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Passion, People and Principles

Ending the relationship

post # 523 — April 8, 2008 — a Careers post

A reader asks:

“I think it’s time to leave my job (where I have been for a number of years) and move on. I don’t have anything lined up; I’m just burned out.

“Do you have an (unconventional) advice for how to leave on “good” terms? I want to make this as positive of a resignation as possible. The firm tends to take these things personally.”


I’m not sure whether my advice is unconventional or not, but I’d try to draw on what we know from relationships in the non-work environment. If you wanted to withdraw from a personal relationship (a marriage?) that you had been in for many years, how would you do THAT?

Here are a few of the rules I’d try to apply:

  1. Don’t use your announcement as a basis for bargaining. Once you’ve told the others, don’t go back. (But be prepared for vigorous attempts to get you to stay) Make it a clean break. Set a specific date for your last day.
  2. If you don’t want it to come across as personal, rehearse your exact words so that you remove any personal references from them (“It isn’t you, it’s me”)
  3. There’s no point trying to re-interpret history. Refuse to get drawn into a discussion of the past, and who could have done what (and to whom) differently. It’s about your individual future not your mutual past.
  4. Be prepared to apologize – a LOT. No matter how you look at it, you will be letting them down and causing substantive problems for them. There’s no avoiding that. Don’t try to minimize the real and emotional hurt you will cause.
  5. Do everything you can to help them find your replacement.


What do the rest of you think? How do you end a relationship ?

eplace this text with your post.


Jason Sanders said:

Hi David: In your first point, you bring up the very important issue of counteroffers. Counteroffers may be very seductive, but are potentially very dangerous. Here are some thoughts:

1. When you receive a counteroffer, it generally comes out of a need to keep your position filled, and out of a fear of losing you. It will feel flattering to know that you are needed, but don’t take it too personally. Your contributions will be missed, but in time, any good organization can replace whatever skills they lose.

2. Once you have given notice, you have shifted the nature of your loyalty to the company. Even if you decide to accept a counter offer, you have expressed a desire to leave that won’t be soon forgotten. I have seen people make good careers with a company after accepting a counteroffer, but that is the exception, not the rule.

3. Accepting a counteroffer may provide a short-term fix for the organization, but it also causes disruption. When your colleagues find out that your salary increase came from a leveraged negotiation, it can cause serious morale problems. Others may try similar tactics to get a raise and the organizational results will cause damage.

4. Counteroffers generally do not address concerns about how an organization values your contribution. If the company valued you, why did it take them this long to make it known?

I agree that a clean break is the way to go.


posted on April 8, 2008

Ivo Valdovskis said:

Only a short one to add to the previously recommended – smile and be self confident. That will help you to be on equal terms with the company. It’s easyer to solve difficult situations when you are on equal terms.

posted on April 8, 2008


Please enter your comment There’s a very interesting book called “Leaving the Mothership” by Randall Craig that you might find of interest

posted on April 8, 2008

Sandy Kuehl said:

Hi David,

I burned out of my first career in banking several years ago and left it on good terms. I’m happy with the choice I made to leave and begin a new career. However, despite the fact that I left on good terms, there are several things now that if given the opportunity to do over (especially since now I know!) I might have done differently.

1. I wish I would have known about and hired a trained professional coach to support me in making a process plan to turnaround burnout and facilitate career change prior to leaving my position.

A job change is not enough. Burnout is a process. And burnout crisis can be a gift in prompting critical questions for exploring strengths, passions, personal requirements, boundaries, etc. in finding a job that truly works for you. This knowledge can be invaluable in taking personal responsibility and communicating responsibly.

2. Because burnout is as much an organizational issue as a personal one, I wish I could have communicated with more backbone and heart about my dissatisfaction, exhaustion and lack of rewarding return. Withholding info and feelings out of fear or conditioning to be nice or perfect is draining. Dishonesty in these ways or any form is stressful and expensive.

