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Quitting? Explain yourself Add to ...

When David Stone decided to leave his job in May, he wanted to make sure that all of his colleagues knew exactly why he was heading for the door.

"The rumour mill can get ahead of you very rapidly, and I do think it serves a person well to get ahead of that curve," says Mr. Stone, former president and chief executive officer of the Childhood Cancer Foundation Candlelighters Canada. "It's very important to choreograph your exit announcement."

Few people may be quitting their jobs these days, but for those who are, explaining why can be crucial not only for their careers but also for the well-being of the offices they are leaving, experts say. Indeed, poorly explained, or even unexplained, exits can spark rumours that come back to haunt those who have quit and leave those left behind fearing for their own job security.

"People have pretty wicked imaginations," says Bob Rosner, an employee-retention expert who runs the website Workplace911.com. "Blanks get filled in."

Indeed, look no further than Sarah Palin's quitting her job as Governor of Alaska as an example of what happens when an exit lacks a decent explanation, Mr. Rosner says. Speculation about why she was really leaving began to run rampant after Ms. Palin's announcement last month. Noting that her resignation declaration "raised more questions than it answered," Time magazine wondered whether she might be leaving public life or whether there was a "more nefarious reason for her resignation."

When you leave a job, you don't want to create this kind of baggage to have to drag along with you, Mr. Rosner says.

Of course, unexplained departures aren't just potentially bad for the person leaving. The swirling of the rumour mill can also become an unwanted distraction for fellow colleagues and employers, as shown by two high-profile departures from Stephen Harper's communications team in recent weeks.

With Kory Teneycke, Mr. Harper's communication director, and Carolyn Stewart-Olsen, director of strategic communications, both announcing that they would be leaving the Prime Minister's Office this month without publicly explaining why, some have wondered what shape the Conservatives will be in to handle a fall election, should one be called.

"There are people that can start to question their own position or standing in the company, so [they might think] 'If they left, should I be thinking about leaving and I wonder why they left because maybe it's going to impact me,' " says Andrea Garson, vice-president of human resources at the job site Workopolis. "The uncertainty of change can sometimes create some anxiety in the workplace."

Still, there are often situations where it is better to err on the side of providing less information on why you are leaving, Ms. Garson says. If someone has decided to quit because she hates her boss or despises management, for example, it is better to leave those things unexplained.

Steve, who asked that his real name not be used as he remains technically under contract with his former employer, quit his job at a marketing company in Toronto last year after finding himself in a similar situation. "It was just bad," he says. Having decided that he could not stand working there, he offered his resignation to the company's human resources department and half an hour later was escorted from the building, he says.

It was better to risk the rumour mill than start slinging mud, he says. Instead, he left it up to the company to explain his departure. "I think they positioned it internally as a mutual decision," he says.

When a person is quitting a job because of such "contentious" issues, it is better if they keep it to themselves, Ms. Garson says. "Those aren't necessarily things that people should be airing out in public."

If someone is leaving a job for other reasons, however, explaining why can help put colleagues at ease. "It really helps the people left behind say: 'Okay, well it's nothing here. It makes perfect sense and I completely understand and support why they would have made that move,' " Ms. Garson says.

After Mr. Stone informed his board of directors that he would be leaving to enter semi-retirement and return to consulting, he asked for a week or two to get the word out himself before the board formally announced his decision.

"I really got out there with an e-mail blitz," he says. "I sort of couched it in terms of a thank you for all the support, but at the same time used it as a platform to announce why I was leaving and what I hoped to do in the future."

He didn't want anyone in the insular world of not-for-profits to get the wrong idea. "I knew that word would spread quickly," he says. "I wanted to make sure the record was straight."

More often than not, however, speculation will always exist when someone leaves a job, regardless of the efforts made to explain why. A perfect exit is a rare thing.

"Even with a very defined letter that's sent to an organization, people still make up stories," Ms. Garson says. "No matter how good you think you are, it never quite works the way you hope it to."

Follow on Twitter: @Dave_McGinn

 

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