You got your dream job! Or you want to devote time to non-work pursuits. Or you’re just ready to go. Before you sign off for good, you have to tell your boss you’re quitting.
Suddenly, you’re tongue-tied.
Overthinking, nerves, hating confrontation—a lot can potentially make quitting your job more stressful than it needs to be. And telling a boss—especially one you might be intimidated by—that you’re leaving can be nerve-racking. Here’s what to say and what not to say so you can easily navigate telling your boss you’re quitting.
How to tell your boss you’re quitting: Steps to prepare
Once you’ve decided you’re quitting, you might want to sprint into your boss’s office with the good (for you) news. Tempting, but give yourself a day (if you have it) to plan what you’ll say and tie up any loose ends with human resources.
“Before you leave, do your best to obtain some letters of recommendation from mentors and others at the organization who can speak highly of you,” Caprino says. Also, reach out to LinkedIn contacts who can publicly endorse you for your relevant skills.
Remember to check in with HR so you know exactly where you stand with benefits and if you’re required through an employment contract or company policy to give more than two weeks’ notice.
You’ll want these checked off your “to-do” list before you talk to your boss about quitting just in case they decide your last day is… the same day you deliver the news.
“Make sure you are fully ready to leave that day (or that moment) if they decide after you resign that they do not wish you to remain on the premises,” Caprino says. “Have all the information, records, documents, etc. you need to take with you, including all property that is yours.”
You’ll also want to write a resignation letter that you can hand to your boss when you meet with them. There needs to be a written record of you quitting, and when your final day is. Check out these resignation letter tips to make sure you cover what’s needed.
Once all that is settled, you can get to the actual news…
How to tell your boss you’re quitting: What to say
First, whenever possible, quit in person.
Workplace expert and Texas A&M University associate professor Dr. Anthony Klotz has studied the effects of resignations on both employees and workplaces for years. “Our research has found that organizations and managers respond poorly to emailing a boss or leaving a note on her desk,” Klotz tells Bloomberg. “In email you can’t control the tone, and it often comes off wrong. You want to resign in as positive a way as possible.”
Yes, quitting in person can feel more stressful than sending an email—but it can be very anxiety-inducing to wait for confirmation that your boss received that email. Imagine running into them in the kitchen after sending an “I’m leaving” message and not being sure if they got it. Plus, having conversations you think could be difficult is a great experience for growth.
Depending on how you usually set up meetings with your boss, you can send a meeting request, use an already-scheduled meeting time if one is on the calendar, or try to catch them in their office when they’re free. Setting up a specific time is best so that way you both will be prepared for a meeting.
Next: Remember to give the actual news that you’re leaving. Don’t let your nerves cause you to bury the lede here. Tell them directly that you’ve decided to leave and when your last day will be.
That’s all you have to say, although that may feel abrupt. How much information you give will depend on what kind of relationship you have with your boss.
Caprino says you can also give your thanks and appreciation for the time you spent at the company, along with anything else you are appreciative of, like what you learned or how you grew as an employee, and offer to help transition your projects and responsibilities before you go.
What you don’t have to do is give details on why you’re leaving and what you will be doing, if you don’t want to.
“You absolutely do not have to give a reason for leaving, but for many folks who perhaps have had a great relationship with their managers and want to give a bit of context for the resignation, they might want to share something in the way of explanation,” Caprino says. “That’s fine as long as it’s a positive reflection on you.”
Some things that would be a positive reflection:
You found a new, exciting role with great career growth potential
You found a role with new challenges you’re ready for
You’re looking for a career pivot to a new field or industry
You found a shorter commute or a work-from-home role
You’re taking time to focus on family or education or travel or whatever you want!
If your boss responds positively, you can ask if you can use them as a reference in the future, or tell them you plan to stay in touch, then move on to talking about what you can do specifically to help transition your role.
How to tell your boss you’re quitting: Getting the tone right
One of the most important parts of telling your boss you’re quitting is keeping a professional tone, even if you find it difficult.
“Be respectful, courteous, and controlled in your departing words and demeanor,” Caprino says. “How you leave and the professionalism and self-mastery you demonstrate is what will be remembered.”
Be prepared for a range of reactions. You might think you know how your boss will react and witness something completely different.
“I have heard multiple instances of employees being caught off-guard by bosses who broke into tears upon learning of the resignations or who confided that they were departing as well,” Klotz writes in The Wall Street Journal.
If you’re met with tears—or anger or frustration—from your boss, focus on remaining the cool one.
“Often, if you’re a trusted and respected employee, your boss may become upset, disappointed, or even angry that you’ve chosen to leave and they may share that,” Caprino says. “The best way to handle that is to not engage in an emotional discussion, and not to apologize. If they say they are upset to lose you, you can say something like:
“I appreciate your kind words about my work, and I’m sorry that you’re disappointed.”
You can even offer to leave sooner if you think it’s better for you to not be in the office:
“I’d like to stay to help with the transition, but I also don’t want to disrupt the office. Would it be better for you if I leave sooner rather than later?”
Being the “bigger person” in this scenario will help you in the long run. Regardless of your boss’s reaction, you don’t want to respond in a way that people will be talking about negatively for months—or years!—after.
How to tell your boss you’re quitting: Set a communication plan
After you get through the big news, before you leave your resignation meeting, talk to your boss about how you’ll inform others that you’re leaving.
“It is critical that employees control the messaging about why they are leaving and what they are planning to do next—or else leaders might miscommunicate details, intentionally or not,” Klotz writes in The Wall Street Journal. Klotz says since there’s a chance you’ll be asked to leave right away, “employees should craft a plan for texting, calling or emailing former co-workers after the resignation meeting. In other cases, it makes sense for employees to work with their boss to create a communication plan.”
You’ll want to agree on when you’ll tell anyone who reports to you that you’ve quit. Sometimes managers want a day or two to think about how they’ll reorganize the team, so you can give employees more information when you tell them you’re leaving.
How to tell your boss you’re quitting: Finishing your work
Congrats! You’ve had the convo, you set the communication script, you have two weeks left—but before you prop your feet up on your desk (you would never!), remember…
“Once you’ve decided to resign, think about what you could do to minimize the disruption that your departure will cause, and decide whether it’s worth doing any or all of those things in order to leave in a positive manner,” Klotz says. “Even if you feel that your company does not deserve it, leaving in a positive manner is almost always the right way to go. Be sure to make a plan to thank the coworkers who have helped you during your tenure. In doing so, you will turn some work friendships into lifelong friendships.”
About our sources
Dr. Anthony Klotz is the Anderson Clayton Professor of Business Administration and an associate professor at the Mays Business School at Texas A&M University. He’s an associate editor of Human Resource Management, the premier journal for HR leaders. He teaches classes in Organizational Behavior, HR Management, and Leadership. He received his Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior from the University of Oklahoma. His research, which includes investigating the different ways that employees resign and the causes and effects of different resignation styles, has been published and featured in the Academy of Management Review, Academy of Management Journal, Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Management, Personnel Psychology, the Harvard Business Review, and MIT Sloan Management Review.
Kathy Caprino, M.A., is an internationally recognized career and leadership coach, writer, speaker, and educator dedicated to the advancement of women in business. A former corporate VP, she is also a trained therapist, seasoned executive coach, Senior Forbes contributor, top media source on careers, and the author of two books—Breakdown, Breakthrough and her new book The Most Powerful You:7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss. With her Finding Brave podcast, books, assessments, coaching programs, two career growth courses and other key resources, Kathy’s been named a Top Career Coach globally and her core mission is to support a “finding brave” global movement that empowers professionals to close their power gaps and reach their highest, most rewarding potential and impact in their work.