How to Leave Your Job without Burning Bridges

burning bridges

We’ve all been there.  A once-promising job that’s soured to the point where even the thought of waking up and driving to work leaves you shaking with cold sweats.  Where it’s impossible to imagine working diligently at your desk for even one more day without exploding in rage at your incompetent and/or abusive boss.

If you’re lucky enough to find an exit strategy – whether to another position or to a temporary career break – it’s tempting to use your resignation as a chance to make your true feelings known to your coworkers, to HR and to your boss.  But all the career advice out there recommends that you not burn bridges on your way out the door.  Should you follow these recommendations or make a one-time exception to the rule in order to let of a little steam once you’re able to quit your job?

Here’s the thing…  The world is a small place.  Even if you can’t imagine any possible connections between your boss and other members of your personal life or business community, that doesn’t mean that none exist.  And really, the last thing you want is to belatedly find out that the boss you just cursed into oblivion is actually second cousins with the HR manager at the company you now desperately want to work for.

The bottom line is – don’t do it.  Don’t risk your future career prospects on a somewhat-fulfilling blowout speech on your last day.  Your reputation as a blowhard will follow you no matter where you go – even if you can’t yet see the mechanisms by which this will occur yet.  In just about every case, it’s better to be safe than sorry when leaving your job.

Of course, holding your tongue is easier said than done.  Here are a few guidelines and recommended steps to help you leave a difficult situation without burning your professional bridges:

Separate the personal from the professional

To be fair, it isn’t always the best idea to bottle up your emotions and leave your current position without uttering a peep to anyone.  Not only can this be damaging emotionally, it’s also important for the human resources department of your company to know why exactly you’re leaving.  If they identify a trend – for example, a series of talented employees leaving as the result of a single bad boss – they may want to take action to prevent further losses.

For this reason, if certain on-the-job conditions have prompted your resignation, it can be a good idea to share them with HR during your exit interview.  The key, though, is how exactly you do this.

If you go into your final interview ranting and raving about your boss, your feedback won’t be taken seriously and won’t be used to promote positive changes within the company in the future.  What you need to do is to separate the personal from the professional in order to provide your HR personnel with useful information.

For example, saying, “My asshole boss was a huge jerk who never gave me enough time to get things done,” isn’t going to help your case.  Instead, telling HR that, “My manager struggled to provide timely feedback and prioritization advice in a professional manner,” is much more likely to result constructive changes for the future employees who will take up your position.

Vent frustrations through the appropriate sources

Of course, it isn’t nearly as satisfying to phrase your personal complaints in a professional manner as it would be to run through your office’s halls, gleefully yelling about how you’re finally free.

But really, that’s why you have friends.  That’s why you have family members.  And that’s why you have coworkers who have gone through the same grief that you have.  Buy these nice people a round so that they’ll indulge your frustrations periodically.  Just be careful that any coworkers – whether current colleagues or soon-to-be ex-coworkers – are the discreet type who won’t go running back to your office with news of your job bashing!

Focus on the future

Finally, if taking these steps isn’t enough to prevent you from going crazy on your last day, try to keep the future in mind.  Remember, you’re out of the bad situation.  You’ve found your exit strategy and, very shortly, you won’t have to deal with your bad boss or your company’s frustrating policies any longer.

Truly, the only way the grief of your almost-former job will continue to bother you in the future is if you allow your frustrations to cause you to do something stupid in the moment – something like burning bridges that you may need to rely on for professional advancement down the road.

So before you dish out the verbal beat-down you’ve been longing to share since day one, take a deep breath and focus on the future.  Your career’s long-term well-being just isn’t worth the risk of burning bridges in a short-lived blaze of glory.

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