Whether you’re starting a new job or leaving a toxic workplace, telling your boss you’ll be resigning is common practice. But what should you say when resigning verbally? How do you pick the right moment? Do you have to share why you’re leaving? How do you balance positive and negative language?
We spoke to two career coaches, Andrea Yacub Macek and Angie Callen, to answer all of these questions. Both coaches agree the way in which you resign can help build your professional network and increase your chances of getting a referral down the line.
“If you're leaving, you’re leaving for a reason, but you also want to be mindful not to burn bridges,” Macek says. “Maintain your reputation and the relationships you’ve built at the organization. You never know who you might interact with again, and you want to maintain as much integrity and professionalism as you can.”
Read the experts' advice below on resigning verbally, regardless of your reasons for leaving.
Read more: How to Quit a Job Due to Mental Health Reasons
Choosing the right moment to resign verbally
It can feel like there’s never a right time to resign. People are busy, and you might not want to burden your boss with your news if they’re already under stress at work. The truth is, there might never be an optimal time to resign, but Macek says you can begin by considering any upcoming client priorities, time-sensitive projects, and big meetings.
It’s standard practice to give two-weeks' notice. If you’re leaving during a hectic time, and you’re able to give more than two-weeks’ notice, that can help ease the transition.
“I was a project manager for a highly-visible IT project. I left within 30 days of the project going live. It wasn’t ideal to leave, but I gave my boss 30 days' notice instead of two-weeks’ notice,” says Macek. “If you can’t give ample notice, do your best with a transition plan. That way, you know you’re making it as painless for everyone as possible. I created a transition plan before giving notice, so I was able to review it with my boss in the meeting.”
Most employees have some type of consistent interaction with their boss, whether a weekly or bi-weekly check-in, and this is the perfect setting for the conversation.
“In general, if you’re working in person, you want to have the conversation face-to-face. If you’re remote, have the conversation on a video call. Given the time frame and any time-sensitive touchpoints with stakeholders and clients, you may want to have multiple conversations,” says Macek.
Read more: What to Know When Writing a Resignation Letter That’s Effective Immediately
Tips on what to say when resigning verbally
“Resigning can bring up a lot of anxiety, but the scenario we create in our head is almost always way worse than how the conversation goes in reality,” says Callen.
She says you can stave off jitters by preparing to confidently deliver your news.
Deliver the news to your direct manager. While it may be more awkward than telling someone in human resources, it’s the respectful way to resign. She advises to also be prepared for a counter offer—but don’t accept it right off the bat. Be confident in your reasons for leaving, and don’t be swayed without really thinking things through.
“Starting the conversation is the hardest part,” says Callen. “I recommend getting your manager on board with the announcement by walking in with a big smile on your face, and saying, ‘I have some exciting news! I’ve been offered a new position that is aligned with my career goals, and I just can’t pass it up. This wouldn’t have been possible without your guidance and the growth I’ve had here at [company name], so while I’m resigning, I leave here grateful for the experience.’”
Callen and Macek agree that it’s best not to overshare—you’re under no obligation to provide details of where you’re going. You’ll probably have a lot of emotions going in, but keep the conversation brief.
“You might feel guilty or have feelings of resentment, but plan out what you want to say. Think of a couple high-level points of conversation that you want to get across. Your boss will have a variety of emotions as well,” says Macek. “You can say you wanted to give an update on your end and that it's the right time for you to leave. Medical or personal reasons don’t have to be shared.”
“Maybe you’re proactively leaving to spend time finding a new role—you don’t need to disclose that if you’re uncomfortable doing so. If asked, you can simply say: ‘I’ll let you know once I get started in my new role’ or ‘I’d rather not disclose that just yet,’” Callen adds. “Your responsibility during a resignation is to be professional, provide at respectable notice, and tie up loose ends with your succession plan. It’s your choice to provide any additional details or information, so don’t feel like you have to if the situation doesn’t warrant it.”
If you’re given the option to have a confidential exit interview, that’s where you can share, within reason, why you’re leaving. Writing a summary to give to your boss can also be helpful. “Having an email that you can send during the meeting or having something printed can help your boss focus their attention and not ask too many questions about why you’re leaving,” Macek says.
Body language and what you’re conveying unconsciously is important, too.
“Do your best to maintain eye contact. I know it’s uncomfortable when delivering this news—it’s a little bit like a breakup. If you fidget or have nervous habits, move things away from your body. Don't tap on the desk, fidget with a pencil, or chew gum. Maybe you don’t have the best relationship with your manager, and you might not be able to control your physical reaction, but take deep breaths and maintain neutral body language,” says Macek.
If you’re leaving for negative reasons, like you work with toxic coworkers or you’ve been passed over several times for a promotion, you should still try to balance positive and negative language. Gratitude above all is always a respectful route to go.
“Regardless of your relationship with your team, say thank you. You don't want to burn bridges—even if it’s been a less than ideal experience, you can tactfully say, ‘thank you for the opportunity I've had here, but it's time for me to move on,’” says Macek. “I was in a less than ideal role a couple of years ago, and my boss and I had tension from day one. I only worked there for nine months, and we’d tried to work on our communication and forge a relationship. We acknowledged it had been a bumpy ride, but I thanked him for trying to work on that with me, and I made sure to express appreciation before exiting.”
Callen adds, “Hopefully, you have a great supportive leader who will be equally thrilled with your news, but if you’re leaving a toxic situation, you can minimize the gratitude and just say, ‘I wanted to let you know I’m tendering my resignation.’”
Read more: Examples of a Resignation Letter for Personal Reasons
Is a written resignation letter also necessary?
If you’re resigning verbally, do you also need to hand in a resignation letter? The experts agree, yes.
“It’s best practice to do both. Every organization is different, so be familiar with your policy. Have the face-to-face conversation with your boss and give a written notice as a formality. They’ll have to connect with the people team as a next step, and they might need documentation,” says Macek.
When preparing a written resignation letter to take with you to your meeting (or send over email if you’re remote), the letter doesn't need to be extensive or highly detailed. It simply formalizes the process and provides a file for your personnel record. Callen says it can also give you something tangible to lean on if your nerves take over and you forget what you want to say.
Use the template below from Callen to create a simple document stating your intention to resign:
Dear (Name of manager),
I would like to inform you that I am resigning from my position as [position title] for [company name], effective October 1, 2023.
Thank you for the support and the opportunities that you have provided me during the last two years. I have truly enjoyed my tenure with [company name] and am grateful for the encouragement you have given me in pursuing my professional growth objectives.
If I can be of any assistance during this transition in order to facilitate the seamless passing of my responsibilities to my successor, please let me know. I would be glad to help however I can.
(Your printed name and contact information)