Psychology Today: Here To Help

Leaving On Your Terms

By Karyl Innis

'You've had it! You're not going to take it one more day! Tomorrow yourre going to walk into The Corner Office and say, "I quit." True... you don't have another job yet; but, that really won't be much of a problem. And, compared to the satisfaction of walking out of there... well, you just want to get out!

Wait a minute. Don't just quit. There's much to think about yet.

Some business executives do a great job of parting company with a troublesome employer - garnering transition pay, good references, extended health insurance benefits, retained search services, company car purchases, country club membership conversions and a whole host of other intangibles. Some corporate employees have the satisfaction of quitting abruptly and then exit their place of employment with nothing more than a final paycheck and a dubious reference. If you are considering leaving your employer, and you haven't been lured away by another opportunity, consider carefully how you'll take leave. There's money and reputation at stake.


  • Negotiating when the subject is you, your own worth and values, can feel awkward, but a little preparation and thoughtful self examination can make the process easier. Ask yourself these questions:
  • Why am I really fed up? Is it your fault? Her fault? Their fault? Usually there's a little culpability on both sides. It's this fact that gives them guilt and you room to maneuver.
  • What do I really want? Do you need the security of another month's health insurance? Or do you just want to buy your PC from the company at a greatly reduced rate? Knowing what the company policy and its past practices are can help shape a realistic answer to this question.
  • What problems will occur by my leaving? Will work pile up? Extra costs be incurred? Projects get behind? The answers may provide you leverage to negotiate additional separation benefits in return for easing the problems created.


When you have honestly answered the questions above, you are ready to move to the next step: negotiating your separation. Here's how: First, set an appointment with the appropriate person. Begin the conversation with I have something serious to discuss with you.

Then briefly state the tension and the problems you've identified. Two or three sentences is the maximum amount of venting you should allow yourself. State your decision to Afind a way to leave the company gracefully and comfortably for all concerned.

Outline the problem(s) (no more than two) you're aware of that your leaving will create and your intention to work with the Corner Office and others to mitigate these problems.

In addition, identify your personal concerns about leaving. Your answer to question number two above helps here. Do you need references? More money? Extended health insurance?

Suggest what you are willing to do in return for the enhanced benefit(s) you want. Are you willing to: answer questions on the phone for three months? Review project proposals on Saturday morning? Not recruit from the firm? The list of possibilities goes on.

Agree on the terms of your exit or agree to get back together later that day to discuss final terms. Finally, decide how your separation will be announced. When? By Whom?

Be sure to put your resignation in writing, along with your negotiated exit agreements on a separate page referencing your resignation.

Will this be easy? No. However, the satisfaction of taking leave gracefully will stay with you forever...just like your references.


Be prepared for The Corner Office's response. It could be a version of any of the following four:

  • Okay, let's agree on terms - This is what you wanted, set a time later in the day to discuss the details. Take the time to get yourself clear on what you want and how you can ease the transition for your employer.
  • Okay, you can leave today - this may be sooner than you wanted to leave, but you can still ask for what you want, and suggest ways you can assist in this sudden change.
  • Okay, but I can't change any benefits for you - while not the response you'd hoped for, you are no worse off than if you'd just quit; and your references are still in tact.
  • Okay, I understand your can I help you stay@ - Sometimes our frustrations aren't known by our management. This is the time to state specifically what needs to be changed for you to be able to stay, state that this is not a ploy on your part to impose change; yet if such changes occurred you would consider staying.

Don't be surprised by any of the four responses. Decide ahead of time what you really want. Don't just quit without first taking a chance on negotiating a better exit for yourself.

Side Bar

What can be negotiated?

Not everything at every company is negotiable, but the following is a list of those things that I've seen negotiated most often at separation time.

  • Unemployment benefits: Will the company contest your claims for unemployment compensation?
  • Severance pay: Can you receive company policy severance pay even though you've initiated the separation?
  • Reimbursement Educational Tuition: Are you still attending classes? Will they pay at the end of the semester even though you=re no longer there? If you goal is to return to school, how about an educational leave, with tuition reimbursement?
  • Employment status: Do you want to move from active status to leave-of-absence status? Or active to inactive?
  • Health insurance: Can it be extended beyond your last day at work?
  • Vacation pay: What happens if you have already used vacation that wasn=t really due you? Will they forgive it? What happens to any unused vacation time?
  • References: What will they say to whom?
  • Profit Sharing, Incentives, Annual Bonus: Can these be prorated or can you receive the full share?
  • retained search: Does the company have a history of providing retained search to departing employees? Even if they don't, will they provide it for you?
  • Office furniture: Can you buy your custom-designed, specially ordered furniture from the company?
  • Hardware, software or other personal technology devices: Does the company allow for purchase of these items?
  • Company cars: Do you want to buy out the lease? Club: Are there any conversion or extension privileges for dining club or country club?
  • Pensions: Don't leave anything on the table here. Ask for the present value of your pension. Are you bridged or hooked up from any prior interrupted or predecessor employment?
  • Loans: Do you hold any outstanding corporate loans? Negotiate the pay-outs or ask about incremental loan forgiveness.

Karyl Innis, is chairman, and chief executive officer of The Innis Company, a nationally-recognized human resource consulting firm, headquartered in Dallas, Texas. The firm works with Fortune 1000 and other companies throughout the country manage major corporate restructuring, mergers, and downsizing. They are experts in career trends and issues. Like Stybel Peabody of Boston, the firm is a member of Lincolnshire International Company.

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