A professional woman is carrying a cardboard box of belongings with a plant on top as she quits her job.
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How to tell your colleagues that you’re leaving

26 May 2021

There are particular steps you should take when informing your friends and co-workers that you’re moving on, writes Hays’ Robby Vanuxem.

Many of us often make lifelong friendships at work. But what if you were to be offered a job elsewhere – the chance to make that big step in your career you’ve been dreaming of for years?

Naturally, you’ll want to take up the opportunity. But on the other hand, you may feel guilty about leaving your work friends behind. Maybe you’re scared that they’ll feel you’ve betrayed your friendship if you leave them?

Always remember that if your friends at work are true friends, your friendships with them will last long after you’ve left the business, and that they should also genuinely want the best for you.

So, don’t let your work friendships hold you back from making the right decisions for your career. Here are five steps to help you tell your colleagues that you’re leaving.

1. Make sure your boss hears first

Telling your boss first will enable you to agree on how the news will be communicated more widely throughout the business, including your friends. It’s also important to leave on good terms for the simple reason that you never know how your professional paths may cross in the future.

So, make an appointment to speak with your boss privately, disclosing the news that you have decided to leave.

As Susie Timlin, chief operating officer at UK Government Investors, has explained, you don’t need to be worried about handing in your resignation – in this piece she has answered some of the questions that you are likely to have about the process.

2. Then tell your colleagues that you’re leaving

If you’re friends with someone at work, there’s a good chance that you’ve already discussed with them your feelings towards your current job, and possibly even your intention to leave. It may not therefore be a huge shock to them when you do resign.

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Once you’ve notified your boss, you’ll be able to tell your colleagues that you’re leaving. It’s a good idea to start with those old friends who may already suspect you’ve been thinking about leaving.

Consider meeting them outside the office if possible – such as when going for lunch – to tell them the news. When you do, focus on what excites you about the opportunity ahead and try to remain professional and committed right until your last day.

3. Refrain from oversharing

Not all work friendships are exactly the same; while some of the friends you have in the workplace may feel like confidantes that you can share more or less anything with, others may be ‘frenemies’ who could later compromise you if you say the wrong thing in private – such as complaints about the boss or about how you ‘can’t wait to get out of here’.

As Annie McKee, author of How to Be Happy at Work, advises: “We have to be careful about the kind of information that we share with our colleagues, with our bosses and with others in the workplace.” She adds that workers should “really learn how to read people accurately and understand whether in fact you can trust them, and then determine what you can share based on the level of trust in that relationship”.

4. Reassure them that you’ll stay in touch

And even more importantly, keep your promise. Remind them, too, that your paths may cross professionally again, which is especially likely if you’re still in the same industry or in the same city.

Whether or not you make any particular attempt to remain in touch with old friends, you might encounter them again at other companies, trade shows or conferences, and you will want to keep all potential future opportunities open to you. Continuing to maintain friendships with those that you no longer work with, then, could also help to keep your broader professional network strong.

As observed by financial therapist Amanda Clayman: “20 years from now, you might be doing business together. I see people in senior roles not because they have a longer work history, but because of the relationships they’ve made over their careers.”

5. Try not to overthink your friends’ reactions

Some of your friends at work will be genuinely excited for you, while others may be resentful and feel that you’ve abandoned them. Any such adverse feelings will pass in time as they adjust and get used to the fact that you’re not going to be around as much.

Remember that the ability to adapt to change is something we all need in our personal and professional lives alike – so be sure to remain compassionate and helpful towards each other.

That should include, if applicable, transferring clients and projects to your co-workers in as seamless and stable a way as possible, so that everyone will be able to manage the transition of your exit gracefully.

By Robby Vanuxem

Robby Vanuxem is managing director of Hays Belgium. A version of this article previously appeared on the Hays Viewpoint blog.

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