551: Build Bridges, Don’t Burn Them: How To Leave A Job on Good Terms

Discover a new approach to career transitions—set your team up for success, secure your boss's support for a smooth departure, and strengthen your existing relationships to preserve your network


on this episode

Leaving a job doesn’t have to mean burning bridges.

You can take proactive steps to set your colleagues, team, and organization up for success when you’re making a career change. You can maintain strong relationships and leave on good terms!

Could it get any better than that?


Imagine having your boss help you find a new role, or your team rallying behind your efforts to make a change, all while you work to set everyone up for success so they’re actually better off without you 😲

What if your career change could actually be a better situation for everyone involved?

Instead of worrying about burning bridges, think about it as crossing over a new bridge, supported by the people you’ve worked with. The bridge remains intact, and everybody wins.

In this episode, Scott shares actionable advice that you can use to build bridges during career change instead and avoid burning them. He gives actionable advice on how to approach your boss when you decide you need to make a change, including how to prepare for the conversation and what to say.

Career change can be done in a way that benefits everyone involved. It all comes down to how you approach those bridges (hint: leave the lighter fluid at home!)

What you’ll learn

  • How to leave your job without burning bridges and turn it into an opportunity to build stronger connections.
  • Actionable steps to set yourself and your team up for success during a career change
  • How leaving a job can be a chance to strengthen relationships

Scott Anthony Barlow 00:01

When you think about leaving your current company, they often fall into one of two categories. Movie-worthy visions, lighting the office on fire while flipping the bird on the way out the door. Well, the building slowly crumbles behind you. Or the option number two, being worried that your boss and all the people you care about are going to feel as though you flip them the bird and burn down the building, leaving everyone in the lurch while you go on to take care of your own life. But what if there were a completely different way? What if you could have your boss help you find a new role? What if your boss and co-workers supported your efforts to make a change while simultaneously you worked to set everyone up for success? That way when you left, they know that they're well taken care of. Let's put this another way. What if you didn't have to worry about burning bridges at all? And what if you have the support of the people that you work with to cross over your new bridge? That bridge still remains and everybody wins.

Introduction 01:05

This is the Happen To Your Career podcast with Scott Anthony Barlow. We hope you stop doing work that doesn't fit you. Figure out what does and make it happen. We help you define the work that is unapologetically you, and then go get it. If you feel like you were meant for more, and you're ready to make a change, keep listening. Here's Scott. Here's Scott. Here's Scott.

Scott Anthony Barlow 01:31

When I left Target, if you're not familiar with Target– it's a big box retailer here in the States. Anyhow, I gave two months' notice so that they could work on backfilling my position, and I could work on setting them up for success. In later organizations, I gave six months' notice. I trained my replacement, I helped my entire team to have a seamless transition. I even got my boss's support to not have to come in on certain days. It happened to be started out with Thursdays until noon so that I could work on my transition, and everybody knew about it, and it was okay. I know that sounds insane. But here's what I've learned. When you take care of the people around you, it invites them to reciprocate. To be clear, this isn't just me, we've duplicated this result with many of our clients all over the world, some of which you've heard on this podcast. Here's the thing though, if you want to get insane results, it requires a pretty big reframe to the question from, you know, how can you leave without burning bridges, which is where many people start, like, I just don't want to burn a bridge. And we need to ask a different question. A question like, "How could you leave while setting up your team, your organization, your co-workers, your clients, all the people that surround you for success when you leave? How could you set them up so that they were actually better off without you?" Wouldn't that be crazy, right? What if it could actually be a better situation for everyone involved? Well, usually, when I first pitch this idea to our clients, or our team pitches this idea to our individual clients, we have to sift through quite a few mental blocks before we can discuss how to get their boss to support their change. Let's spend a little bit of time talking about what stops people, what are some of those mental blocks. Well, as it turns out, many people view these two things as conflicting goals. And that's understandable. I completely get it. I've felt that way too. But I want you to take Michael's story for example. You might have heard him on our previous episode.

