• Lindi Engelbrecht

How to (Gracefully!) Handle All the Messy, Awkward Parts of Giving Notice at Work

You are always one decision away from a totally different life.

The time has come. You’re going to quit, and you’re getting ready to put the whole notice plan in motion. Take a deep breath. The hardest part—getting a new job, getting into grad school, or making the decision to do something new—is over.

Still, you’re not quite done. Because how you approach your resignation and the impression you make on your way out can disproportionately color how your boss and colleagues remember you. So you’ll want to take the time to prepare for all the ways giving notice at work can get messy or awkward.

You may already know the basics of executing a graceful resignation—if not, you should definitely read up on everything you need to know about giving notice.

Tell your boss before anyone else. No matter how much you trust your colleagues to keep a secret, don’t let it slip to them by the watercooler that you’re about to bounce. Also be careful about announcing things on social media before you give notice – basically, don’t do it. These things invariably have a way of getting back to the corner office, and no boss wants to hear about your departure through the grapevine. And you definitely don’t want to hear him say, “I know,” when you finally tell him. Once you decide to quit, inform your immediate supervisor first, your co-workers second.

Always have the conversation in-person, unless circumstances make that impossible. Deliver your news in person or via phone. It’s best to schedule an in-person meeting with your manager to deliver your news, assuming you work in the same office. If you don’t work in the same office, then it’s best to talk via phone. Emailing them is a last resort unless logistics are such that you’re both unable to talk on the day you want to deliver your news. But don’t wimp out and email them. A conversation is always best.

Be prepared for the conversation. There are a few things you should think through before you meet with your boss to let them know the news.

  • “Do you have a transition plan? Nobody knows better than you what projects need to be wrapped up and what responsibilities need to be taken over. Come into your boss’ office with a concrete transition plan that you can share, and with a pledge to take a hands-on role in smoothly passing over the reins.

  • What will you do if they make a counteroffer? You need to be prepared for your boss to entice you to stay on with promises of new benefits or responsibilities. Think through as many as these possibilities as you can before you talk to him or her, so you’re not caught flat-footed. Would you stay for an extra X Amount, An additional week of vacation? You don’t want to be flustered and find yourself saying yes because he’s being so nice and generous, and you have tough time telling people no to their face. If there are circumstances in which you’d stay on, be crystal clear going in on what things would need to change and don’t budge unless those specific promises are made (and in writing). If nothing will change your mind, simply tell your boss how much you appreciate the kind offer but that the new opportunity is something you just can’t pass up.

If you do find yourself seriously contemplating the counteroffer, thinking over some important considerations:

“If your current employer counters your new offer and wants to keep you, you need to go back and ask yourself:

Are you running to something or running from something?

If they offer you more money in your current situation, will that solve your complaint and how long will that satisfy you? Also, if you’ve already committed to your new employer, then you’d be dealing with rescinding an offer that you’ve presumably already accepted. You need to consider your reputation carefully. In my experience, countering a current offer rarely works unless the situation radically changes, including job function, reporting structure, and/or increased compensation. And is it worth ruining your reputation with your would-be new employer that’s going to feel burned that you wasted their time and effort? This is a very delicate situation. Consider your move very carefully here.

  • Are you willing to stay longer if asked? Your boss may ask you to stay on a week or two longer for more help in wrapping things up. Is this a possibility for you? Even if it is, is it something you’re willing to do? Again, make sure you think through this question beforehand, so you don’t get guilted into something in the moment.

  • Are you ready to go home today? If your boss tells you that you need to leave immediately, are you going to be able to gather up all your personal belongings and get out of dodge, or is your stuff scattered all over the office? Once you pass through the exit doors, they may not let you back in to get something you forgot.”

If you were unhappy in your job, it may be tempting to use the quitting conversation to unload all of your pent up frustrations on your soon-to-be former boss. This is decidedly unwise. Instead, strive to be kind and courteous when delivering the news

Thank your boss for the opportunity, and if she asks why you’re quitting, simply emphasise something about the way in which your new job aligns better with your key interests than your current one does. “I’ve always wanted to do more teaching, and in my new job, that will be the biggest part of my responsibilities.” If there isn’t a reason like that to give (maybe you’re just jumping ship because of the downer culture of your current company), just tell your boss (and this goes for your colleagues too) something positive and general like, “I’m ready for a new kind of challenge” or, “This is a better opportunity for me.”

Don’t get “disengaged.” –having one’s bags packed, and mentally starting to check out.

It’s easy to get disengaged once you’ve put in your notice at a job. But it’s important to dig in and finish strong. Not only is your company still paying you, but also you want to leave on a high note. First impressions get a lot of emphasis, but psychologists have found that people remember best both the first part of an experience and the last part– which is to say your final two weeks will constitute much of what your former colleagues remember about you.

Don’t start any new projects during your last two weeks, but do all you can to tie up loose ends. Fill in your colleagues about where any open projects stand, where you left off with XYZ, and where they can find your documents and files. Ask them how you can help them out in your transition. Leave the company in as good a shape as possible. Make them sad to see you go, and hoping you’ll cross paths again someday.

Don’t blast your former employer on social media. Once you walk out the door of your former office the last time, you might want to get on Facebook to write up a status update about how thankful you are to be done with that soul-sucking job. I’ve seen people do this. Don’t give into the temptation. Stuff like that very easily gets around, and it not only looks bad to your former colleagues, but raises red flags for your future ones too.

Say a warm goodbye and thank you to colleagues. Assuming there were a number of people you did truly enjoy working with, take the time to tell them farewell. An attitude of gratitude is an important character trait to develop. And in an age when who you know is more and more important in getting ahead, building and strengthening your network is paramount.

It’s fine to send out a mass email to all your colleagues and clients to let them know you’re leaving (no need to explain why) and to pass along your personal contact information (email, phone). But you should also write a personal note, perhaps of the handwritten variety, to key and favoured individuals. Mention the past projects you did together that you enjoyed, share your appreciation for them and their personal qualities that made your job easier and more enjoyable, and tell them that you hope to keep in touch.

If you take nothing else away from this long list, remember this: Just as the final scene of a movie or book can elevate or sink the entire work, so too can your final act of giving notice solidify or mar an image of you as a great employee. Let that guide you, and you’ll be just fine.