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Why you need a work exit strategy


We've got you covered with a 5 point strategy to make sure you start and end a job on the right foot.

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Fun fact: 100% of people will leave their job.


When? Who knows! How? It may be by choice, maybe not.


We have seen our fair share of employment exits. Some are done well, others not so well. The ripple effect, for better or worse, can follow you through your career.


In fact, the way someone leaves a job can elevate or taint the whole tenure, and impact future opportunities. That’s why you need an exit strategy from day one.


If you are an employee, leaving your job should never be far from the front of your mind. It sounds like something you would only think about when it’s time to move on, but to the contrary, we recommend you plan it from day one.


Here are our 5 must do’s to exit well.

1. Be intentional

Whether you resign, become unable to work, or if the decision is made by someone else (redundancy, termination or the business closing) – pledge to yourself that you are going to finish well. Then, in every encounter throughout your tenure, lead with this.

We can’t control how other people view us. But we can influence that by controlling our own behaviour. Take ownership of this rather than assuming it will magically happen.

2. Start your job with the end in mind

It’s day one, you’re feeling those new job excitement feels, but you may have no idea when you are going to leave the organisation, let alone how that employment is going to end. Deciding to exit well is about proactively planning to leave in a way that positively impacts the organisation and your reputation, and opens doors for you, even when you are long gone.

Start thinking about what comes next in your career. Imagine where you could go from here. Then in each moment, consider how your behaviour and the decisions you are making now are living up to this commitment. Consider how what saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to could be building towards your next career move and employability, and then stick to this commitment. No matter what happens.

This approach manages risk, avoids feelings of being stuck, or like you are backed into a corner. This prevents resentment build up and ultimately reduces the chance of exiting poorly.

3. Manage your mindset

When people finish there is usually a primary reason. For example, a promotion externally or disharmony with their manager. There are also smaller, more angsty and niggling reasons. It’s often the smaller reasons that become our downfall when saying sayonara and it’s important that we don’t let these get the better of us.

Sure, your current job is your old news and mentally you have moved on. You are ready for your next big thing. With one foot out the door, you may feel like you can have more of a grizzle. But loading colleagues up with your grievances can be dangerous when you’re talking to people who are staying. It can unfairly impact their perspective of their job and taint their opinion of you.

Instead, practice gratitude. Even if it’s been hard, or you feel wronged by others, find a way to be thankful to your manager for what they have invested in you. Be conscious of your mindset and the words that leave your mouth. Be grateful for the opportunities that you have been offered and make that the focus point at the end rather than a “hey boss, can’t wait for my exit interview so I can tell you all the things that suck about this organisation” vibe.

4. Leave so well that you could come back

Let’s make it clear upfront - you don’t have to come back this job. But leaving like this is simply a yardstick measure of your success in leaving.

If your employer would have you back, you can rest assured that you are managing your exit well. At a bare minimum you will have a really great reference, and that is useful to all of us.

Continue to do your job in your notice period as well as you did when you were in your probation period.

Prepare the best handover the world has ever seen, with lots of notes and training. And offer to be only a phone call away after your last day. The offer means a lot when they are wondering how they will do it all without you.

When it’s finally time to walk out the door, return company belongings and tools of trade and clean up your desk ready for the next person.

Even if it is a temporary absence, for example for parental leave or travel, be considerate of what it means to others to not have you there. Someone else will need to do your job. How are you setting them up for success?

5. You and your boss should be the first to know

If you are resigning, deliver the news to your manager verbally. Ideally face to face, but if that is impossible, via phone. And don’t share the news with your peers first. That’s dodgy.

If the business has made the decision to end your employment, we would expect that the same courtesy is offered to you.

Once you and your manager are both up to speed, agree on a comms plan including how the announcement will be made to stakeholders internally and externally, by who, and what others will be told about the reasons for the decision. Confidentiality, consistency and mutual respect are essential here, as well as everyone sticking to the plan.

We hope that you are reading this when you are beginning a new job. But if not, there’s no time like the present to set your intentions and put these ‘must do’s’ in motion.

Exiting well begins with starting well, but ultimately it doesn’t matter where you start, as long as you do. Don’t risk any doors being closed. You never know when you might need them.

Emily Bowen and Shelley Johnson are HR professionals and host the my millennial career podcast. For more on building a career you love, check out their episodes ‘why you need an exit strategy’ and ‘stay or go?’

This article is intended to provide general information of an educational nature only. Information in this article is current as at the date of publication.

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