How to Tell Your Boss You’re Quitting

Updated May 22, 20234 min
How to Tell Your Boss You’re Quitting

How to Tell Your Boss You’re Quitting

Elise GelwicksUpdated May 22, 20234 min
How to Tell Your Boss You’re Quitting

You’ve decided to quit, and now you have to tell your boss. You might relish the idea of telling a difficult boss that you are leaving, but hold on before you get too smug or leave them in a lurch. 

Even though you are leaving the job for a new position, the way that you break the news could have long-term ramifications. You want to leave on good terms if you hope to get a reference or if you want to maintain a professional relationship with your employer on LinkedIn.

Here’s how to say "I quit" the right way.

Explore All of Your Options

Sometimes you might think that leaving is your only choice, but there might be another option. For example, if you are leaving to take care of a family member, your employer might offer for you to work part-time or remotely, giving you better work-life balance.

 If you are leaving for financial reasons, your employer might be willing to give you a raise. It’s worth a try, and what have you got to lose?

Talk to human resources or your manager if you think an alternative arrangement might mean you would be happy to stay.

Think About How You Want It to Play Out

It’s a small world and you never know who you’ll cross paths with or need in your future. Within professional circles, word gets around, and it is wise to protect your reputation. It’s not worth it to run the risk that an upset previous employer of yours is on the war path and speaks poorly of you to others. You also don’t want to take the chance that a company you’re excited about working for decides to reach out to your prior manager and you had left on bad terms. While it is rare an employer will speak poorly about a former employee because they can be accused of slander, don’t take the risk! 

It pays then to do your best to leave on a good note, which means doing what you can to help your employer find someone to replace you and ensure a smooth transition.

As with any professional step that you take, preparation is key. Before you quit, consider how you want it to play out. Do you want to leave with a recommendation or reference in hand? Are you prepared to work more than two weeks’ notice, or do you want to leave as soon as you can? Are you prepared to stay and train a newbie to replace you? The answers to these questions will dictate how you quit so that you don't burn bridges.

What to Do if You Want to Leave Now

What you say when you leave could reach future employers, so if you are anxious to leave, keep things positive, and don’t let your emotions get the better of you.

That said, if you suspect that your old employer may make things difficult for you, do your homework in terms of checking your financial, legal, and health insurance situation, and prepare a surgical strike.

Check the terms of your contract to find out your obligations regarding giving notice. If you are required to give two weeks’ notice, your last day will be two weeks after you have delivered your resignation letter.

A resignation letter states your final day at work and expresses gratitude to your employer for the opportunity to work for them. You do not have to give the reasons for leaving, although you can if you want.

It is best to deliver the letter to your boss face-to-face and to give them the news at the same time. This shows that you are sure about your decision and not open to negotiation. Depending on your boss’s situation, they may try to persuade you to change your mind or stay longer than you would like, but stick to your guns and keep the conversation short.

If a conversation with your boss is out of the question, send an email or make a phone call. Follow up with a formal letter of resignation, and always be professional.

Can You Quit Without Notice?

The answer is yes. Legally, you don’t have to give notice because most states have at-will employment. That means both the employer and the employee can end the relationship at any time without stating a cause regardless of what your contract or employment handbook states.

However, if you have a contract or employment agreement, it might state that you will forfeit certain benefits, such as unused vacation, if you don’t serve out the stated notice. Also, keep in mind that you may not be eligible for unemployment benefits if you leave a job without good cause.

When Not to Give Two Weeks Notice

There are some circumstances where you should not give two weeks notice. These include if an employee or supervisor has been physically abusive or sexually harassed you, if the work environment is hostile or unsafe, if your mental health is being affected, if you have been asked to do something that you are uncomfortable with because it is illegal or unethical, or you have a personal crisis and cannot continue the job.

Why You Should Serve Out Your Notice

If you serve out your notice, you avoid losing out financially. You will receive the two weeks pay, and you won’t be subject to any penalties that might apply if you don’t serve out your notice. It’s best to have a new job already lined up or at least have the funds to live comfortably for six months.

