Notice to quit – the sense of an ending

Leaving a job is rarely a comfortable experience and is usually accompanied by a mix of emotions. My oldest son was talking to me about this last night. We are both in the process of leaving our current employments. He is half way through his four weeks’ notice period. Then he has a better job to look forwards in a more suitable location. As for me, I decided to leave my job almost two months ago, have six weeks to go before I leave, and then nothing to look forwards to. And nothing is exactly what I am looking forwards to, with some relish. I just won’t look at the bank statement.

My son was complaining that he is very bored. Since he handed in his notice, they have given him much less interesting work to do and he has been taken off anything that he will not be able to finish. He is underworked and under-utilised. The days are stretching out relentlessly – every minute feeling like an hour and every hour feeling like a day. I tell him he should enjoy it – relax, chat to people in the office, spend more time on facebook.

But I know how he feels. A leaver inevitably gets less work and less stimulating work. After all he or she is leaving and becoming something of a nuisance, a relic of a different era. Are you still here, I thought you had left? You can feel a bit like a conspicuous spare part; a dead man walking.

You are impotent from the moment you had in your notice. You have played your last card, and have nothing more to negotiate with. People start to exclude you from conversations and decisions. Worse still, people start to do things in a different way to the way you would have done. The work dries up, the pressure relents, your importance diminishes and the motivation goes into semi-retirement. I find myself offering to the most mundane of tasks; arranging meetings, updating spreadsheets. I have even started pulling my weight on the tea-rota.

You may start to worry about what others are thinking of you. You have already decided to do what they have not done – leave. They will notice you easing off the gas. My son doesn’t want people thinking he was easing off by choice, that because he is leaving he no longer cares.

I did ask my manager for a few more things to do – but only if they “enhance my CV” I said, only half of my tongue in my cheek. I am running a change programme which I could do in 2 days a week, but am stretching out to 3 or 4, doing a little piece of commercial work and the rest of my time I am supporting my successor (not that she needs it) and dispensing wisdom, insight and humour to anyone who is prepared to listen. The last one takes no more than 10 minutes a week.

I don’t feel the guilt, and I don’t even worry about people thinking I am slacking, as he does. Rather I make light of it and joke about working at home meaning watching the athletics or the cricket.

Shockingly, I am taking lunch breaks and working less than 8 hour days. I am no longer travelling to the office in my own time, or working when I get back to my flat. This week I worked at home three days out of five, which is unheard of.

Apart from the boredom and the guilt (or lack of it), leaving a job is a time to take stock. What have I achieved for myself, for others, for the organisation which employed me? What will my legacy be? How much of it will remain? Almost a dress rehearsal for death I guess. What did we do with that life we just exited?

These days in business nothing stays the same and everything will change. The pace of change and the demand for change is relentless. In my four years in my present employment, I created and managed an annual investment planning process, established a project management practise; restructured the way we organise our software delivery, developed our Indian development capability, helped deliver new IT systems into laboratories, warehouses and stores, improved processes and fixed issues. I am quite pleased with that, until I realise that someone else would probably have done it if I hadn’t been there. And in 5 years time, most of it will have been demolished for something new.

More importantly for me than all of that, I recruited and managed some great people and maybe I did just dispense some helpful insight and wisdom. And I tried to be honest, genuine and caring. The processes and structures will change, the IT will be refreshed, but our less tangible legacy on other people, and they on me, will last much longer.

When we leave, we will have to let go. We cannot control what will happen after we leave, even if we felt we could whilst we were there. And the company retains all of the IP – after all they paid for it. We can only take with us memories, lessons and maybe a few new skills. And so close to our departure, they are in the bag already.

I am more experienced at leaving a job than he is. This is my fifth departure from permanent long-term employment. Number three was the best as they sent me straight home – with the traditional HR escort to the car park with my brown box. Gardening leave on full pay. A friend of mine has just completed about 12 months of it – his garden should be like the Eden project by now.

So, son, take the foot off the pedal, take a chill-pill, relax and let go. Spend time talking to people rather than needing to do things. It is quite a unique opportunity. And they can’t sack you, because you sacked them first. The worst they can do is send you home early.

As for me, I clocked off at 4 pm today and then sat in my garden enjoying the evening sun. Soon the sun will set. Meanwhile we can slow down and enjoy the remains of this unique day. And we can enjoy tomorrow when it is tomorrow’s turn to be enjoyed.

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