Michael 03:45

I landed at Sony, again, no plan, other than getting an accounting job at a studio. I then was there for 18 years. So started out as a senior financial analyst in September of 2001. And I left as a vice president of worldwide distribution finance in the beginning of 2019. And like I said, I never planned on any of this. But once I started at Sony, I could see that the more you can handle, the more they would throw at you. I was very fortunate to have some great bosses that really knew how to challenge you. And it just sustained me. It sustained me for almost 20 years. But at the end, it got to this point where the demands of the job were felt like 24/7 365. And for someone like me that is a perfectionist and didn't really realize that it just didn't work anymore, it got to the point where I physically couldn't keep myself going and mentally I was just overwhelmed all the time and just worried constantly about too many things and not able to fix anything perfectly or make anything work perfectly. It was not a good combination.

Scott Anthony Barlow 04:57

Okay, Michael was a VP of Finance in California. And his health was deteriorating rapidly to the point where his doctor told him that he was going to die if he kept going and didn't do something about his job. Even then, he viewed himself as the only person who could do his role. If he left, that meant he was letting people down, particularly the people who reported to him. If he left, he felt like he might be giving up everything that he had worked so hard for. Okay, this is sort of understandable too, because if you delve a little bit into Michael's situation, a lot of his strengths have to do with turning chaos into harmony. And this situation that he was in very much created the opposite effect, especially when he thought about leaving.

Michael 05:44

I had a great team of people under me and that sustained me for years. And I felt like it was my duty to suffer through this job because I wanted to see my team advance, I wanted to see them get promoted, take on more responsibility, right. I think the last probably three years I was there, I was doing it out of a sense of duty to the people that worked for me, but I also have the sense of, and I think this is common for people who get burned out is you have this irrational sense of importance of the work, like I felt like if I'm not there, stuff is gonna fall apart. If I'm not there, no one else is going to be able to do these things, and they won't be perfect, and they won't be right, and they won't be on time. I have to keep going. And I did that until I physically couldn't do it anymore.

Scott Anthony Barlow 06:35

So here's what I wanted to do, I want to give you an idea of what a path forward can look like. How that might sound, what could you say to your boss. Now, I want to share a bit of a prerequisite here. The reality is when we do this with our clients in the stories that you've heard on the podcast, every single time we're taking people's individual situations into account– the specific people that they're working with, how those people operate, identifying ways to best build trust with them. So I just want to acknowledge that it really does depend on each individual situation for the best ways to do this. In some cases, in a small amount of cases, we advise people not to do what you're going to hear about. But it really is case-dependent. So I just want to call that out upfront here. So what does it sound like to have this type of conversation with your boss? Well, you might go to your boss, initially, before the conversation and ask if you can talk to them about something important. By the way, this triggers them to think that it's an out-of-the-norm conversation, which is. It absolutely is. This is incredibly critical to the point where I felt the need to say incredibly because you don't want them to be surprised. Even if you're not telling them immediately what you want to talk about, you don't want them to be out of left field surprised. And you also want them to give a different level of attention to this request. They might ask if you can do it right away and tell them you'd really like to do it outside the office, or someplace that's abnormal, get someplace where you're not gonna get interrupted, that's going to be important too. And also asked for it at a later date, as well. Because a lot of people's tendencies are, "Yeah, well, we can just talk right now." And you can absolutely say, "You know, I'm not prepared to talk right now. It is important but I also want to make sure that we have time and space to talk about it. Don't worry, nobody's dying. But I do want to give it the space that it requires." So schedule something with them, get on their calendar, make sure that you're both going to be able to be there, and devote the time and attention. And then when you get there, here's how the conversation might sound. Initially, we want to lead with gratitude, "Hey, I