HR departments have been busy. A record high 4.3 million people quit their jobs in August.
That’s quite a few resignation letters to file. With more to come.
The quitting wave has been called “The Great Resignation,” a phrase coined by workplace expert and Texas A&M University Associate Professor Dr. Anthony Klotz. As he told The Washington Post, there are four big reasons for all the resignations: delayed quitting from when the pandemic first began, heightened levels of burnout, “pandemic epiphanies” making people realize they want to leave, and employees who don’t want to return to in-office work.
If you’re thinking of joining “the big quit,” there are a few things to consider as you prepare to tell your boss you’re leaving. Epic quitting stories—think Tom Cruise’s Jerry Maguire character—are fun, but not ideal for anyone. You want your departure to be drama-free and professional.
Here we’ll cover the resignation letter/email—how to write it, how to share why you’re leaving, and what to do before and after you hand it in.
What to do before handing in your resignation
First, ask yourself if it’s worth talking to your boss to see if problems you’re having can be resolved.
“I always suggest that before resigning, think about any changes to your job that would convince you to stay, and ask for them,” Klotz tells InHerSight. That’s especially true now, as some companies have gotten the message that changes are needed, which is good news for employees.
“One reason that resignations may cool off a bit is because many organizations are making positive changes to attract, retain, and engage their workforce,” Klotz says. “We’ve been talking about the Great Resignation for around six months now, and maybe forward-thinking companies have developed innovative ways to help their employees deal with burnout, work arrangement changes, and other changes brought about by the pandemic. That being said, much of the Great Resignation is being driven by lower wage, front-line workers cases, there is still plenty of room to improve the working conditions and compensation in many of those jobs.”
If you haven’t seen positive changes or you know you’re ready to go, we asked career and leadership coach and educator Kathy Caprino the best way to approach a resignation. She says there are a few steps to take before talking to your boss or hitting “send” on that email.
“Do your best to obtain some letters of recommendation from mentors and others at the organization who can speak highly of you,” Caprino says. “Secure some LinkedIn recommendations as well, from respected individuals who are happy to endorse you and your work publicly.
“You should also verify where you stand in terms of benefits, 401K, stock options etc., and be fully in the know about what you may be leaving on the table if you leave. If you are going to a new job, make sure that before you quit, you have an official offer letter in hand from the new employer. Don’t resign before you’ve received an official offer in writing.”
One thing to be ready for: Some companies decide that the same day an employee hands in their resignation will be their last day of work, even if the employee gives the standard two weeks’ (or more) notice. This can happen in competitive environments where companies want to guard their strategies or plans, or be a logical decision if the company doesn’t need the employee to help with training or transition.
“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.”
Usually the notice you give is how long you end up staying. Two weeks’ notice for a resignation is widely considered the norm. That’s become professional courtesy, although there’s no law saying you have to stay for two weeks. But if you can swing it, giving two or more weeks’ notice helps give your employer time to make a plan for what to do without you.
Some HR departments may require minimum notice in their employee handbooks or per an employee contract you’ve signed in order for you to get any vacation time, bonuses, or other benefits you’re entitled to. Make sure you look into what your specific company expects.
Do not feel pressure to stay too long. As Klotz told The Wall Street Journal in September, it can get uncomfortable.
“Trying to leave on the best note possible doesn’t always mean giving extra-long notice,” Klotz writes. “Long notice periods are often awkward—the exiting employee and company have both moved on psychologically, but the person is still hanging around, leading to mixed feelings and questions on everyone’s part.”
Sending a resignation letter email vs. resigning in person
If you’re comfortable doing so, and in a good relationship with your manager, it’s usually best to resign in person, or over Zoom/virtually if you operate remotely. This way, you know your boss got the news, and you don’t have to worry that your resignation email is sitting in their inbox. Plus, managers appreciate a face-to-face conversation.
When you do resign, hand your boss a printed PDF (follow the resignation letter template below) or similar document so there’s a written record of your resignation. Keep one for yourself, too. You can email your resignation letter if you quit via Zoom.
If you can’t resign in person (or the virtual version of that), then send your boss a resignation letter email that follows these steps.
What to write in a resignation letter email
First, you want your tone to be professional, upfront, and straightforward.
“The letter should be a factual statement of departure, without emotion, anger, threats, or reasons for leaving,” Caprino says. “Don’t discuss where you are going in the letter, or any other superfluous information. Don’t share things that are not true—be honest but not overly forthcoming about your future plans. And be as positive and professional as possible.”
Make it clear in the first line that you’re resigning—don’t make your boss wait for the ‘big news.’”
Next, make sure to include the date for your last day.
If you’ve already talked to your boss in person, include the date you agreed upon. If not, propose one you’re comfortable with and that allows you to receive any benefits per your employee handbook/contract. If you need to resign immediately, see below for a template for that.