Corporate restructuring, unclear expectations, simple overload and lack of professional support or job training fuels organizational factors that promote job stress and burnout. As much as staff burnout reveals an organizational fault-line, it also exposes an opportunity for strengthening future potential and fire-proofing team-building on many fronts.

3. I wish I would have mindfully started building a healthy, strong support network so that I would have had a safety net beneath me at all times. The importance of a circle of support for undergirding self-development and celebrating accomplishments can not be overstated.

Imagine ordering an ideal support system for yourself. Who are the perfect friends, family or colleagues? How do these people support you? What would change for you? How would you benefit from not being a solo act?

I acknowledge the reader’s desire to leave on positive terms and seek feedback. Taking leadership of how you end relationships provides a cleaner, clearer foundation to start something new. Good luck to you.


posted on April 8, 2008

Carl Isenburg said:

Have you challenged the base statement?

“”I think it’s time to leave my job … I’m just burned out.””

Generally, people burn out on a task. So, you’re probably burned out with what you’re DOING, not WHERE you’re doing it.

Have you thought about going to your partners and suggesting that you change your role? What would you do if you changed firms? Can you do that within your current firm?

Your experience with the team and your organizational knowledge are very valuable – to you. Building them from scratch is a long, tedious, and painful process. Preserve them if possible.

posted on April 8, 2008

David (Maister) said:

Bryan Schwartz, managing partner of the law firm of Levenfeld Pearlstein (LP) sent me this note, given to all people who join his firm from another (i.e. lateral hires)

This piece is focused on making your lateral integration into LP successful. While our firm’s culture is a contributing factor to your success, the personal initiative of a lateral attorney who chooses to act outpaces those who wait for guidance.

This communication concerns the following: Do’s and Don’ts Upon Departure from Your Prior Firm, Role of LP’s Transition Team and the Elements of a Successful Lateral Integration.

I. Do’s and Don’ts Upon Departure from Your Prior Firm

Departing a law firm is the time where most people will form a permanent memory of your integrity. Be paranoid during this time period. Everyone is watching how you behave. This period will leave a lasting impression on your colleagues about your integrity as a human being and as a professional.


  1. Give adequate notice (i.e., 2 weeks), even if your firm indicates that you may leave earlier. You want to remain on your prior firm’s short list for conflicts.
  2. Immediately after you give notice to your firm, notify key people and friends through face-to-face meetings about your departure. You must beat the e-mail communication or your friends will feel betrayed.
  3. Agree to make yourself available for assistance after your departure.
  4. Collect your client receivables before you leave so that files can be released to LP.
  5. Organize your files since the records department at your prior firm will review the files before releasing them.
  6. Leave memos in the file, with status and contact information of key people, if the firm is retaining the file. Make yourself available to meet with the relationship partners on those files to effectuate a smooth transition.
  7. See your key clients personally after you give notice of resignation prior to joining LP.
  8. Transition your cell phone number prior to your departure from your prior firm.
  9. Work hard for your firm right up until your last day and maintain your billable hours. It is a question of integrity.
  10. Take the “high road” on your departure. Share your positive moments with your former colleagues about the firm.


  1. Don’t take vacation and then give notice of resignation.
  2. Don’t disparage your prior firm, its management or its partners. This is unprofessional conduct and reflects badly on LP.
  3. Don’t believe that your colleagues will keep secrets about your departure.
  4. Don’t take vacation between the transition of firms until you have first personally communicated your departure to your key clients and have ensured that they will move with you.
  5. Don’t run up firm expenses (like conferences, dinner, etc.) prior to resignation.
  6. Don’t write off or write-down bills because you are leaving a firm.
  7. Don’t take prior firm trade secrets without permission, including forms.
  8. Don’t use your internal e-mail for communication to friends about your departure.

posted on April 9, 2008

Andrew Stott said:

Feeling burned out is horrible and the visceral reaction is to try and escape, but be sure you are escaping from the cause (like in a long term relationship, be sure your unhappiness is due to your partner and not something else). In other words, be careful not to confuse burn-out (unhappiness) with wanting to leave the organisation (partner) you are in (with). Many people make the mistake of thinking that escaping from a firm or a relationship is the panacea to the problem they face which often turns out not to be the case.

