Crucial Skills®

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How To Leave A Job Gracefully

Dear Steve,

I’m an RN and recently took a staff position at a private pay, long-term care facility. Naturally, the expectations of the residents who can afford to live at this facility are very high and the administrator is committed to keeping them happy.

I became very concerned about the culture at this facility on my first day of orientation when it was explained that there were no chairs at the nurse’s station because of the “five-minute rule” regarding answering call lights. In an attempt to improve compliance with the rule, the chairs were removed and the staff must now complete charting and computer work standing up. As a professional who is expected to prioritize care and be accountable for my decision making process, I found this administrative move to be insulting and ridiculous. It has caused me to seriously reconsider my position with this company. Should I stay and hope things improve, or cut and run?

Stay or Go?

Dear Stay or Go,

This can be a tough choice because “if you go, there could be trouble, and if you stay, it will be double” (a thank you to Mick Jones for his insight here). It’s good to realize that this new organization might not be a good cultural fit for you early on in your employment. Many people either don’t recognize the harmonic dissonance until much later or talk themselves into putting up with it—setting themselves up for a lot of potentially avoidable pain and suffering.

At the same time, there are many reasons people would choose to stay at such an organization, despite experiencing adverse circumstances: having a job in the first place, having a schedule conducive to pursuing other interests, working in a place of high reputation, or even gaining experience that allows you to further your career goals. Their net experience is overall positive so they decide to stay. And that’s ok, if they recognize that they are choosing both the positive AND negative aspects of the job.

However, by your description of the culture and your particular discomfort with how things are run, I do think that staying would set you up for the “double trouble” alluded to in the opening paragraph. I’d encourage you to consider leaving, and here’s how I’d recommend you approach this situation.

First, give the organization a chance. Now I realize this seems to counter the advice I just gave, but hang in there with me for a moment. I’d encourage you to set up a time where you can talk with your boss and confirm your assumptions about the culture and if it is the right fit for you, your skills, and your expectations. Use your very best STATE skills to address your concerns and the conclusions you’ve come to.

Start this coversation by sharing what attracted you to the organization. Do this before you outline the gaps in your expectations. As you transition the discussion to the gaps you’ve found, make sure to be specific in your observations—cite the removal of the chairs and any other facts you’ve noticed. Next, lay out your tentative conclusion to leave. Don’t apologize for it, or weaken your position here, but don’t overwhelm your manager either. Own your conclusion with phrases like, “It doesn’t feel like the right fit for me,” or, “The way I see it…,” or, “I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not the right fit for me.”

Many people shy away from this approach because they don’t want to come across as threatening: a kind of “change this or else I quit” type of demand. You can avoid this by ending with an inquiry. This is the point where you give the organization a chance. Put your meaning on the table and then invite your boss into the conversation with an ask like, “Before I made any decisions, I wanted to talk with you to get your take on the situation,” or “As you can see, this is really weighing on me, so I wanted to check in with you to get a sense of how you see things.” Your inquiry is an opportunity to test out your assumptions while at the same time determining the organization’s commitment to continue with the cultural patterns that have you worried. This is also the place where you can test whether or not there are other positions or places in the organization that would be a better fit. You may not have to leave the organization to find a better fit.

Now in this process, be careful not to allow yourself to be talked back into a position you don’t want. Your concern is not about unfair compensation or other concerns unrelated to the work environment. It’s about cultural fit. And, you shouldn’t settle for a resolution that is, in essence, being paid more to tolerate a bad fit. That won’t address your concern. For this to work, you need to be comfortable with the decision to leave the organization.

I think you’ll find that this approach gives the organization a chance to change if they feel that you are the exact type of employee they want. If they have no desire to shift, it at least gives them some data about how good employees perceive their culture. It also gives you the chance to exit the organization gracefully, if needed.

At the end of the day, if none of what I’ve recommended works for you, you can always try Paul’s way. “Just slip out the back, Jack. Make a new plan, Stan. You don’t need to be coy, Roy. Just get yourself free.”

Best of luck,

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17 thoughts on “How To Leave A Job Gracefully”

  1. Amy

    I recently left my organization for a non-profit with a great mission. Once there, I discovered that it was not a great fit for me so after my thought and prayer, I approached the company that I had left and asked to come back. The response was overwhelmingly yes. Then I approached my current manager using the strategies recommended in this post and she was very gracious. I am back in my original organization and very happy. Sometimes you need to try something to find out. I was fortunate that I could go back to my previous company.