If you want to keep a short-and-sweet resignation letter, that’s all you need to convey, with a “thank you” to wrap up the message. If you’re comfortable saying more, thank them for their help or guidance in the time you spent there and wish the company well in the future. It’s also best to offer your help during the “transition period”—the time that you’re still there but the company is preparing for what to do after you leave.
Giving a reason for your resignation
If you feel like you want to give a reason, but you don’t want to share that you either have a new job lined up or you don’t have a new job lined up but you’re eager to go, there’s no need to get into that in the resignation letter email.
If you feel comfortable with your boss and your company, you might have no problem telling anyone why you’re moving on. Caprino says it’s fine to give some context for quitting, as long as you keep it “brief, factual, and a positive reflection on you.”
“A safe and positive explanation is that you’ve found a new, exciting role that offers great new growth potential that you’re very excited about, and it represents new challenges that you’re ready to embrace,” she says.
Caprino says other positive reasons to resign may involve:
Wanting a career pivot.
Pursuing more growth opportunities.
Looking to create greater work-life balance (perhaps shorter commute or more flexibility).
Wanting to gain expertise in a new industry or field.
Resignation for a personal reason or on bad terms
Sometimes life hands you a personal situation or opportunity that makes your job or current role—or working in general—a bad fit. You are not required by law to tell anyone why you are leaving. All they need to know is that you’re leaving, and when.
If you find yourself leaving on bad terms, it’s best to keep your cool and not bring those issues into your resignation.
“If you’re leaving on bad terms, it doesn’t behoove you to air your grievances at the time of resignation,” Caprino says. “There are appropriate forums to do that, perhaps at the exit interview. But even during those interviews, you need to be very cautious and prudent about what makes the most sense for you and your future, in terms of what you reveal about why you wish to leave.”
There’s an exception here if you’ve been mistreated or if illegal activity is happening. If you’re experiencing sexual harassment, or discrimination, or witnessing anything illegal in the workplace, Caprino said to seek legal help. Her interview with attorney Tom Spiggle, founder of Spiggle Law Firm, outlines what to do if you’ve been sexually harassed in the workplace.
Resignation letter email format
Putting all this together, here’s a resignation letter example from Caprino. You can adjust to your specific situation and comfort level.
Dear (Name of Manager),
Please accept this letter as my formal notification of my resignation from the role of [position title] with [company name]. My last day with the company will be [date of your last day].
I would like to thank you for the opportunity to work in this role for the past [years of service in the role]. I’ve truly appreciated [share some of what you’ve enjoyed in the role] and the chance to learn and grow.
Before I leave, I will do my best to complete any outstanding tasks and projects as far as I am able, and I am happy to offer my assistance to ensure a smooth transition.
I wish the company continued success.
Thank you and all best wishes,
(Your printed name and contact information)
Resignation letter example: effective immediately
If you need to quit without advanced notice, include all the same information, with the new date. Here’s a shortened resignation letter example to use:
Dear (Name of Manager),
Please accept this letter as my formal notification of my resignation from the role of [position title] with [company name]. I will be leaving effective immediately, making my last day with the company [date of your last day].
I would like to thank you for the opportunity to work in this role for the past [years of service in the role].
I wish the company continued success.
Thank you and all best wishes,
(Your printed name and contact information)
After you resign: how to handle an uncomfortable situation
Shout-out to the respectful managers who understand that resigning can be difficult for the employee, and handle it professionally. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
Caprino says the best response to a manager who gets upset is to keep your cool.
“The best way to handle that is to not engage in an emotional discussion, and not to apologize.
If they say they’re 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.’ But keep the discussion short, unemotional, and remember—you’ve worked hard at this role, and you don’t want to say anything at this juncture that will burn a bridge for you. Be respectful, courteous, and controlled in your departing words and demeanor. How you leave and the professionalism and self-mastery you demonstrate is what will be remembered.”
And of course, remember you’re making a decision that’s best for you—and that’s most important.
“Always remember that you didn’t sign away your life to this company or job,” says Caprino. “You have every right to pursue a new role at a new company that represents a great growth opportunity for you. Don’t let your manager or others “guilt” or pressure you into thinking that you have to stay in a role that you’ve outgrown, or are fully ready to leave.”
Returning to your company after you resign
Klotz says we may see some “boomerang” employees, who reach out to their former employers when they’re ready to enter the workforce. If you leave on a positive note, always get back in touch if you think it’s a good opportunity for you. It’s a win-win for companies and employees if a return can work out.
“Over the past few decades, a growing number of organizations have begun treating their former employees like universities treat alumni, because these companies recognize that it is good business to do so,” Klotz says. “It not only bolsters firm reputation, but hiring former employees is often less risky than hiring other external job seekers, because boomerang employees have a track record of performance with the company. Also, organizations are making lots of changes in the wake of the pandemic, and some of these changes may attract their former workers back to the company. Why not welcome them back?”
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.