You yourself chose the firm (partner) you are in for a reason – do you still like/admire your firm (partner) and the colleagues you work with? if the answer is yes, then leaving the firm (partner) may not solve anything.

Then ask yourself what would need to change to eliminate the feeling of burn-out? Here are some ideas –

  • reduce and prioritise (to what you enjoy) the number of things you are trying to do – this will have a dramatic effect on your state of mind
  • delegate more and let go of stuff – we tend to accumulate not replace which in professional services inevitably leads to reduced efficiency and added value at best and at worst (if you are a perfectionist like me) an ever-expanding workload unless you delegate
  • once you have decided on how best to reprioritise and/or delegate (which will enable you to restructure into a less stressful lifestyle), take a short sabbatical (and be open why you are doing so)
  • avoid going down to part-time unless it is realistic and part of a fundamental restructuring of your role/workload as this can only make the pressure worse

If on the other hand, you conclude after due thought and being honest with yourself that the firm itself (partner in the case of a relationship) is a major driver of your burnout (unhappiness) or believe that the firm would not allow you to prioritise or delegate more (or your partner would not allow you to make changes which would make you happier), then it sounds more like a career change (change of partner) you need (eg from globe trotting consultant to a client-based employee).

If you decide to leave, explore alternatives (here the analogy with relationships weakens for me!) and confirm to yourself that opportunities exist to reduce burnout and that you are not going from the frying pan to the fire. If you have a mentor you can do this with, discuss your concerns and ask for guidance and his/her opinion. Once you have concluded that you have an opportunity which will give you what you want, present it (subject to sensitivity over moves to competitors) as a move for personal development and thus in your and your firm’s best interests. Be determined and communicate your determination, to leave on amicable terms and highlight the opportunities to work with your old firm in future (if such opportunities might exist). In contrast to a prior commentator I would say DON’T APOLOGISE – you should not feel guilty about improving your lot. And don’t look back.

And good luck!

posted on April 9, 2008

Florin Ioan Petean said:

I think that it’s not about ending the relationship – it’s about a new kind of relationship. Building on David’s thought, I’d like to say that IT IS a personal relationship – with people that I’d like to keep present in my life (there is life after work, isn’t it?). In the future, I will meet some of them, I’ll talk with some of them. I’ll mention some of them in my stories. I’ll keep some of them in my memory – some I’ll forget.

One of the most valuable assets that I have are the relationships – I’ve learned it the hard way: burning some, destroying some, loosing some, keeping some.

posted on April 9, 2008

Sandy said:

In response to a prior commentator, I used an unfortunate choice of words when I said, ” Taking leadership of how you end relationships provides a cleaner, clearer foundation to start something new.” What I was really speaking to was conscious completion, rather than simply drifting apart, walking out or avoiding honest, responsible discussions about difficult issues that you then unwittingly carry into future job or personal relationships.

When you can honestly complete a job or personal relationship, you leave less loose threads in the form of regrets or resentments. In this way, completion helps you start something new with a cleaner slate.

Here are two excellent completion processes that, I think, provide useful info for the reader’s request for unconventional advice:

1. Layne and Paul Cutright wrote an article on The Ten Essential Skills for Cocreating Conscious Completion: http://www.partnersinlife.org. Here are some of the ideas in their article (paraphrased):

  • Be alert to how the completion impacts everyone involved
  • Acknowledge and integrate learning and value from the relationship
  • Own up to mistakes without self-invalidation
  • Generate space for a completion conversation

2. Scott Hunter at http://www.thpalliance.com has a timely article in his December 27, 2007 newsletter called The Freedom of Completion.


posted on April 9, 2008