· 15 mins · Communication

How to resign from a job without burning bridges

Wait! Don’t throw your computer out the window! Let’s walk through tips for how to resign from your job on good terms.

Avatar of Nicole Kahansky Nicole Kahansky

Resigning from a job is a difficult career transition that can be emotional and tricky to navigate. 

You’re walking away from familiar territory   projects you’ve been working on, your achievements, a familiar role, your colleagues —  all of which can be anxiety-inducing. Even in the ideal circumstance, when you’re confident in your decision and excited for what’s next, the actual act of resigning is tough.

Plus, how you go about it will leave a lasting impact on your relationships. After all, this transition won’t only affect you but also those you leave behind. It could cause a delay in deliverables, increase in workload, or maybe just sadness over the loss of a trusted colleague. 

That means you need to think through how you leave as it will determine how easy the transition is on you, your boss, and your colleagues.

And listen, we get it. Everyone’s circumstance is different and it’s not always possible to leave on great terms. But if not to avoid burning bridges, take the high road so you can look back and not regret acting rashly when emotions were running high.

In this post, we’ll cover:

Ready? Let’s dive in:

Common reasons why people resign from a job

Companies are struggling to retain their employees. As we resume some form of “normalcy” in the workplace after the pandemic, more people are leaving their jobs than ever before. In fact, a survey by Monster reveals that 95% of employees want to leave their current jobs.

We surveyed 141 people, and almost half of them said that two or more people in their department quit in the last 6 months alone.

How many people quit from your department in the last 6 months poll results

Why’s everyone so determined to leave their jobs? Let’s take a look at some common reasons: 

Money 

This is a big one for obvious reasons. If people feel undervalued or have seen they can make a much higher salary elsewhere (as often happens when you switch companies) it can be a big motivator to leave. In fact, the latest workforce vitality report from ADP found that while average wage growth only increased 1.5% in June 2021 relative to the previous year, it’s up by 5.8% for those who switch jobs.

Unethical behavior

When companies don’t live up to their brand values, such as integrity and honesty, they’re likely to lose their employees. Values aren’t just something that should be created for the sake of a marketing website. They should be carried through in your company’s day-to-day. Employees don’t want to attach themselves to organizations whose activities conflict with their own values. 

Basecamp’s implosion this past April is a great example of this. After the company’s co-founders announced that conversations about politics at work would be prohibited, 30% of their staff resigned. 

Lack of transparency

A lack of transparency often causes employees to lose confidence in their employer. If a company’s not honest about what’s going on — whether it be a wave of exits, poor business results, or an upcoming change, trust easily deteriorates.

When leadership isn’t honest about what’s happening, this can cause fear about the future and push people to look for other opportunities. 

Lack of flexibility

Flexibility is becoming increasingly important to people. A study by Buffer reveals that 57% of employees would prefer to work remotely as it allows them to work from anywhere and manage their schedules to achieve a work-life balance. Now that so many companies have become more flexible with remote or hybrid workplaces, companies can’t afford to be rigid.

Plus, work flexibility has positive effects for everyone, including increased productivity and happiness. 

Toxic work environment

There are countless factors that contribute to a toxic work environment. To name a few: discrimination, bullying, stifled growth, lack of trust and poor leadership make employees feel unsafe at work. Regardless of what the reason is, a toxic work environment is exhausting and takes away from the actual work at hand. No one wants to deal with that.

So, should you resign?

While a lot of the above reasons are clear-cut ones to move on to new opportunities, it’s not always so easy to decide if leaving is right for you. Azeem Ahmad of Azeem Digital suggests the following three steps to help you make an informed decision if you’re unsure whether resigning is the right move for you:

  1. Sit in a room, remove every distraction/device and get a piece of paper. Divide it into two areas — pros and cons. 
  2. Now write down the pros and cons of you resigning, just off the bat. 
  3. If you’re struggling to find the pros, ask yourself — is this move right for me? For the opposite, if you struggle to find the cons, you’re probably along the right lines.

The importance of resigning from a job without burning bridges

Resigning from your job is a natural transition in your career that most people go through at least a couple times. Despite this, when it comes time to tell your manager you’re leaving, it can be a difficult conversation to have.

While you hope that your manager will be happy for you and help you transition smoothly, this isn’t always the case.

Allowing their negative reaction to get on your nerves or affect how you approach your resignation isn’t a good move. While you may feel like saying screw it, ripping up your work and throwing it out the window, acting rashly is something you’ll regret down the line. 

It’s true that you’re moving on and won’t need to face your current employer on a daily basis anymore. But that doesn’t mean you won’t cross paths again or even need them to be a reference down the line.