Your health insurance is another reason to serve out your notice. If you don’t have another job, you should check whether you are eligible for continued coverage under COBRA. Another option for health insurance is the Health Insurance Marketplace.

What to Do if You Are Not Anxious to Leave

If you like your job and are not in a hurry to leave. Your approach can be a little more diplomatic. You might discuss with your boss how you can help with the transition before you submit your resignation. You might even agree to a longer notice period. 

When you do leave, offer to provide a status update on your projects so that your supervisor and teammates can take over where you left off. Your current employer will appreciate any help that you can give to find a replacement. You might offer to interview potential candidates, stay on until they are trained, and be available to staff who have questions after you have left.

Taking this approach will ensure that on your last day of work you leave on a good note and maintain a relationship with your former employer that could be to your advantage.

In your cover letter, again include the date of your last day, a reason for leaving, and a thank you. You do not need to go into detail about the specifics of your next job or new opportunity. You can, however, say that you landed a job that allows you to advance your career, you are headed to graduate school, you are caring for an elderly parent, or relocating because your spouse who has a new job. This context can be appreciated.

Be careful not to say anything that might reflect poorly on your employer.

When Things Don’t Go as Expected

Life has a habit of throwing us curve balls. You might think you know what your employer’s reaction will be when you resign, but you might be surprised. You do not know what your manager knows, and your manager may ask you to leave immediately, stay longer, or reconsider your decision entirely.

How to deal with the unexpected is to have a plan for every possibility. 

What to Do in Case You Are Asked to Leave … Now

You might be asked to give up your laptop or company phone on the spot when you resign. Before you resign, remove all of your personal files or information from your computer or back them up. Be careful not to take files or documents that are the company’s property and that you are not permitted to take with you.

Delete any software or apps that you downloaded, and delete your browsing history, cookies, saved passwords, and saved forms from your web browsers. To do this, go to "Tools" on your internet browser. There should be an option to "Delete Browsing History" or "Clear Private Data."

Before resigning, be sure to back up any documents and projects belonging to you. If you need any personal files or information on your work computer or phone, email a copy to yourself and then remove them from the work device. If you have email messages that you want to save, forward them to a private email address and then delete them.

Make sure you have the email addresses and phone numbers of the coworkers you want to stay in contact with. Once you have resigned, you can send a goodbye to coworkers and share your contact information. Don’t do this beforehand, however, as your boss may not appreciate hearing the news through the grapevine.

Take home anything from your office that is yours and that you don’t want to leave.

What to Do if Your Manager Doesn’t Want You to Quit

If your employer asks you to stay longer to ease the transition, you are in a good position to ask for something in return. That could be a letter of recommendation or something else of benefit.

If your manager values you, they may try to persuade you to stay by offering a counteroffer and a higher salary. If your decision is final and you still want to leave, tell your boss.

If it is a difficult decision, it is perfectly understandable that you might want to take some time to think the offer over. Make a list of pros and cons for staying. Consider whether your original reason for leaving would still remain. 

For example, if you are leaving your current position because you are unhappy with your compensation, that might be something that could change, and you might be happier staying in your job if your compensation is better. 

However, if you are leaving because there is no room for professional growth at the company, that is not something that will change, and you would merely be delaying the inevitable by staying and hindering your advancement. 

If you are still struggling with the decision, seek career advice from an old college professor, someone with experience you trust, a career expert, or a career coach.

A Word of Warning

If you decide to rescind your resignation, bear in mind that you have already shown your hand to your employer. Your employer knows that you are considering leaving and that might affect the way that you are treated. Think carefully about whether it is still wise for you to stay. Your employer may keep you on only as long as it takes them to find a replacement.

Preparation is key to ensuring that you avoid a war and maintain a positive relationship with your employer. Preparation will also ensure that you are not too inconvenienced if the unexpected happens and you are asked to surrender your weapons and leave immediately. Do your best to leave a job on a positive note so that your employer paints you in a good light if they are contacted by potential employers in the future.

The main takeaways are that quitting your job is not something you should do hastily. Take your time to develop a transition plan, do your research, consider other solutions, and prepare for the unexpected.

Elise Gelwicks
Elise is a communications and emotional intelligence training consultant for companies and law firms

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