For the past seven years, I’ve worked for a small marketing agency with five full-time employees and two partners who own the businesses. It looks like (fingers crossed!) I’ll be receiving an offer for a new position with a different agency soon, working on projects that I’m excited about with a substantial pay increase and benefits. While I wait for the paperwork to go through, I’m thinking about how I’ll transition from one workplace to another.
The agency partners whom I work for now are normally great. They have good management styles and are respectful of boundaries … until someone resigns. Then it’s like a switch is flipped, and all hell breaks loose.
A few examples: One colleague resigned and was met with three extravagant good-bye dinners, including expensive bottles of Champagne, photo collages, and tearful speeches about how proud they were of her. Another was publicly berated for her “lack of loyalty” and “betrayal” until she cried, even though she was exceedingly professional and gave them more than a month’s notice. Another became so uncomfortable with their emotional outbursts (both positive and negative) that she started having panic attacks and, eventually, just skipped her last week of work.
It’s bewildering, considering they’re typically very even tempered toward all other aspects of running their business. I don’t believe it has anything to do with favoritism, gender, or seniority — their reactions genuinely seem to be random but always at one end of the emotional spectrum or the other.
As much as I would like a middle-of-the-road, professional, and appropriate response to resigning, I don’t see that happening. It would be one thing if I could steel myself for a certain response, but not knowing how they’ll react (except that it will be extreme) has made me surprisingly nervous about resigning! I do not want any grand gestures or tantrums. I just want to hand in my two weeks and part on mutually respectful terms.
Do you have any advice or possible language to use? How do I mitigate all of these emotions when I’m not sure what’s in store for me? I’d like to keep this bridge intact, considering they’re otherwise great to work for.
Some people are pretty bad with good-byes, but your bosses are terrible at them.
I admit to being amused that they flip from one emotional extreme to another. Usually, managers who take resignations badly stick to being inappropriately disappointed and sad or acting inappropriately angry and betrayed. Yours do both! Sometimes with the same person! If this didn’t have real professional ramifications for you and your co-workers, it would be funny.
It’s strangely common for managers to react badly to resignations. It’s not normal, but it happens a lot more than it should. I regularly hear from people whose bosses reacted to their resignation as if it were a personal betrayal — more of a breakup than a business decision — sometimes even refusing to speak to the employee during their final weeks on the job.
This is, of course, ridiculous. People leave jobs for all sorts of reasons; it’s a normal and expected part of doing business. Managers who are shocked when team members leave aren’t doing their jobs, since they should be assuming everyone will leave at some point and planning accordingly (which includes things like thinking about how to entice their most valuable employees to stay, as well as creating structures that don’t fall apart when one person moves on).
In any case, you’re in an especially weird situation because you don’t know what to brace for when you announce you’re leaving: Will you be berated for your disloyalty or fêted at three separate celebratory banquets? You might be able to mine past departures for clues — any chance the people who were fawned over were already favored, and the ones who were renounced and reviled already had rocky relationships with management? Or is there a difference in how they resigned, what they left for, or any other common denominators that might help you figure out how your own exit is likely to be treated?
If not, you’ll need to prepare for both. The excessive love-bombing is, obviously, easier to deal with. Let them extol your virtues for two weeks, agree it’s sad to be parting, take your commemorative photo collage, and go on your way.
But if you spin the wheel and it lands on “treasonous defector” and you’re treated like you’ve been colluding to bring down the company … well, if it’s possible to just let it roll off you, do that. If we’re just talking about a few snarky comments and some low-level grumbling, ignore it and cheerfully go about your final two weeks. Let them grumble! You’re leaving; it doesn’t matter anymore.
But if it’s not so easy to brush off — if you’re yelled at or pulled into long sessions about their grievances — keep in mind that once you’re on your way out, you have a lot more power. When you didn’t have an end date in sight, you were dependent on staying in this company’s good graces for your income. Now, though, the stakes are much lower if you decide to say, “No, I’m not willing to be treated this way,” and leave. Obviously, you want to avoid doing that if you can — you don’t want to burn the bridge, and you want a good reference from them in the future — but you’re not required to stick around if they truly lose it on you.
Keep in mind, too, that asserting yourself in that way wouldn’t need to mean dramatically storming out of the office. For example, if you’re being berated in a meeting, you can say calmly, “We see this really differently, and I don’t think it’s constructive to dwell on this. I have a lot that I want to finish up before I leave, so I’m going to leave this meeting and work on putting my projects in order.” If necessary, you can also say something like, “It’s clear that you’ve been upset with me since I gave notice. Will it still work for me to finish out my remaining notice period, or would it be better if I wrapped up earlier?” (This can sometimes jar a manager into realizing they need to pull it together if they want you to finish your transition work.) And if they become truly abusive, you’re free to say, “I’m not willing to be treated like this, so today will be my last day.”
Sometimes just knowing that you have those options can make a couple of nutty weeks easier to bear. You’re not stuck there no matter what they do — if you need to wrap up early, you can.
But hopefully, you’ll just end up with a mildly strange two weeks and leave with an entertaining story for the future about an otherwise-great job that couldn’t handle rejection.
Order Alison Green’s book Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work here. Got a question for her? Email email@example.com. Her advice column appears here every Tuesday.