A good practice in your career is to treat all relationships like long-term ones. Brennan, our CEO and co-founder, said it best:

Keep in mind, if you hold a leadership position in your company, you’re not only resigning from your manager but also from your team. And how you act when you’re leaving will have a lasting impression on how your direct reports view you as a manager. Now’s not the time to stop leading by example! If the tables were turned and they were the ones resigning, how would you want them to approach it?

Plus, your relationships with your direct reports are equally as important as your relationship with your manager. These are people who you might hire again in the future. Or who knows, maybe you’ll end up working for them. It’s a small world — especially if you’re staying in the same industry.

Don’t get us wrong: you don’t have to leave hugging every single person. After all, in most cases, there’s a reason why you’re leaving. But, at the very least, leave on neutral ground if it’s possible.

How to resign from your job

Once you’ve made your decision that it’s time to leave, consider these best practices to help you resign from your job on good terms:

Determine how much notice you’re going to give

Companies have different requirements when it comes to the amount of notice you’re supposed to give. This is a good time to refer back to your employment contract.

Typically notice ranges anywhere from 2-4 weeks. Giving more than 4 weeks means that you might be checked out before you leave — or they could ask you to leave sooner. And giving less notice puts your company in a bind to find someone new. Not a great way to leave on a good note. Going with the time frame outlined in your contract is ideal.

Book a meeting with your manager

Once you determine the amount of notice to give, book a one-on-one meeting with your manager as soon as you can to share the news.

This is a situation that cannot, we repeat cannot, be an email. Since this is a difficult conversation, it’s important to have it synchronously. Depending on your current setup (remote or onsite) do it in person or through a call. 

These meetings can be scary. Neha Pujari, Sr. Content Marketing Manager, Blazeclan Technologies advises:

‘’Resignation conversations are always going to be a bit awkward. However, you can iron out the awkwardness by asking yourself the following questions to make sure you have thought through the move: Is the next role a good fit for me? What if I get a counteroffer? What if they give me a different role and ask me to stay? Prepare yourself with the intention of resignation and using the correct etiquettes can project you as a trustworthy professional.”

Neha Pujari, Blazeclan technologies

Rehearse what you’re going to say

Resigning can be a stressful situation that gives rise to a lot of emotion. On the one hand, if you feel connected to the team and the company, you might feel guilty about quitting. On the other hand, if you’re on the opposite end of the spectrum and you feel wronged, you might feel angry. 

Whatever the case is, finding the right words to say when quitting a job is hard. Don’t let your emotions overwhelm you. Go in prepared with what you want to say by rehearsing it beforehand.

This helps you know what to say when you’re resigning and prevents you from saying hurtful things in case you’re feeling reactive. You’ll also have the courage to follow through with your resignation.

When deciding what to say, Jacalyn Beales of Lever has good advice: 

“Most of us resign from a role to make a move that’s in the best interests of our career, and ourselves, too. I’ve always found the best approach to resigning without burning that perpetual bridge is to be clear but concise about your reason for leaving, and express your thanks for the opportunity to learn from your experiences at the company. At the end of the day, no one will care as much about your career as you do—so, be respectful but confident in your decision to leave. No one can fault you for that (and you can walk away with your head held high).”

Jacalyn Beales, Lever

Create a paper trail for your resignation

Once you’ve shared the news, send a resignation letter via email to your manager and anyone else who needs to know about your resignation (e.g HR).

We’ve drafted a short and sweet template to help you know what to include in your resignation email:

Dear (manager), 

Please accept this letter as a formal notification that I’m leaving my position at (company name) on (date of departure).

Thank you for the opportunities you’ve provided during my time with (company name). I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with you and the entire (company name) team. I’ve learned so much here and am looking forward to carrying that knowledge with me in the future. 

If I can be of any assistance during this transition, please let me know. 

Sincerely, 
(your name)

Ps. before sending the resignation letter, it’s a good idea to ask your manager who should be included in the communication to avoid stepping on toes. For example, they may prefer to share it with HR themselves. 

Share the news with your direct reports as soon as possible

If you’re managing a team, you want to make sure that your resignation doesn’t catch them by surprise. 

You play a huge role in their work lives, and your departure will be a big change for them. Let your team know you’re leaving to prepare them for the transition and any reorganization that may happen after you leave. You’ll want to discuss how to approach the announcement of your departure with your team and your company at large.

Remember that your direct reports need to continue working there once you’re gone. So try not to speak ill of the company. This will demotivate them and decrease morale. Do what you can to support them through the transition. 

Offer constructive feedback

Between the day you share the news with your manager and your final day, you might be requested to provide feedback in an offboarding meeting

Questions like “What influenced your decision to leave?’’ and “What could we have done better?’’ sound easy to answer in theory. But, in practice, giving constructive feedback is never easy. 

Providing constructive feedback to your employer won’t only help them, it’ll also help current and future employees. For example, if you’re leaving because you want a flexible schedule, let them know how a lack of flexibility affected you and your performance at work. Hopefully, your honesty will help them improve flexibility for your coworkers who are still there. 