want you to know that I have really, really enjoyed my time here. The last five years have been amazing. I have learned so much. I'm really appreciative for all the things you've done." And you can list some of those specific things that you actually appreciate in reality, then you might go on to say, "You know, I've come to the realization that even though there are promotional opportunities here, at some point, I'm planning to look outside the organization. I'm not talking about tomorrow. I'm not talking about a month from now. But at some point in the future, I know that it's going to come my time. And I really wanted to give you a heads-up. So it could be over the next year or so. But whatever time period, I really wanted to make sure that you are set up for success. The team here is set up for success, and that I'm set up for success as I make a change. So I'm coming to you to talk about this now because I wanted to ask your advice on what you see for how we can do this, how we can set you and the rest of the team and myself up for success. I really want to make sure that we've got a plan in place. I already have some ideas, but it's really important to me that I get your advice on this area." Okay, what you'll want to do is, you'll already want to have some ideas coming into this conversation about how you can set the team up for success, you may have already thought about who could be your backfill, you may have already thought about what would be the time period and resources it would take to train that person, you may have already thought about what projects to take on over the next six months or so or not to take on for that matter. And that is all going to be important because you want to have those in your back pocket to be able to suggest as you're going through this process. But first, it's most important to get their reaction and their advice, whoever your boss or whoever you directly report to, that person. Again, here's how that might sound like. It might sound like, "Even though I don't plan on leaving anytime soon, I really wanted to just have a conversation where I could get your advice on how to set us all up for success." That can be it. That can be a simple way to begin that conversation. Now the reason advice is important here. You've heard me use the word advice several times. Now, there's other ways to ask for it. But what's important is that when you ask for someone's advice, it immediately triggers a part of the brain where they're now thinking about how to solve this problem, they're immediately thinking about how they can help. And they're starting to think about it through the lens that you're asking. And what we've done here is we've now made them a partner in this versus having that done to them. So that's really important. When you ask this way, it helps trigger a collaboration as opposed to a conflict. Now they are your partner. Pretty cool, right? Okay, let's talk about some examples of what success might look like. We already acknowledged that it could be as simple as helping to identify and train your backfill. I've done that before, personally, in many situations multiple times. We've also had many of our clients do something similar, whether it's identifying somebody who's already there, whether it is taking the necessary steps to recruit, and then train, there's a lot of different ways that you can do that. Coming up with some specifics around timelines, and having thought about what that will take will ease the concerns and worries tremendously for your team for whoever you report to. Because if it feels like it's all going to be on them, that's not going to feel amazing. It's not gonna feel like success. So one of our clients went so far as to identify all the gaps and potential issues for what they thought could happen if he was no longer there and identified a potential solution for each one. Then when he had that conversation with his boss, and he got to the part where he said, "Hey, I'd like to talk to you about how we could set the team up for success for whatever point I do actually leave." The boss actually didn't have any advice at that point. He was kind of flabbergasted and surprised. And as so then our client at that time said, "May I share with you some ideas that I've already thought of?" And then he proceeded to go through each one and recommend the rough time frame, the resources it might take to implement, and how he might be able to do so. So if the boss thought that there was any intent to abandon the post, that very quickly disappeared along with the proposed plan. Once you and your boss have a plan that you both feel good about, then you can talk about, "Well, how do we share this news? And at what point in time do we share this news with co-workers or clients or other people that you might be involved with?" And then it can be that type of partnership, again, where you're acting as a partner, as well as they're acting as a partner for you.