    1. stevewillisvs

      Happy to hear it all worked out.

  2. Suzanne LaFlair

    you give such wonderful advice, thorough but nothing that can’t be implemented. Thank you!!!

  3. Robin

    I worked for a church as the Christian Education Director for 12 years, and left due to a shift in the culture of the church. It went from friendly and diplomatic, to bureaucratic and more political. When I explained my decision to leave to the pastor, she was genuinely hurt that I hadn’t consulted first with her and given them an opportunity to change. I said that the indications were clear, with policies that were put into place, and systems, that they were in this new place of bureaucracy, in a fairly small church of about 200 people. I explain to to say that I don’t think my giving her a chance to change would have helped in this situation. I was a member (still am) of the church, and intricately involved in all aspects of the church, and watched the shift happen. It might have been a nice thing to do, but I didn’t regret leaving. As it was, I stayed over 30 days to help them transition.

    1. stevewillisvs

      Involving the organization in the conversation doesn’t mean you have to change your mind–it’s a possibility, but not a must. It’s partially for you, but also helps to communicate respect for the other party. You’re not trying to extend false hope, but rather give them an opportunity to hear and respond to your concerns.

  4. Jack Shiflett

    Thank you – masterfully written!

  5. Gerri Ann Danilowicz

    I love your reference to lyrics from songs! I find myself doing that in my head when I read things so it makes me feel less “crazy” when others do it and in such a “professional” manner . Keep up the good work.

    1. stevewillisvs

      from one music lover to another “and the beat goes on”

  6. Heidi

    Hold up! A new job always presents new challenges and experiences. Often times people have initial transition jitters; sometimes people have a hard time with change. I suggest the RN give herself at least 3 months in the new job to see what these new challenges and experiences bring her. She may actually decide that she likes the policy on standing and finds the rationale behind it is solid. There’s always going to be things we like and dislike at new jobs, but until it’s experienced and a person can comment about it based on that experience, just not liking the idea about something isn’t enough. Give it a chance! The RN may be pleasantly surprised.

    1. Rox-Anne

      I agree with you, Heidi. If the policy of standing is the only barrier, I would “seek to understand” first as to why the policy got put in place. There may be solid reasons and/or modifications easily made.

  7. Ann Crawford

    I think it’s important who gave the explanation that the chairs were removed to improve compliance. If the person who removed the chairs said it, you have a cultural issue. If someone who is unhappy about no longer being able to sit down said it, it may not be the actual reason, and there may be other issues at play.

  8. Leanne

    The idea of leaving a job because of being required to stand seems very rash! There are many jobs where employees cannot sit down. I feel like it was turned into a “cultural” issue when all I read is that the employee doesn’t want to stand up. As an RN, she should know that standing is actually very healthy for you! I feel as though if she wasn’t told about the standing requirement, that is one thing. But to blame it on mis-management is misleading.

    1. Albert

      What I got from the article wasn’t that the RN didn’t want to stand. Any RN knows you are on your feet a lot (a reason for allowing sitting when possible). I took from it the REASON for removing the chairs was not valid and the thought process was indicative of a culture where the managers make somewhat arbitrary and demeaning decisions. I’ve been in situations like that where one a few people are not meeting standards, but instead of addressing those individuals, all the employees were punished with a new rule.

  9. Karen

    Does not really matter who said and did what. This is a violation of basic ergonomic principals. Bodies need a chance to rest now and then. This may even violates OSHA laws. It also violates common sense. RNs are not just worker bees (apologies to any bee keepers), they are professionals. Big parts of the job are planning and communication (with other nurses and with other professionals), and this cannot be done well without the opportunity to focus and requires documentation so that the plan can be shared and carried out. There is no logic in making the RN stand, just so she/he can answer a call light faster – perhaps saving 1 second. There will likely be much greater losses in the quality of other parts of their work.

  10. Albert

    There is also the possibility that if you discuss that you are considering leaving you will be let go immediately. I have several friends that this happened to.

  11. Nqabomzi Gawe

    I like this approach but my concern is around the fact that if staff were not consulted in the first place before changes were introduced would their opinion matter after a decision has been implemented?
    Thank you

    1. Robert

      I think you have hit on the core of the culture that the RN is concerned about. Arbitrary decisions that do not address the actual problem and just create more and possibly made without input from those impacted.

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