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If You Leave

Supporting the Profession Women in Student Affairs
June 23, 2015 Dr. Shelly Morris Mumma Saint Norbert College

This is the time of year that there are many transitions and not just for students.  Many people are moving and starting new jobs.  That means that many people are also leaving jobs.  It seems that we’ve had a lot of information posted about onboarding new employees and helping people transition into new institutions or positions.  However, I’d like to talk a little about leaving your current position. 

There are lots of different situations that you might be leaving at your place of employment.  And, the reality is, you might not be 100% happy with your current institution.  Or, it’s stressful, as you get ready to leave.  But, it’s important to remember that those last few weeks are just as important as your first few weeks. 

In many parts of corporate America, giving your employer two weeks notice is completely acceptable.  Before you turn in your resignation, check with your Human Resources Office.  Some institutions are fine with two weeks notice, but they prefer four weeks.  At one of my previous institutions, you could leave in good standing with two weeks notice but if you gave four weeks notice you were paid out for your remaining vacation time.  This is an important distinction and that money could mean an easier relocation because it adds to a down payment on a house or it just gives you the means to take a week off between jobs.

You should also be cognizant of the timing of your departure and how that impacts the institution.  If you’re leaving mid-year, it’s even more important to leave detailed information for the next person or someone that’s just taking over your responsibilities for the remainder of the year.  If you’re leaving close to a time when you have major events or programming occurring, this is also an important time to either try to stick around to get through that event or continue to be available by phone, text or Skype to help answer questions, etc. 

This also reminds me of when I had jobs in high school and my mother would tell me to not “burn any bridges.”  When I was 16, that didn’t seem like that should matter so much and I was much too focused on myself to pay attention to how I was impacting others or my employer.  And, honestly, was my leaving KFC on a split second decision really going to have a huge impact on their corporation?  Well, actually, it at least, impacted the store where I worked and I have come to learn that this is incredibly important advice.  You want to leave your current institution in good standing. 

When you write your resignation letter, focus on the positives during your time at the institution.  Acknowledge any learning or mentoring you received. Thank your supervisor and/or other(s) above him/her for the opportunities you had.  If you have specific examples, use them.  You’re writing this letter to and about future references – even if you aren’t including them on your reference list. 

After you turn in your resignation letter, don’t become a “short-timer.”  Continue to work as though you’ll still be there in 6 months, but with an eye to leaving good records for the next person.  I can’t begin to tell you how frustrating it is to sit in a meeting and have someone tell you that they have no opinion about the current topic because he/she won’t be here.  It also sounds just a little bit childish.  And, it seems silly to point this out but I’ve had situations occur where it’s become obvious that it needs to be pointed out, continue to treat people well.  Even those folks that may have been difficult to work with treat them nicely. 

One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that it doesn’t matter how long you work at an institution or how great you are at your job – the behavior you exhibit in the last four weeks of your tenure at an institution is how you’re remembered.  Make sure you’re remembered positively.  Don’t take out your stress on others. And leave good records for the next person.

If you’re leaving a bad situation, think about what you might be able to appropriately share that will make the position a better experience for the next person.  If your Human Resources Office does an exit interview, give constructive criticism that may help the situation.  This is not the opportunity to give a laundry list of complaints, but a time to be developmental with your employer.  We can all use a little bit of constructive criticism to get better at our jobs or create a better environment for others.  If your institution doesn’t do exit interviews with departing employees, ask them if they have a way to offer constructive criticism.  Or, if you have a good relationship with your supervisor, ask him/her their recommendation for how to give feedback.  If that relationship is the issue, talk to his/her supervisor in a constructive, developmental way to offer suggestions for the next person. 

It is not unusual for your transition out of the institution to continue after you’ve left.  Every now and again (for a few months), someone from that institution may need to call and ask a question.  It might be about a policy, a procedure, some assistance with institutional memory or just to ask where you stashed the extra orientation leader t-shirts.  Answer the call.  Help them with what they need and know that this is just temporary.  As the next person in your previous role gets onboarded, learns more about the institution and makes the position their own, the less they’ll need to be reminded of how things had happened before. 

Know that the students with whom you work will continue to communicate with you for a long time after you leave, especially now that we’re all connected through social media.  They’ll need assistance with their transition to working with your replacement.  If students contact you with negative feedback about the new person, support the new person.  They’re remembering their relationship with you after you had been at the institution for a while.  You knew the ins and outs of the college.  The new person needs a chance to learn those same things.  You can’t truly compare a new employee with someone who has recently left your college/university because of the vast difference in experience at that particular institution.  

It never ceases to amaze me that the student affairs profession or higher education, in general, is such a small world.  You never know who knows each other and I believe that we’re much closer than six degrees.  So, good luck with your new position and make your transition a smooth one. 

Shelly Morris Mumma, Ph.D. is the Director of Leadership, Student Engagement and First Year Experience at St. Norbert College.  She’s transitioned out of professional positions at four different universities during her career.  Connect with her on Twitter at @ShellyMMumma.