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Preparing To Break Up With Your Employer

When you break up with a person, you have pretty common set of steps to follow - returning hoodies, splitting up household goods, eating the ice cream of sadness. But what are you supposed to do when you break up with an employer? In this talk, we'll explore what you need to think about before the hard discussions, what you should be ready to do, and how to leave with as much dignity and good-will as possible. The target audience is people who are trying to get better at this very painful experience without throwing their barista apron.

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All right. Hello, folks. Thank you for joining me. I appreciate you taking the time to do this either live or in recording. It's great they with be together asynchronously. My name is Heidi. And I've been fired, laid off, dismissed for good cause, dismissed for no cause, dismissed for reasons. I've quit jobs gracefully and ungracefully. And the thing I put in the conference summary about throwing my Starbucks apron is maybe not as hypothetical as you might be thinking. In my long career, I've gathered some tips that I wish I had known when I was newer.

Our boomers, parents or our grandparents had a sort of fantasy about lifetime employment.

Based on I don't know what. Not like they had job stability either but they believed in it. They don't have a lot of skills to give us about how to leave jobs well.

So we're going to have to help each other. We're not going to have lifetime stability employment. It's just true. It's not a thing that really happens any more.

So you need to be able to move from job to job without enormous difficulty. You need to be able to let go and pick up the next thing.

Your career is your responsibility. No one is going to look after it for you.

So what do you do? You get good at identifying what a job is and isn't. What you need from it and what you want to take onward from it. For instance, a job isn't necessarily paid work.

It could be a volunteer gig. It could be a relationship. Whatever it is, we have to look at what we're getting out of it. What we're putting into it and whether that balances for us. Is so first let's talk about prenuptial agreements and prevention. Ideally, every adult has enough of their own money in their own account to get a place to live safely and get on their feet again if something happens. That's true of both relationships and money.

Having a fuck fund gives you emotional resilience about whether or not you need this relationship, whether or not you need this job.

If it becomes too brutal for you, you have an option to leave.

You're not trapped.

I say this as someone who did not have enough money for a long time who ended up taking her babies and moving in with her parents and let me tell you that's embarrassing when you're over 30. But it's okay.

It worked out fine for me. But I want you to have that security so first thing is having savings, even if you put away a tiny bit. That adds . Second thing is paperwork. And we're going to talk about that a little bit more later. There's all this stuff that happens when you're signing on to a job that you think is sort of automatic.

For instance, for, like, my last three jobs or something, they've been at startups and there's an HR portal. And they send you a little link and you read the link and you sign the contract. And it's all stored for you.

And you think that's great. Now I'll be able to find it whenever I need it. Do you know what that sign-in link often requires? For you to be an employee of the company. If you don't have an address that ends the right way, you may not be able to get to that paperwork.

So when you're thinking about how to keep paperwork safe, be sure that you have hard copy. Even if you have to pay your friend to let you print it on, like, the one community printer, be sure you have it. That's going to save you a lot of headaches. I just had to write my HR and ask them where my employment contract was because I couldn't get into the platform. So us maybe be smarter than me. Maybe make sure you have your paperwork lined up.

Breaking up is hard to do. It's not easy to leave a job. It's like a hobby and a social club and a very complicated emotional relationship all at once and also it pays you money. That's a lot. It's a lot of different axes of privilege and oppression, interpersonal relationships both good and bad. It's not straightforward. And when we think about how to untangle it, really romantic relationships are a pretty good model. It's okay to feel scared about breaking up with a company but you're going to have to do it at some point.

The feelings oubliette, a big round hole in the ground that goes down a long way and you put prisoners in it and necessity can only see the sky and you put food down and they never come out again. Some people use this as a metaphor which they don't have time to deal with their feelings. We'll talk about the feelings oubliette but I want you to know we're not forgetting it. We're going to do the slightly easier stuff first.

