important thing I pointed out to her was that, with so many people leaving, there were vacancies to be filled in her office. She could either use that opportunity to step up, or keep wallowing. Thank God she took my advise. She was promoted to a senior position, and this promotion came with a bump in pay and other benefits. See, timing!

Related: 10 Other Things You Could Negotiate Instead Of Salary
2. Notice

It is pretty much standard in all contracts of employment to have a notice period. It could be two weeks, three weeks or even a month. This is the period of notice you give to your employers when you hand in your resignation letter. This notice period has caused a lot of problems between employers and employees.

I know there is the usual payment in lieu of notice, but most employers would prefer that you give them notice. More often than not, payment in lieu of notice is usually at the instance of the employers, and this is usually where relations have deteriorated and the employer just wants to get rid of you.

When you leave without handing in your notice, or giving a very short notice as opposed to what was agreed, it leaves a bad taste, and can be very upsetting. So, when leaving, ensure that you give your employers adequate notice. And where it is impossible for you to give the agreed notice, please apologise and give a reasonable explanation.

3. Handover your matters

The last thing employers want to do, after you’ve left, is to keep calling and asking you about matters you handled whilst working for them. Again, this is another reason why the notice period is important. You can, during the notice period, handover your matters to people who will take over from you. In my firm, it’s called a handover note.

In the handover note, you are expected to assign all your matters to different people. You are also expected to brief these colleagues now handling the matters. What you find however, is that a lot of people don’t properly handover, if at all they do. Some would prepare the handover note and list some of the matters just to get it over and done with. This shoddy manner of handing over makes life difficult for the employers, who have to start calling you, or start coaching new people to take over from you.

Four years ago, in my office, a former colleague of mine resigned. When preparing her handover note, she put the names of the new employees as her reliefs for almost all the matters she was handling. Since I was fairly new then, I was assigned so many matters that I had no idea where it started or ended. She did not brief any of us, nothing. What she did was, after dropping her resignation letter, she prepared and sent in the handover note a day before the end of her notice period. The note was circulated the following working day, and she was not there to brief us on these matters. To say it was difficult for me is an understatement. It got to a point that she stopped picking up my calls, or she’d always say “I’m busy”.

Handing over your matters properly is key.

4. Inform your boss

Informing your bosses, particularly the ones you’ve worked closely with, before dropping your resignation letter helps goes a long way. It shows that you respect them and you value your relationship with them. This one-on-one conversation allows them to understand the reason for your exit, and if possible, give them room to negotiate with you.

If you, for any reason, cannot have that sit-down with your boss, then call. One of my very good friends had to leave work to further her education. Due to the timeline given to her by the school, it was impossible for her to have a physical meeting with all her bosses. So she placed a call to each of them explaining the reason why she was leaving and why she had to call them. They all appreciated the gesture and wished her well.

Another mistake people often make is to tell their colleagues before informing their bosses. No matter how you trust your friend, it always better to have that conversation outside the office environment, where the possibility of another eavesdropping is lessened. Once you make up your mind to leave, tell your bosses before informing your colleagues.

5. Burning bridges by stealing office property

As ridiculous as it sounds, some people leave with properties belonging to their employers. I don’t mean cars or houses or things like that. I’m talking about documents, books, confidential information etc. When people talk about burning bridges, it’s not just to sound knowledgeable. These are the little things that can ruin your relationship with your former employers.

Don’t take what does not belong to you, no matter how insignificant you think it is. I’ve heard stories of former employees who were asked to return things they’d taken such as documents or books. This creates a wrong impression and no future employer would like to hear that the would-be employee is a thief.

6. Burning bridges using social media

In this day and age of globalisation, people are quick to run to the different social media platforms to vent. I’ve seen and read so many, from the disgruntled housewife, to the cheating husband. In keeping with this bare-it-all attitude, some people go on social media to berate their former employers. Admitted, working there may have been very tough for you, but you do yourself more harm than good by going on social media to blast your former bosses. This kind of thing spreads so quickly and you never know who’s reading, and what your future may hold. Don’t fall into that temptation.

7. Say goodbye 

While this may not be material, it doesn’t hurt for you to send an email to your colleagues saying goodbye. You can instead of sending an email, say your thanks physically, but I’ve often found that it is better to send a mass email. In your email, thank everybody and make sure to leave your contact details. This will make it easier for people to reach out to you and also help you make and keep connections that may be of great benefit to you in future.

I’ll end with this notable saying by H. Jackson Brown Jr. “Don’t burn bridges. You’ll be surprised how many times you have to cross the same river.

Do you agree that there are some bridges that deserve to be burnt?