Last impressions count. You can be an absolute pro at work for years, you can try your hardest, lean in, produce great work, and add value; and then it happens. For whatever reason, you decide you’re going to leave (or someone decides for you), and the next thing you know, you’re in the last weeks of your job. During this phase, you let people know that you’re leaving, hand over your work and your responsibilities, and prepare yourself mentally to move on. It’s at this point that you have a choice: you can keep your head in the game, or you can let things slide. I believe that it’s during this last phase of your job that you have to work harder than ever to wrap things up, properly hand things over, transfer as much of your knowledge as possible, and set others up for success after you’re gone.
You need to spend your final days doing consistently good work. Adding value. Staying positive. Doing your job well. Being sure to leave your responsibilities in a clean state that will be easy for someone else to pick up. Until you walk out the door with your mug and photos in hand, you must continue to do a great job with a smile on your face.
Because, of course, it’s that last stretch by which you are measured. It does not matter how big a rock star you’ve been over the years; if you start to whine now, slag the company and your manager, let your work ethic slip, or in any way let your leaving negatively affect your attitude/abilities/impact, that is ultimately how you will be remembered.
I’ve been through a few of these in my career, and I’ve coached many others through this period, and it takes resolve. It is hard. It is tempting to let things go a bit, to not do your best work or to not stay positive or engaged, because hey, you’re leaving anyway. But in reality, it is how you leave a thing that says a lot about who you are as a professional. If you burn down the forest on the way out, people will remember.
It might help to bear in mind that, in today’s job market where employees move around more often, your path will inevitably cross with many of your former coworkers’. In fact, any number of those people may one day start a company, manage a team, or hear about a job opening, and they will either reach out to you or avoid you, depending on what they remember of you.
If you haven’t always done this, don’t despair. While you can’t go back in time and take the high road on your way out the door, with some effort you can put a less-than-rosy past behind you. It shows strength and courage to reach out to people and to acknowledge your mistakes. It is powerful to extend an olive branch, to apologize, to retract harsh criticism, or to make genuine efforts to reconnect and start fresh. Most people understand that we all evolve over time, through trials and reflection, and you will discover that most people have at some point benefitted from a second chance.
SO. If this is your last week at work, be your best. Make people excited to see what great things you’ll do next. Make them look forward to working with you again. Be grateful. Be professional. Leave a great last impression. And when you get an opportunity down the road to give someone a second chance, take it.