A lot of this stuff is like flossing. We're supposed to do it twice a day I don't know anybody besides dental hygienists who do that but remembering you do it twice a day makes it so you remember to do it four or five times a week, that's good enough. It helps a ton. Here are things that are basically flossing. Regular maintenance when your job is ticking along fine.

Think about your work, what are you going to want to claim when you leave? What are you going to want to remember? When you lose context of being at work, that all gets much harder than you're thinking about. The perfect time to write the introduction to your portfolio pieces is while you're still doing the work. Because, as soon as you leave, there's an amazing brain drain that happens that just wipes out entire chunks of context for why this was important.

So make sure that you have any portfolio pieces you want -- and this could even include an especially well thought through email or specification or design. Shows that you're doing work and thinking about problems.

Writing examples, writing example to show people that you can manipulate the language that you're trying to work in is really vital to people feeling like you're going to communicate well. Especially in an era where we have so many is asynchronous distributed teams.

Keep your nice e-mails and comments. I have a tag and an email folder labeled atta girl and I forward everything that is a compliment to that. If it's not an email, I screen shot it and I forward it to that email because sometimes I really want to remember the time somebody told me I was doing it right. And sometimes it's exactly the kind of thing that you want to mime when you're talking about promotion or advancing to your next job those compliments are easy forget. Our brain is hard wired to remember bad things, not necessarily good things. It's really important to know where the bear lives. So we kind of forget the good things and we need to keep them. And you need to keep them somewhere that's not on a work server. Because if you keep them on your work machine, you have to turn your work machine in. They're gone again.

plans. This isn't just plans at work. This isn't just project plans but this is also keep track of what you thought you were doing in your career and what was happening and what you were asking your manager for. Because having this kind of journal is going to help you both in the job you're in and in the next job. If you see that you keep planning to take speaking lessons and not doing it, you can understand that you need to either work harder on that or drop it as a goal. Keeping track of your plans is important. Next is health. Mental, physical and emotional health this part is a little U.S. centric which has to do with the fact that our healthcare is employer based, which is -- never mind. I'm not getting started. We're not all going to sue our employers. But I found out that it's vital to lay out how things degenerate over time in a job. If you want to leave a job, probably, it's because it used to be good and it as not any more. It used to be love, but it's over now. You need to take screen shots of your insurance information. And you need to capture proof of problems. If your manager is saying to you you're not working hard enough but won't tell you what they want you to do, you want to capture that and store it somewhere off your work computer because your work computer is not your computer. So store it somewhere else. One of the things I found really useful when leaving a job that ended in tears is having a timeline of events. Like here's the time I got an exceeds expectations and exceeds expectations and wow, you're doing a great job and all of a sudden my manager switched and I got a needs improvement.

If you can look at it that way and write up a timeline of events, it's really healing to see that it's not that you've always been a screw up. That are you fine and the environment has changed. And finally, you need to your future. I bet you have work friends people you like talking to that one woman who has the hairless dog and it looks like a bat and she dressed it like a bat for Halloween and you got together and talked about the dog costumes, something like that. Do you have a way to reach those friends that isn't through the employer? Do you have any email address for them? Any Slack or discord, something that isn't through your employer? You're going to want to collect that.

You want to make sure that you have a way to get ahold of the people that you care about without that intermediary.

You want to make sure that you have your professional context lined up.

Different contacts. If somebody was a great manager, you want their personal contract information so that you don't have to go through their work email to ask for something. And you want permissions. This one -- I wrote it down and then I forgot what I meant by this and then I remembered it again. It is what can and can't you talk about and when and where? What do you have permission to say? Can you even say that you were terminated? Can you say when you were terminated? Can you talk about a project you were on that's been killed off? If your work linked GitHub goes away, is there anything left on your profile? Are you sure, so sure that all of your password management is in someplace that you control? Because a lot of us linked our last pass into the corporate last pass because they made it really easy and then when you leave, if you added your password to the wrong password repository, you're out of luck.

So be sure that you understand the permissions for what you're doing.

