Resigning from your job can be one of the most difficult decisions you make during the span of your career. Even if you don’t like your job, even if you have reached the point where you’re convinced you’re not on the right track, walking away from your current path is never easy.
If you’ve made the choice to let go of what you have for the pursuit of something else—even if you don’t exactly know exactly what that is yet—I want to commend you for your bravery.
Resigning is often disruptive and abrupt, no matter how well-timed it is, no matter how much you want to leave. From personal experience, I know pursing your own venture, refocusing on personal priorities, or changing jobs can be exciting, but at the same time, extremely scary. Whenever I’ve left behind one path to pursue something else, I’ve always felt an immense amount of loss. Like I’m giving up or throwing the towel in before the job is finished.
For example, when I decided to quit medical school, I knew that path wasn’t right for me, but that didn’t change the fact I found it terrifying to walk away because I had no idea what I wanted to do instead. When I left my stable corporate job in San Francisco to move to the UK to be closer to my then girlfriend (now wife), I knew I was doing the right thing by prioritizing my personal relationships, but that didn’t change the fact I was incredibly stressed out about the unnatural break in my resume, especially with no next job lined up. And when I left the corporate world to start my own business, I felt relieved to be finally doing work I truly cared about, but that didn’t change the overwhelming nervousness I felt about whether I could earn enough money doing so.
Resigning is hard. Coming to terms with leaving can be an emotional roller coaster. The logistical practicalities of it are never straightforward. I’ve had my fair share of resignations during my career. Leaving roles, programs, and industries behind. The process of resigning from anything can be a very solitary, lonely journey.
Having dealt with this several times in my life, I wanted to outline 4 challenges you’ll need to manage to create the smoothest transition possible for you, especially since your resignation is not only the end of one chapter, but the start of another important one in your career.
1. Preparing a Professional Transition
One of the hardest parts of resigning is managing the emotional transition before and after you share the news of your resignation.
I’ve found the period prior to sharing the news to be especially nerve-wracking. In the days leading up to my most recent resignation from my last corporate job, I was very nervous about how my manager, whom I respected greatly, would react to my news. I also felt a bit dishonest about my presence at work. One second, I’d be thinking about how and when to break the news of my resignation. The next, I’d be sitting in a meeting with my team discussing an important project with milestones that would land after my expected departure date. I felt like a fraud.
The period that followed my resignation announcement was no better. I started to feel alienated and detached at work. I even noticed some colleagues starting to distance themselves from me. I heard some disenfranchisement is to be expected post-resignation, but working in an office with people who know you’re on your way out the door can feel very awkward and uncomfortable. Days felt long, and I struggled to feel as engaged with my projects.
To manage the situation, I focused on making my transition as smooth as possible for my employer, which in turn, made the transition smooth for me.
I know it’s not easy, but I’d strongly recommend you do your best to put your emotions aside and depart in the most professional manner possible. It will take more effort, but the world is small, and how you leave the company it is something everyone will remember. Take the time to get some transition files in place to make the transition easier for your manager, team, and successor. You’ll want to solidify some relationships with people, even those colleagues who may not be your favorites.
2. Sharing Your News with the Right People
Keeping your plans to yourself is very difficult. Whenever I thought about leaving a role behind, I’ve felt this incredible urge to share my plans with colleagues. Carrying around the idea that I may be leaving felt like a burden. Pretending like I still cared about my job even though I knew I didn’t was exhausting. All I wanted to do was get the news of my impending resignation off my chest so I could drop the façade, so I could stop feeling so two-faced. Doing so would have been a huge relief.
But I never shared my news with anyone until I eventually told my manager.
When you’re ready to share your resignation, the best course of action is to share your news with only your direct manager. This allows your manager to process the news, share it with the relevant, appropriate stakeholders, and manage the message. As tempting as this may be to spill the beans with others, I strongly recommend you keep everything to yourself and tell no one else about your plans until your manager gives you the green light. I mean no one. Not even your closest friends at work. And definitely not anyone in HR. The most prudent approach is to allow your manager to run the show.
3. Wrestling with a Counteroffer
Whenever I’ve resigned from something, I’ve always received some sort of counteroffer. This isn’t unique to me. It happens to everyone. When I resigned from medical school with no job lined up, the school offered to give me a “leave of absence” to keep the door open to returning if I wanted to later. I’ve had employers offer promotions, more money, and even part-time work until I lined up my next job. Heck, even when I was at the very bottom of the totem pole in my first job out of college, and I told my boss I wanted to leave, he implored me to stay with the allure of financial incentives waiting for me around the corner.
