I got my first job shortly after I turned 16. I worked at a local movie theater — cleaning up between shows, tearing stubs, selling concessions and tickets. I made sure to stay at least a year to build up a good working history and then I moved on to a retail job at the mall. When I let my mom know I wanted a new job, she stressed the importance of giving two weeks’ notice and not quitting until I found a new position. I followed this form of employment etiquette throughout my twenties until I had a job that I walked away from after realizing I could no longer tolerate it. From that job forward, I knew I’d need a new protocol when it came time to leave a job.
Poynter recently launched a series called “Some Personal News,” dedicated to stories of journalists who were laid off or who left journalism altogether during the pandemic. Music journalist William E. Ketchum III’s story really resonated with me because in 2020, he’d been laid off from his third journalism job and had developed a protocol to deal with it:
- Save important email contacts
- Contact mentors for advice
- Announce via social media
This is a fine list of actions, but I would add a couple of items, based on my own experiences.
Years ago I started working at a company whose leadership constantly moved our target goals and changed our training practices for new hires. I had a small staff that reported to me and the constant changes were affecting their morale. This environment led to high burnout for my team and myself, which led to increased turnover. My concerns went unaddressed and I began to feel as if I were being penalized for pushing back. The writing was on the wall. I started taking the necessary precautions, which allowed me to have a softer landing when the company eventually laid me off due to a “company restructuring.”
Since that experience, I have continued to follow a certain type of quitting or laid-off protocol to protect myself, especially when I get a sense that all is not well:
- Save important contacts
- Add a personal email address as BCC to begin a paper trail of concern, in case you are suddenly locked out (check to make sure you are not violating any security risks)
- Scan or copy relevant printed documents (again, without violating security risks or compromising client information)
- Keep copies of all original work done for the company (based on whatever your contractual agreement is, this work becomes property of the company but you should always keep copies for your portfolio)
- Store screenshots of texts or other messages that may be relevant or seem inappropriate
- If the tension between you and your workplace becomes obvious to your colleagues or other leadership figures and someone tries to dig for gossip, do not engage. DO NOT ENGAGE. Don’t bad-mouth anyone. Don’t spill your guts for sympathy. If someone asks “hey, I heard things are getting pretty tough. What’s going on?” respond with something like “I’m sure everything will work out. Thanks for checking on me.” Or ask where they heard that from and give a noncommittal shrug before walking away. This may seem like you’re being paranoid, but really, you’re being careful because you don’t need the extra headaches of office gossip being used against you.
And the final thing I do to make it easier to walk away: I do not make myself too comfortable by overly personalizing my workspace. Some people need to cover every inch of their office or cubicle space with paraphernalia, trinkets, and family photos because those things help them make it through the day. When they quit or are laid off, they end up having to make multiple trips to remove the boxes of their lives from the office. I am not doing that. I will put up a few things to mark my area as mine, like a Prince photo or a Wonder Woman doll, but I avoid personal photos or other cherished items. Part of my refusal to decorate my space too much is also because I’m introverted with trust issues, and I don’t want people to see my work area as a place for them to hang out and I don’t want someone with sticky fingers to walk away with one of my Funko Pops. Ultimately, any workstation away from my home will have limited pieces of me because I’m there for work and I want it to be easy to walk away.
Figuring out when to quit can be a challenge, and realizing you may be on the chopping block to get laid off can send you into a spiral, making you question your self-worth. You may not always be able to control when or how you walk away from a position that no longer serves you, but you can develop ways to protect yourself. Developing my own protocol helped me feel more in control of my work life destiny. Figure out a leaving protocol that works best for you so that when you need to move on to the next job, it can be as painless as possible.