There's an asterisk on a lot of these things. And it is don't take things that aren't yours. If you go back and read your employment contract, there's a nondisclosure agreement probably that says you don't get to take your sales list or any proprietary code. Sometimes there's even a place where you declare you have invented so the company doesn't take credit for them or patent them during the length of your employment.

As much as you may want to take something that will be juice i to leak, you want to be really careful about that. American laws are not biased in favor of the individual on this and companies have lawyers that they pay and lawyers are really expensive. So when you're thinking about what to take, don't take proprietary things or things that are forbidden but you can take things that are not secrets that are addressed to you that are things like your performance review, you're allowed to take that. It's a document that pertains to you. You ever get a bad feeling about a job that -- home feeling there are a lot of meetings going on but nobody you know is in them? You're probably not wrong. Probably not wrong. Something is going on. It may not be disastrous for you. But you have previous trauma that makes you feel like you're going to get fired every day.

That said if you start to feel bad about your job, about your company's ability, about what's happening, go on a saving spree make sure you have the files you want. This is proactive way to deal with the fear and dread of unknown. I don't know if we're getting acquired but my portfolio items are up to date. I've been here many times.

Every time that creepy feeling is a useful reminder to do this anyway. Your job over. Your creepy feeling is correct or out of the blue you had no idea and you walk in and it was Tuesday and all of a sudden you're unemployed, you're going to need to triage what needs to get done. Are they shutting your access off during the meeting? Do you have a notice period? Do you have time to act? Frequently, the answer is no. And there are good reasons for them to do that. For them to just shut off all of your access while you're in the HR meeting and somebody's virtually or physically sliding a piece of paper to you saying sign this. There are excellent reasons for that but it still sucks, you can ask though. You request ask though. Do I have time to pull files off my computer that are personal. They'll make a face at you because ideally you don't store any personal files on your computer.

This feels almost exactly like a romantic breakup. There's a lot of having to disentangle stuff. Imagine that you grew a pandemic pathos together. Who gets that? The person who brought it in or the person who watered it every week? Are we capable of being in the same room while we pack up? There's a lot of emotional shrapnel. People aren't getting laid off feel guilty, people are getting laid off feel angry and everybody is really struggling to be professional. It doesn't matter, it's a unilateral decision. You can't unargue someone out of firing you. It doesn't happen that way and really you shouldn't argue someone out of dumping you because if it's broken enough that they dumped you, it's probably time to move on. So you're not going to be able to change what has happened. You just can change how you're going to take it. Here are questions to ask in the moment.

Can I take my files? Can I wipe my system? This is especially important if you're doing a lot of personal browsing and maybe saved your credit card number to the corporate computer? IT doesn't usually care but it's a bad habit. How do you want your stuff back and what stuff do you want back? My last job they said send back everything we gave you. I said do you really want me to ship across the country a 32-inch monitor that is three years old and has a cracked corner because the shipping for that is so much more than it is worth. They're like no you're right. We don't want that. So it's nice to have an inventory of what they've given you, they're going to want the laptop back. Peripherals are sometimes negotiable but you can ask. And when you ask that, it's frequently to somebody who is dealing with a lot of problems.

Don't make their life harder. Like, no IT person ever has been like yay, a layoff. That's going to make my life easier, they're trying to turn off access and reprocess all this stuff and not like their jobs are any safer than yours. If you're kind and considerate and they don't have an iron clad rule you have awe slight better chance of hanging on to your keyboard and mouse. You need to ask about money and paperwork. If it's a layoff there's a chance you're going to get severance which is a payment in lieu of notice. Because almost every technology company has come to realize that letting people work on their highly sensitive applications after they're very angry doesn't work out well for them. Usually they're going to lock you out of the system pretty fast. Even if it's not all the systems, once you've done that, you're not good to them and it's humane to give you severance. Ask your manager if you can get referral. Are you going to be able to lean on them? A good manager is heartbroken that they have to let you go and will tell you honestly whether you should call them for a referral. If you're being let go because of a performance problem, a good manager would say no, you should ask somebody else and you should take that and ask somebody else. Because what they're saying is if somebody called me, I would tell them the truth which they should and it wouldn't be flattering to you. It's good to ask that in the moment if you can.