I turned down every counteroffer, no matter how enticing.
Okay, so let’s go ahead and all admit it. Receiving a counteroffer from your employer can feel awfully flattering. It can be a nice ego boost when the tables turn and power shifts over to you. When your company is suddenly bending over backwards to keep you.
Maybe you’re thinking your company now is now valuing you more with the prospect of your departure. Make no mistake. Keeping you around until your successor is in place helps your manager and organization.
I cross paths with a LOT of people in the process of resigning from their roles. The truth is, the vast majority of them receive some sort of counteroffer after they put in their resignation. It typically comes within the week or as one’s last day approaches.
As tempting as it may be, I strongly implore you NOT to accept your counteroffer, especially if it comes in the form of a salary boost. This probably deserves a whole other blog post. But in short, while a little salary increase may be nice, accepting a counteroffer generally comes back to haunt you. In the best case scenario, people will now know your primary motivation for staying is money. In the worst case scenario, your employer may think you were just using that other job offer as a bargaining chip. Either way, it doesn’t bode well for your long-term reputation or standing in the company.
Please don’t do it. It rarely works out in the long run. Make a clean break, and move on. Do not thrash about. Just leave.
4. Remaining fully engaged
When I worked in the US, I was used to somewhat short notice periods. Two weeks was generally standard, and one month was a courtesy. That all changed when I moved to the UK. Once I was moved beyond the level of a mid-level manager, a 3-month notice period was very common. 3 full months of avoiding the temptation to mentally “check-out” even though I was convinced my job was no longer fulfilling. 3 full months of staying focused on projects I no longer really cared about. 3 full months of continuing to tolerate the factors that had reached a point where they were no longer tolerable.
I once had a job where I was absolutely miserable. I was doing work I didn’t care about. I didn’t fully click with my manager. And I was feeling quite resentful about all the extra work I had put in at the expense of my work-life balance. I think of myself as a very loyal, dedicated employee with a very strong work ethic. I pride myself on giving my employer 100% every single day. But even I found it very difficult to remain 100% invested in my work when I knew it was only a matter of time before I left.
Regardless, I committed to myself and my employer I would give my job 100% through to my very last day, no matter what.
I understand the temptation of wanting to leave your employer in a pickle, give them a taste of their own medicine, or not do them any favors as you’re heading out the door. If you find yourself in this situation, you really have to dig deep and continue to give your job 100%. Not necessarily more, but definitely not less.
At times, your notice period may feel like a prison sentence. At times, you’ll realize you no longer have any “skin in the game.” And most of the time, you’ll probably realize you have very little to lose even if you do slack off a bit. But you really have to hang in there. Because your reputation is at stake. I promise you every single colleague will notice how you behave once you’re no longer invested at work.
Conclusion: How you depart will define your legacy
Whether you like or not, how you behave when you’re on your way out the door will have a direct impact on how people will remember you.
This is not the time to teach people a lesson or let people have it. You can probably think of people who have left your company on bad terms or in very poor form. I certainly can. And if I were to ever cross paths with those people again, I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend them to others.
Conversely, I can also think of people who worked hard until the very last day. You better believe that I would not hesitate to lend a hand to these individuals in the future if the opportunity arose.
How you behave after you resign will say a lot about your character and leave an impression with people. If you can put your emotions aside and handle things in professional fashion, you’ll be able to look back and be proud of how you navigated this important turning point in your career.
Learn more about how to resign the right way
- Harvard Business Review has outlined 7 ways people quit their jobs (Sept’16), which provides an overview of some tactics. You’ll see in this Monster Article on these 7 ways to resign that I typically recommend the Grateful and In-the-Loop tactics.
- Listen to my interview on The Right Way to Resign From Your Job with Mac Pritchard, Host of the Mac’s List podcast.
I put this little video together explaining these principles in more detail:
Over to you! What tips do you have for others who are in the process of resigning from their jobs? I’d welcome your thoughts.
WANT MORE GUIDANCE ON RESIGNING THE RIGHT WAY?
If you’re getting ready to put in your resignation, and you’re looking for more guidance on how to do this in a professional, admirable, and positive fashion, you can download my 3-part step-by-step Guide on “How to Resign the Right Way” so you can leave on good terms and maintain a positive reputation as you prepare to transition into the next chapter of your career.
Listen to my interview about resigning the right way
You can also listen to this interview I did with Pete Mockaitis on his “How to be Awesome at Your Job” podcast on resigning the right way.