Scott Anthony Barlow 14:19

I want to give you some things to watch for in this conversation. First of all, let's talk about when to have this conversation. I mentioned earlier, it's important to not have it during a time period where you're going to get interrupted. So for some people, it makes sense to have it in the afternoon or towards the end of the day as things are wrapping up. For other people, it needs to be a right away thing. You'll want to assess your situation. And I would highly, highly, highly encourage you to get help from an expert in this if you plan to have this type of conversation. There will be things that you are not considering. Let me tell you a story of the first time I tried to have this conversation. Let's go into the story first. I got fired. Here's what I said. I said, "I don't think I'm the right person for the job. I don't think I should have taken it." And yes, I know that that sounds ridiculous. And I'm sure you'll do much better than that attempt I made when I was 23 years old. However, it doesn't change the fact that when we work with people, and they have these types of challenging and vulnerable discussions and conversations, what they usually come up on their own, like the conversation that they're usually coming up with on their own, it usually isn't the most helpful version that could be delivered to your boss, your co-workers, or anyone else that you actually want to strengthen the relationship with, as opposed to burn the bridge. So this is some pretty highly advanced level career maneuvering. And I really do suggest taking a partner on this. And, you know, obviously, this is something we do all the time for our clients. But if you don't want to partner with a career coach, I would definitely partner, or at a minimum, with a mentor and somebody who understands human dynamics, psychology, as well as can coach you through having this level of a conversation, because there's a lot of things to get right here. And it sounds really simple when I laid it out earlier. And it doesn't have to be a complicated conversation at all. But we want to consider all the factors before going into do so. If you need someone to help you think through how other people are going to view this and push you and find ways that you can truly be helpful to them and set them up for success, don't hesitate to contact our team, we can absolutely do that. But I want to share with you when these types of conversations are not appropriate. Particularly when you have a very desperate or toxic relationship with your boss. I have been involved in situations where we've been able to make that work but it usually is abnormal, and it usually requires a high degree of tenacity and finesse in order to make that type of situation work where you're having this conversation, you're getting support from your boss, but still have a desperate or toxic relationship. It's unusual to make that work, I'll say. Another situation would be when the standard in your organization is always, not sometimes, but always to send people out the door as soon as they mentioned leaving, there are a number of organizations and even industries where that is the case. It may not be the right situation to have this type of conversation. Or when you have a merger that's not finalized with what separation packages will be happening, and you haven't already gotten written specific agreements for those separation packages. Although this can actually be... this situation can be a unique opportunity on its own, we've been able to help people speed up those types of packages in a variety of different ways or negotiate those packages as the merger is happening. It's not always possible, but sometimes it is. Okay. I want to share that we've tried this strategy with our clients. The strategy where I'm describing getting support from your boss, and your team and helping them be successful. So far, we've never had it not work, just flat out not work. It doesn't mean there aren't challenges that pop up along the way. It doesn't mean everything goes perfectly. But I should know that that's because many of these clients tend to be higher than average with relationship skills. So there's an element of self-assessment that needs to take place first– are you a people person? Do you care about people before you're employing this strategy in your desire to leave? Also, you really can't employ this strategy from a place of desperation. Instead, I really encourage you to only consider this if you really legitimately care and want to take care of the other people, that's when it's highly appropriate. And when you have a great relationship with the people who are around you, that's a perfect time to be able to have this type of discussion, even though it might be scary to do so. Here's what actions you can take now. If you're ready to leave in the next six months, I would suggest working with someone to build your plan to have that conversation with your boss, including a script, rehearsing, and planning for contingencies or things that could go wrong in the conversation. This could be a friend who's really good at this stuff, or certainly of course a career coach on our team. I want you to also be prepared for the mental blocks that come along with the strategy. This brings out everything, it brings out everything about the closet, all the skeletons, and everything. It can be a really scary conversation even if you're in an amazing situation and habit. But I want you to know that setting your team, your organization, your co-workers, or clients, whoever it is up for success when you leave is the best possible solution for everyone involved. It really is. You never know what your career future holds, and you might cross paths with them in the future. Let me know what you think of this episode, we may consider doing more like this style. Tell me what worked for you, what didn't work, and what you'd like to know more about. How do you do that? It's easy. Drop me an email– Scott@happentoyourcareer.com.

Scott Anthony Barlow 20:42

Hey, if you've been listening to our episodes here at Happen to Your Career and you want to make an intentional career change to much more meaningful work, and have it neatly laid out into an organized framework, well, guess what? We actually have that available for you in the Happen to Your Career book. It's available on Amazon, Audible, anywhere else where you get your books. You'll learn about the five hidden obstacles stopping your career change, how to figure out what truly makes you happy with your career, and what brings you more happy more often, and more importantly, how to transition to a much more fulfilling career and life. You can find the book on Amazon, Audible, anywhere where books are sold. By the way, people are particularly loving the audiobook, which you can access right now in seconds.

Scott Anthony Barlow 21:30

Here's a sneak peek into what we have coming up for you next week, right here on Happen To Your Career.

Speaker 3 21:36

I didn't know all the things that I could do and trying to figure out what that would be was a real struggle for me.

Scott Anthony Barlow 21:46

If you are looking for work that truly fits you, you might already know we usually recommend against job boards. Why? Well, creating your ideal role normally requires a lot of customization to fit your needs. And you're not likely to find that on job boards. But what if you could make job boards work for you? What would that look like? What if you could find a role that seems like it was already custom-made for you, stand out amongst hundreds, if not thousands of applicants, and then get a job offer after just one interview?

Scott Anthony Barlow 22:20

All that and plenty more next week right here on Happen To Your Career. Make sure that you don't miss it. And if you haven't already, click Subscribe on your podcast player so that you can download this podcast in your sleep, and you get it automatically, even the bonus episodes every single week, sometimes multiple times a week. Until next week. Adios. I'm out.

Ready for Career Happiness?

What Career Fits You?

Finally figure out what you should be doing for work

Join our 8-day “Mini-Course” to figure it out. It’s free!