Let’s face it. Not every employer-employee relationship is a match made in heaven. Even if your employment situation is everything you wanted and more, life can throw you a curveball at any time. When that unexpected event happens, you may need to bid adieu to your place of work. These scenarios can be chaotic. I have heard horror stories from individuals who intended on leaving their employer without any trouble, but ended up in a tangled, work permit-related quandary. Transferring from employer to employer can be dicey when you live in China, particularly due to your work permit and residency permit being bound to your employer. Because of this, you require a release letter from your current employer in order to take a job with a new school or company whilst still under contract with your current employer. To get a better understanding of how to quit your job in China without putting yourself into a tight spot, I spoke to several seasoned employment agents and veteran foreign teachers.
The first person I spoke to about quitting your job in China was Peter. Peter is originally from the United Kingdom and is currently a foreign teacher in China. He also is working part time as a recruiter, and has helped multiple expats find employment abroad. “With Chinese employers, the best thing to do is to give your resignation notice and serve out that time. At least then you can leave on amicable terms. In my experience, the HR departments at schools in China aren’t always the easiest to work with in these situations. Make sure that they are willing to transfer your visa and are prepared to do so before you even start looking for a job.”
This is wise advice for anyone who wants to switch employers. The HR department of your school will be who handles your resignation and the transferring of your work permit. Unfortunately, you may be at their mercy if you are planning to hand in your notice and take a job elsewhere within China.
Freda, a long-time career consultant with Foreign HR who helps candidates from around the world to find work in China, weighed in on this topic. “Usually the school’s HR department will ask you if you would like to re-sign the contract around four months before the end of the current, active contract.” She also mentioned that this is a great time to negotiate for a higher salary. “It is important to be honest at this time. You can interview while you are anticipating the end of your contract. Once you have settled on your next job, tell your employer immediately. Schools always cooperate as long as you’re being honest throughout the transfer process. I mean, if you tell the school you do not plan to leave, re-sign the contract, then continue to look for employment elsewhere, you are going to upset them and they will not release you.”
Honesty is very important.
No matter what you do, do not operate deceptively. Tell your employer your intentions and keep everything above board. If your employer knows what you plan to do, they can adjust their plan accordingly. If you are cogitating about signing a new contract with your school, but aren’t sure you’re going to stay, don’t make the mistake of signing it as a “back-up plan” in case another job prospect doesn’t work out.
I was able to reach out to Julian, an experienced foreign teacher originally from England. He shared a recent experience his colleagues had while working at his last school. “The school I've just left gave everyone their release letters far too late, so the teachers that have resigned are forced to reapply for a new work permit. That left a lot of people angry. I wasn't transferring straight to another school so it didn't matter so much to me. I believe talking to the head of the foreign HR department about leaving, as early as possible, is always the approach to take. Also, writing an official resignation letter was how other teachers I know left their jobs. Everything has to be done well ahead of time because the Chinese HR tend to leave things to the last minute in my experience.”
This is commonplace in China. HR departments have a tendency to wait until the last moment to process resignations and issue the appropriate documents. Your legal residency and expiring work permit are on the line, not theirs. Take matters into your own hands. Act on your intentions as early as you can.
Sometimes you may be in a circumstance where you absolutely need to leave. It may be work-related or it may be a personal problem. Although it isn’t advised that you leave your school mid-contract, it sometimes happens. Adrian, an experienced foreign educator from Canada, shared his thoughts on one way to leave without ensnaring yourself. “Well, you should first thank your current employer for their services. Thank them for the wonderful job they have done and all the help they have given. Secondly, tell them politely that you’re planning to go back home to re-establish yourself. Start planning how will you get your paperwork to exit China. After this, you can go home and start re-applying for new opportunities when you are ready to do so. Although it is possible to still do everything within China and transfer employers successfully, if you’re smart and want to completely avoid complications for yourself, this way will save you the hassle of problems with your old employer.”
This is definitely an option for someone who wants out of their current contract, but this method should be an absolute last resort. If you do want to end your contract early, this should only be done once, if ever. Employers you apply to in the future may question why you have switched from employer to employer without completing a contract, and this may cause schools to reject your application.
I referred to a recruiting specialist from Wales, named Scott, for his opinions on this occurrence. “It’s pretty difficult, as I have seen this go down from a training center’s perspective. When a teacher up and leaves, it can cause a lot of financial damage to the school.”
Scott raises a very valid point. If you do ditch your school and leave them out to dry, your students are left teacherless and the school will need to answer to their paying customers (the parents) about why classes have been cancelled or why a new teacher has been placed in your classroom. Another angle to consider is the effect this may have on your future applications. If you are hoping to eventually teach at a school with a high salary, in a position that is hotly contended, your lack of a recommendation letter or the evidence of your failure to finish a one-year contract may end up causing hiring managers to not move forward with you as a candidate.
Quitting Like a Pro
Seasons change and people switch jobs. This is a part of life. When you live and work in China as a teacher, potential employers expect to see one-year increments when they read your work history. Although we all hope to find a job with a perfect work environment, or to avoid family or health emergencies, there may be a time in everyone’s life where quitting your job is the only option. The key to preventing irreparable damage to your professional life when you need to resign from a position is honesty and the willingness to be upfront. If you are working at a school and plan to leave, speak with your HR department and see what can be done. Talk to your supervisor about why you want to leave, and remember to be professional throughout the process. Although quitting your job before you complete your contract is far from advisable, doing it once will not ruin your chances of getting back into China’s job market for foreign professionals, but if you become a repeat-offender and abandon job after job, it will eventually catch up to you.
If you have questions about quitting your job and transferring to a new one, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.