Deb Mukherjee, Marketing Manager at Wonderment advises:

“​​Explain to them in *detail* why you’re leaving. If it’s because of the manager or the company culture, explain that. But don’t lose your temper. Everyone’s open to feedback but there’s no need to be rude. Just remember that you’re already done with the company, you don’t need to start a fight.”

Deb Mukherjee, Wonderment.

Set offboarding expectations

There’s never a good time to resign from a job, and you’ll likely have projects that are on the go. Off the bat, set expectations for what you’ll get done before you leave, how you’ll hand off remaining work and next steps for the team.

Will you be finishing up on your projects? Will you be training a colleague to take over your position? Are there systems and processes you need to document or update? 

Garrett Sussman, Demand Generation Manager at iPullRank explains why this is important:

“When you’ve got a ton of responsibilities, it’s essential to document your processes. Too often, your company doesn’t know *everything* that you do. When I left my last job, I made sure to create a doc with all of my current unfinished projects and their completion requirements, processes for weekly responsibilities, and even recorded loom videos showing how I complete tasks. It was important that I left the company and the coworkers I loved in a great position to not lose any steam when I had moved on to my next adventure.”

Garrett Sussman, iPullRank

5 Things to avoid when resigning

Now you know the basic steps for how to resign diplomatically. But before writing that resignation letter or booking that meeting with your manager, consider the following 5 pitfalls to avoid. 

1. Speaking ill of people 

When giving feedback, avoid placing blame on specific colleagues. For example, Joe might have denied you an opportunity to talk and share your thoughts during meetings. Here’s what placing the blame on him would look like:

“Joe always interrupted me and the rest of the team always let it happen, so I don’t feel valued here,” 

This doesn’t look good for Joe, but it also doesn’t look good for you, as it can make you come off as petty. However, if you strongly feel the need to call out a specific behavior, talk about the process rather than the individual. Here’s what that looks like:

“One of the reasons that led me to consider other opportunities was that my voice never felt truly valued on the team. This was something that I brought up in the past but, unfortunately, I don’t feel like things have improved. While I love X, Y, and Z, about the company and team… I think that this was something that was missing for me here.”

At the end of the day, it’s the company culture/structure that allowed them to behave in that way. Try to keep your personal relationships out of it. 

Arina Kharlamova of Precision Nutrition explains: 

“Just try to remember that the job and the people are separate entities. Reach out personally to people you have a bond with and connect with them before you go to let them know what you loved about working with them. Oh, and leave a place to reach you when you announce your departure to the company!”

Arina Kharlamova, Precision Nutrition

2. Putting anything negative in writing

We can’t stress this one enough for a number of reasons. Firstly, when you return your computer to your employer, they’ll likely be able to access your email, Slack, etc. Secondly, leaving a paper trail of negative comments risks those comments getting into the wrong hands. 

People will want to know why you’re leaving and you likely have some negative things to say (given that you’re leaving). But if you feel the need to be brutally honest, do so in person (and diplomatically if possible!) 

3. Bragging about your new job

If you’ve found a better opportunity and a senior role at another company, you have every right to be excited and proud of yourself. 

However, you don’t have to rub it in everyone’s face by sharing unnecessary details about your new job. 

Express gratitude for your time at the company, excitement for your new opportunity, and leave it at that. 

4. Leaving projects hanging 

If you still have projects going on by the time you’re leaving, finish them. If you can’t finish the projects before your last day, hand it over to a trusted colleague and provide all the information they need to run it to completion. 

Also, avoid taking on long-term projects if you know that you’re going to resign. There might be delays if it takes a while to find someone to replace you. 

5. Giving mixed signals

Before you resign, make sure you’re honest with yourself about why you’re leaving and then make a commitment to leave. 

Dropping hints that you’re going to leave, failing to show up for work, bringing a negative attitude to your work,  or even using your resignation to negotiate for better pay or promotion aren’t the best ways to leave. 

All these mixed signals are a sign of indecisiveness and leave your colleagues and boss confused about your intentions, and feeling the impact of your dicontent. If you want to leave, do so without unnecessary delays.

To avoid this, it’s helpful to get super clear with both yourself why you’re leaving and put it into action.

Conclusion

If you’ve been through it, you already know: resigning from a job isn’t easy. No matter if you’re leaving because you weren’t happy, you found a new opportunity, or both — it’s important to keep in mind that resigning isn’t necessarily goodbye.

While you may want nothing to do with the company itself, protect the relationships you’ve built with the people there. That means approaching your resignation tactfully, doing a proper handoff and providing helpful feedback. You never know when your paths are going to cross again.

The tips we provided will you navigate the murky waters of resignation and get to shore with your relationships and professional reputation intact.

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