Does anyone owe anything to anyone else? Do you have outstanding education or travel expenses? Is there any money that should go back and forth? Make sure you resolve that as soon as you can. Because once you walk away all the way, they don't really have incentive to pay you back for something. I am a rage crier. Injustice makes me cry, being angry makes me cry. Being frustrated makes me cry. I'm a delight at the DMV. Toward the end of a job I have a desk handkerchief that I cry into. I hate that. I hate it so much. But it is what it is. I tell you this because it is not unusual to cry or to be angry or to feel like throwing up. These are all very normal reactions that any manager who has had to do any kind of termination knows about. I promise you that unless your manager is an Elon Musk super villain, the person across the desk from you is not enjoying the day either. You don't have to worry about that. You're not being paid to care about their feelings and you have to let it go. You have to worry about how you're going to get through this with as much dignity as possible. Because you're a professional. And how you leave is part of how you worked there.

We come back to the feelings oubliette.

It turns out that we're not robots.

We do, in fact, have feelings. It's very distressing. The immediate set of feelings are rage, shame, and fear. No matter what we know, this is something that we have invested our one wild and precious life into. And it hurts to have that be not enough or rejected or downsized. Lots of people start immediately worrying about what will happen to them or they feel like they failed some test.

There is something that they could have done differently.

Even if you wanted to leave, even if you're the one quitting, it's still hard to walk away from things you really did care about. What about your team? What about all the things that you did? A lot of feelings to deal with and it's all hitting you right away. A very wise kindergarten teacher once said that feelings are like koi in a pond. And our goal is to be the pond and not the fish. To see our feelings, to acknowledge them but to contain them.

In a moment extreme adrenal suppress it's hard to do that. Adrenal. I'm a black humor person. And I think I said at least once, well at least now I don't have to have a rage crying hankie.

The manager laughed, so I must have won, right? It was something.

Then you get into the later feelings. This is when we eat the ice cream of sadness and despair.

My go to was always Ben and Jerry's half baked. Superior of all their ice creams, but don't eat a whole pint unless severe emotional distress. The time after we leave a job is a vulnerable period for could have, should have, would have. We rethink everything we did. Could have I been a better employee or could I have tried harder to get along with that person? It's a time easy to be depressed and hard to pay for therapy.

It's hard is what I'm saying.

But I'm here to tell you that if you're prepared, it will suck less. You'll have fewer regrets. You can still have happy hour with your coworker. You won't kick yourself for forgetting something on your work computer. This is something that you can do for your future self. And I boat your future self will thank you.

If this was too long and you read Twitter instead, be prepared to leave because nothing is forever.

When I was writing this talk, I said on Twitter, you know, the win state of monogamy is death. In a lot of ways, the win state at staying at a company forever is stagnation.

And I don't want that. So even though it hurts in the moment, I have a lot of faith that your next thing is going to be great and you are more prepared for it because you took these steps ahead of time.

And I put together a couple resources for you. This is a job hygiene spreadsheet with just a reminder of what you should do every week, every month, every quarter and what you should do when you have a creepy feeling so you can refer back and say what was I supposed to grab. One of the things I realize I forgot to put on here is make a list of all the applications that you use so that you can reform your workflow without having to remember exactly which plug-in you wanted for that code editor. It's really helpful to have when you're reconstructing everything.

Here's the shortened link to that. Let me recommend, Ask a Manager, as excellent reading and sometimes hilarious but always useful in striving towards professionalism. How do I frame this problem or understand this coworker, how do I communicate this. Ask a manager is an advice column I recommend to everyone. Thank you all for your attention. I appreciate that you spent some time with me. And now I'm happy to take your questions if you have any.