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Why I Avoid “Short-Timer’s Syndrome”

Pamela Norman
December 18, 2020

Let’s face it. We’re all going to voluntarily leave our jobs someday. Whether it’s for a new job opportunity, starting a full-time education program, or for retirement, everyone has to give their employer the old “two week’s” at least once in their lives. Despite the anticipation and anxiousness that leads up to the actual event, once your intent to depart is finally out in the open, the hardest part of the process (for you) is usually over. Soon after the news spreads through the workplace grapevine, your soon-to-be former coworkers will almost certainly chat with you about your decision to leave and ask questions about what your next plans are. Amongst the initial congratulations and inquiries, someone will inevitably label you as a “short-timer” and more often than not (at least in my experience), they’ll say it out loud. Short-timers are a very different breed of worker and employers usually know what they’re in store for.

Descended from the Choloepus genus, the short-timer is a curious creature indeed. Typically seen entering the workplace after the start of the business day and leaving well before closing time, the short-timer doesn’t spend many full days in the office. Once the prominent workhorse, the short-timer looks to postpone projects until after it has left the pack, leaving others to pick up where the short-timer left off. The short-timer knows that it will soon be migrating to other employment, so it tries its best to coast through the 2-3 weeks it has left in its current habitat with lengthy feeding periods and only the briefest of business-related interactions. Short-timers typically remain in solitude to avoid detection from the rest of the herd. They are not included in full-clan activities. Short-timers simply lie in wait until they can move on to something new.

Despite your feelings about the job you’re leaving (some certainly have better experiences than others), it’s human nature to take a more detached approach towards something you know is coming to an end. “Who cares that the project will be set back 3 weeks? That missed deadline won’t have an effect on me. They can scramble for a while as the next guy gets brought up to speed.”

I’m a big proponent of never burning bridges in your professional life because you never know when you’ll run into someone from your past. I don’t care how much you hate the job/boss/department/desk/parking spot/temperature of the office/hours/microwave in the kitchen. When you leave your position, do so with with grace and professionalism. Both the short-term and long-term effects can far outweigh that moment of satisfaction when you leave your co-workers scrambling to handle the tasks you left behind.

Come to work on time.

No, seriously. Show up when you’re supposed to and prove to your company that you take your job seriously until the very end.  It will help leave a lasting impression when you’re gone.

If you can finish a project in your last 2 weeks, do so.

I once worked in a position that paid out a quarterly bonus if 80% of my projects for that quarter were completed. When I was leaving the company, it was right in the middle of a quarter. I worked very hard during my last two weeks there to get the hardest of the projects out of the way. A month or two into my new job, my final bonus check unexpectedly arrived in the mail. Sometimes, a little effort goes a long way.

Say “Thank You”.

Now’s the time to thank people for the things they’ve done for you on the job, big or small. Thank your boss for the new skills they taught you and the advice they gave over the years (that’s if they taught you anything). Take a few minutes to thank your co-worker for the help they gave you straightening out that budgeting mix-up a few months ago. Saying thank you is a great way to transition to my next point.

Spend some one-on-one time with your co-workers.

I find that once I give my notice, most of my co-workers are MUCH friendlier with me and are willing to talk on a more personal level with me than when we were colleagues. Even if its simple smalltalk, you can learn a lot about people during the time you have left at your job. A lot of times, I come to find that I would have been much better friends with some of my co-workers had we opened up more while I was still working there.

Identify potential references.

This should be a no-brainer, but I know people who wait until they need a new job to ask former supervisors if they’ll provide reference checks. Take down the mailing address, email address and phone number the reference wants you to list. Don’t assume it’s their cell phone number and work email address. That’s not always the case, so take the time to verify which contact information they want you use.

If you’re willing to help after you’re gone, let them know.

Usually, I let my former supervisors know that they can call or email me if they have questions about something I may have worked on in the past and they always appreciate that sentiment. If you’re going to get a call from them, it’s going to be within a month or two of you leaving anyway, so the information will still be fresh in your mind. I’ve only been called once or twice and it was usually a quick question, such as the password to some obscure system. In a few seconds, I was able to save them the trouble of having to come up with a workaround to get in.

I know what you’re thinking. Why should I do this for a company that never cared about me/screwed me over last year/skipped over me for a promotion/*other awful thing the company did*? Simply put, you’re not doing it for the company. You’re doing it for the people. People who will also leave the company someday. People who will remember the things you did when a potential employer calls them as a reference for you. I once got called by an HR rep to interview for a job that I was VERY underqualified for. As it turned out, the HR person was someone I worked with 9 years earlier at a small marketing firm when she was a project manager. She saw my name in the list of applicants and convinced management to bring me in for the interview, even though we both knew my chances of actually getting the job were slim. It’s a small world and over the course of your career, you WILL run into people when you least expect it. When you do, wouldn’t it be nice to meet up with an ally rather than an enemy?

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