- Many people struggle with irrational feelings of guilt when leaving one job for another.
- Maintaining solid boundaries in your final days at work is important as you make your exit.
- Say no to new requests, create an exit plan, and document everything for a successful transition.
Transitioning from one job to the next is exciting. You feel hopeful about your new role and look forward to a blank slate.
But many professionals struggle with irrational feelings of guilt while they navigate their shifts to new positions. A number of my coaching clients have confided in me that they’ve felt like they’re abandoning their colleagues and leaving them in the lurch. How will they manage without you? When you move on to a new job, it’s natural to worry about letting your team down. Everyone hates to feel like they’re failing people who matter to them.
Guilty feelings about exiting a position can be particularly intense for people who consider themselves sensitive strivers. Since their mirror neurons (also known as empathy neurons) are more active than average, sensitive strivers have heightened perceptions when it comes to sensing the emotions of others, including pain.
Between one quarter and over half of employees are preparing for post-pandemic job transitions. It’s important to recognize that maintaining solid boundaries is equally important in your final days at work as they were during the rest of your time there. The following tactics can help you limit your involvement with your soon-to-be-former employer and approach pitching in as you’re on your way out.
Here are six ways to set and keep boundaries in the last weeks of a job.
1. Shift your perceptions
How you feel impacts how you react, so be sure to moderate and temper any feelings of misplaced guilt. Sensitive strivers, like other high achievers, are meant to evolve and grow. Remind yourself that by changing jobs, you’re moving forward. You’re not bailing on your colleagues, and the fact that you’re stretching and growing does not reflect poorly on you.
It’s a good idea to take the pulse of your ego. Your contributions are valuable, but the company will not collapse when you’re gone. At times, the transition may be bumpy for the coworkers left behind, but your team will almost certainly bounce back. And the position you’re leaving could be an incredible opportunity for whoever replaces you.
As part of the process of releasing guilt, you might find it helpful to write a letter to your present self from your future self. Let your future self assure you that leaving your position was the right move for you, or let you know that your current emotions are only temporary and will pass within a few months.
2. Make your exit plan
Evaluate the projects you’re working on from a practical perspective. Right after you finalize your decision to leave, figure out which tasks you need to finish before you go. Then decide what your milestones will be, working backward from your final day. Since you won’t have time to complete everything, select the most important items to focus on. Aim to get your work into a stable state so someone else can take it on, and be prepared to downsize your deliverables if necessary.
Come up with a strategy for when and how you’ll make different stakeholders aware of your resignation. A granular approach will keep you from putting it off and keeping the information from anyone due to anxiety and fear. Consult with your supervisor to clarify who will be taking over your responsibilities. Determine how much bandwidth you’re willing to allocate to help with the transition while keeping your other priorities in mind. For instance, it might not be feasible for you to assist the team with hiring your replacement if you have another urgent, high-visibility project on your plate.
3. To protect your time, document everything
In many positions, training your replacement will be part of your exit. Being tactical about how you approach this can save you from doing extra work and added stress. A transition plan can be invaluable for outlining your upcoming deadlines, your existing projects, and the incumbent knowledge the new-hire should have (like contact info and client preferences.)
Record your processes and write out the standard operating procedures for your most important tasks. Documenting your work will curtail unnecessary demands on your time in the future by creating training resources for your successor.
4. Decline or reassign incoming requests
Despite your imminent exit, you may still receive new assignments from co-workers. When this happens, resist the urge to dive in and get it done, so it’s over with. You can offer to teach your colleague how to do it themselves or coach them through the process. This sets a clear boundary, while transferring ownership to your colleagues and preparing them to become self-sufficient once you’re gone.
If you need to flat-out say no to something, the following statements may come in handy:
- “With my final day coming up, I’m not going to be able to take this on.”
- “Since I won’t be able to see this through to completion, I have to decline.”
- “Thanks for considering me for this. However, in order to follow through on my current commitments, I have to say no.”
5. Make the most of this opportunity to build good habits
Your transition-time gives you a perfect low-risk environment in which to practice setting healthy boundaries. What are they going to do if they don’t like it? Fire you in your last week on the job?
Set yourself up for success in your new position by setting limits, like not answering emails over the weekend or working past a certain hour. Then take that extra confidence you’ve just built, and use it to rock your new role.
6. Depart on your terms
It’s smart to offer to keep in contact with your supervisor and co-workers after your exit, but avoid creating a situation where you continue to help the company or give free consultations after your last day. Choose a date on the calendar that falls a few weeks after you leave, and let it be known that you won’t be available for questions or assistance after that time. If requests keep coming after that date, consider sending a note to say that due to your current commitments, you no longer have the bandwidth to respond and wish them success in the future.
Don’t forget that keeping good boundaries through the end of your time with a company is both an act of kindness and a way of respecting yourself and others. Though it can be uncomfortable in the short-term to set limits and say no, pushing through that discomfort frees you to say goodbye to your old position with your integrity intact.
Melody Wilding is an executive coach whose clients include high-performing managers and leaders at places like Google, Facebook, and HP.