The View from HR

Build -- don’t burn -- bridges when departing a company

September 8, 2012 

Dilbert has a cartoon where a just laid-off employee says to his manager, “You worthless sack of monkey spit! I hope the birds that ate your brain regurgitate pellets down your neck! I have lots more, but I don’t want to burn any bridges!”

When you leave a company voluntarily or otherwise, you get to choose how it goes. Will you be one of the stories your manager tells at the next business gathering? If so, let it be about the extraordinarily positive way you handled yourself.

We see all sorts of terminations and resignations. Too often, the emotional temperature goes beyond a boil. Sure, employees can be angry (even if they voluntarily resign). Sometimes years of problems come to a head and the exact wrong words are chosen.


Some managers view employee resignations as a betrayal. Others worry most about extra work landing in their chair for a period of weeks or even whether the company will approve filling the vacancy.

Good managers are usually not surprised by a resignation due to ongoing conversations. A resignation after open conversations and good faith attempts to make things work is on the way to a positive conclusion for all.

Employees, you can best “build a bridge” by recognizing your manager’s real needs and the needs of customers. There is no law requiring a “two week notice,” but zero notice is a sure way to get your face on a “Never Help This Person” poster. Two weeks can also be inadequate depending on circumstances. The best bridge for future references or a possible return to the company is built on an open conversation.


It is tempting to use a termination meeting to tell a manager what you think of them and their mother.

Once you understand the reasons for the termination (you do not have to agree), time is better spent on a successful transition for all. It starts with how you can help the employer (if they want your help). Your manager will be appreciative and perhaps amazed. It ends with how the employer can help you.

You will want to find a job and it helps everyone if you do so soon. Focus on your job search needs in the very first meeting and establish how follow up conversations should occur. Show that you can handle this maturely and you are focused on the future. It may be hard, but it will maximize your chance to get real help in your search.


Retirement is not as loaded with hot button issues, but there are opportunities. Do you want to continue working in some way? You might be a very good part-time person with lower benefits costs. Have you considered financially and emotionally if you are ready to fully retire? Have that conversation and build a bridge for today or two years from today.

Bridges are not just useful for car travel. Build a bridge when you change employers so it is there to help you cross the next unexpected employment canyon.

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is president and CEO of CAI Inc., a human resource management firm, with locations in Raleigh and Greensboro, that helps organizations maximize employee engagement while minimizing employer liability. For more information, visit

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