Resigning Respectfully

Author: Jonathan Attwood, Executive Director: Financial Services & Insurance


There is no such thing as a ‘job for life’ these days, which means that resigning from a role is part and parcel of the process of building your career.

As you move on to pursue new and exciting opportunities, whether that means entering a new industry, relocating to a different city or country, or even just moving to another floor in your building to join a different team, in every case you will need to go through the process of resigning from your current role and having that difficult conversation that so many people dread.

Resignation often doesn’t get much consideration during the process of looking for a new job. A great deal of energy and thought goes into your search, your applications, your interview preparation and your decision making. Once you’ve accepted an offer you’ve probably pictured your first day, set your intention for success in the role, but you may not have planned how to tell your boss the bad news.

Resigning respectfully is so important. No matter your reasons for leaving it is critical to handle this with the sensitivity it deserves and to part on good terms. The phase ‘don’t burn your bridges’ springs to mind, but handling it well isn’t just for your benefit. Losing a team member can have a big impact, not just on your boss but on the whole team, who might need to help cover your role whilst a replacement is found. Everyone benefits from a smooth and considerate transition.

It is increasingly common now for people to try and avoid difficult conversations like a resignation. Ghosting is a product of this (and is not uncommon in the recruitment industry), but avoidance doesn’t have to be as extreme as that, it also includes using text or email in place of what ought to be a two-way conversation. It goes without saying that a face-to-face meeting is a must; there should be ample opportunity to detail what is happening, show gratitude and for both parties to ask important questions. But aside from ensuring you deliver this news face-to-face, what else should you consider when you have accepted a new job and are planning to resign?


Prepare for the conversation

Firstly, decide when and where will it be appropriate to have the conversation. What are the daily rhythms in your team? Plan and book in a time when your boss will be fresh and available to talk without interruption. Consider what else might be happening that day and avoid picking a time before a meeting that is business critical.
Think through the conversation and plan out what you will say. Write a script, even practice with yourself in the mirror if you’re nervous to ensure your delivery is right. Again, this is an in-person meeting, or a virtual video call if that’s not possible. Never resign by phone call, text or email, it shows a lack of character.

Depending on your role it may be possible that you will be walked from the building once you have resigned. If this is likely you need to be prepared to easily leave the premises following your meeting without disruption to other team members and in a way that is calm and dignified.


Provide the required notice at a minimum

You will be contracted to provide a minimum amount of notice. Out of respect you should plan for that and not try to negotiate a shorter period. It takes time to backfill a role or to train other team members to take on your responsibilities, take this into consideration and, if anything, consider offering any extra time you might be able to give.


Think through your handover

Spend some time going through your active work and making a plan for how you will execute your handover. Showing that you’re organised and have thought through the critical work that will not be completed before the end of your notice period will help your transition be a lot smoother. A good handover includes documented process and detailed notes as well as training where required to bring colleagues up to speed. Your team will appreciate you making it as easy for them as possible to pick up any uncompleted projects and you will leave on good terms.


Put your resignation in writing

This should be short and to the point, a few lines or a short paragraph or two is enough. Offer any key dates, such as when you intend your last day to be, so they can plan ahead. You can also take this opportunity to thank them for the opportunity and to show gratitude for what you have learnt in the role. Remember, this is not the place to detail your reasons for leaving, it should focus on the facts and remain positive.


Providing a reason for leaving

This is a tricky area. My advice would be, don’t over-share. You might have things you want to get off your chest, but it’s always better to leave amicably than dramatically. If you feel a duty to give feedback, request an exit interview through Human Resources if one isn’t arranged automatically, but again, share your feedback constructively and with respect.


Be empathetic

A good way to prepare for your meeting is to put yourself in your manager’s shoes and consider how they might react. It is likely they aren’t prepared for you to leave and if they are expecting it they won’t know when it’s coming so it will likely catch them off-guard. Their thoughts are probably on growth, so it’s natural they might feel defensive, whether they show it or not. Be aware of this and stay calm however it plays out, remembering that you’re leaving for the right reasons.


Consider the possibility of a counter-offer

Counter-offers are happening more than ever in the current job market. If you haven’t considered that this might happen it could be unsettling. If you are given a counter-offer it’s a sign of panic and a short-term solution for your manager who probably hasn’t factored in a new recruitment process. Remember why you’re leaving, it’s very likely it’s about more than just money. Ask yourself why your company didn’t value you enough to offer a salary increase before.


Reflect on past resignations

Unless you are just starting out in your career it’s likely that you’ve needed to resign before. Think back to how it went. What questions were you asked? Was there anything you might have done differently or handled better? How did it make you feel? If you were very nervous what strategies might you employ this time to calm your mind before the meeting?


Like ending any relationship or partnership, resigning is never pleasant, but it is a necessary part of the process of moving jobs. Don’t put it off, the pressure will only grow. Remember that you will feel enormous relief once it’s done and if it’s executed well it paves the way for a smooth period as you work your notice and leave on good terms.