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A Step-By-Step Guide to Quitting a Job Gracefully

No, this experience isn’t nearly as fun as it should be

Beth Castle
Managing Editor, InHerSight

Flying away gif

Quitting a job isn’t an easy thing to do. You have to write an awkwardly formal resignation letter, and you have to find a way to tell your boss and team members that you’re “moving on,” which, honestly, sounds like you’re either dying or ready to start seeing other people. The experience might stir emotions, your own and your employer’s, that are difficult to navigate. 

Still, the task can be done gracefully—even if you hated your role, hated your boss, or are leaving a toxic work environment. You just have to keep your eye on the prize: a good or at least functionally pleasant relationship with your former employer and an exciting career that extends beyond this conversation.

Follow these simple steps to quit your job in as pain-free a way as possible.

How to quit your job in five steps

1. Write a resignation letter

This step is a formality, and it should be relatively simple. Write a brief letter stating your intention to leave your position. Include the amount of notice you’re giving and the date your employment at the company will end. Although a two-week notice is customary and appropriate in all situations, many people choose to stay on for one or two additional weeks to train their replacement. Use your office culture and, in some cases, your own sanity as your guide.

Two key points to remember about resignation letters: First, be grateful. Thank your employer for whatever opportunities they’ve given you. Second, don’t use a resignation letter to announce your departure. It’s not a replacement for the one-on-one conversation you should have with your boss; it’s strictly documentation. 

Read more: How to Write a Resignation Letter (Without Burning Every Bridge in Town)

2. Meet with your boss

The first person you tell about quitting your job should be your boss. You can do so during your 1:1, your annual or quarterly review, or a requested meeting. Ideally, the meeting should be face to face, but if you don’t work in the same location, it can be by phone or video call. If your boss is unavailable for an extended amount of time (like weeks or months), talking to HR or your boss’ boss will also suffice.

The conversation itself should reflect what was said in your resignation letter (which you will politely give to your boss during this meeting, not before). You do not have to explain your decision to leave, where you plan to go, or what benefits or pay you’re receiving at your next job. You should, however, thank your boss. If you can’t do that, think of something positive and specific that you enjoyed or learned in your role and focus on it: I’ve been so grateful for the opportunity to work on such innovative projects with our team. This role has truly been a learning experience for me.

There are three things that can happen during this meeting: Your boss can accept your resignation, your boss can ask what they can do to make you stay, or your boss can react poorly to your decision to leave. If either of the first two happen, you should either move on to asking if you can use them as a reference in the future or negotiating a better offer from your employer. 

If the third scenario happens, understand that as long as you’ve delivered the news politely and professionally, your boss’ reaction is out of your control. What is in your control is whether you stay for your entire notice, given their response. Say something like, 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?

Read more: Quitting Without Notice...Is It Ever Okay?

3. Tell your coworkers

After you’ve told your boss, you’re free to tell your coworkers about your departure. Sometimes you decide with your manager how your news will be communicated, but more often, your office culture dictates protocol. You might go office to office, telling each of your team members personally, or you or your boss might send an email to everyone announcing your resignation. Again, you don’t need to tell everyone why you’re leaving, but you can if you like. A straightforward, I thought long and hard and decided I wanted a change. I’m excited for this new chapter in my career, will do.

4. Work through your notice

It can be hard to keep working when everyone knows you’re on your way out, but even if you’ve finished your regular tasks and can’t pick up new projects, you still have plenty to do. Whatever knowledge you have of your role needs to be communicated to someone or in some way. Set up meetings with people to teach them about your job, write up status reports of unfinished or ongoing projects, or create a guide to help the next “you” do their job. In other words, like a good scout, leave your workspace better than you found it.

5. Participate in an exit interview

During one of your final days on the job, you’ll likely have an exit interview with your boss or HR. How honest can your feedback be—really? That depends on who you ask. Negative comments about management always, always, have the chance of finding their way back to the people about whom they’re said, even if you’re promised anonymity. That could risk your relationship with your soon-to-be-former employer, one that might be valuable in the future.

However, some things, for documentation’s sake and for the sake of the coworkers you leave behind, need to be said. Decide for yourself whether voicing your experience matters more than the connection and whether you’re able to convey those experiences in a calm, professional manner. Then move forward as you see fit.

Read more: Reasons for Leaving Your Job: The Good, Bad & Messy

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