How to resign well: notes on leaving on a high note.
If you’re reading this with any sense of intent to change jobs, then firstly: I hope you’re ok.
I understand you’re going through a challenging time. You’re about to make a decision that will have repercussions. It will force change. And change can be scary. But it doesn’t have to be challenging or negatively charged.
You’re probably thinking: ‘sure, that sounds great. But how?’
Before we get into practicalities, some context. I have toyed with the idea of writing this for a long time. I think resignation is an important area of work that doesn’t get discussed frequently enough. It’s a challenging and delicate situation for all parties, and it could be handled better.
You could be considering resignation for any number of reasons. Maybe you’ve been poached for a new opportunity. You might be sick of your current environment or need some headspace. Maybe you’re looking to change industries entirely.
Whatever your circumstance—and there are so many—there is one course of action that will always be valuable. Take some time to think about how you resign from your current team: it will be hugely beneficial for everyone involved.
The following tips are from the perspective of an employer who wants to see you do well in the next stage of your career.
The tips refer to some considerations you may not appreciate in the heat of the moment. However, as someone who is involved in managing a person’s exit, if you were to consider these factors, you might be able to provide considerable value for your current team members. Value that is low effort on your behalf.
The process associated with leaving a team—regardless of whether you’re in a small-to-medium business or leaving part of a larger organisation—is disruptive. You can help minimise the disruption.
1. Take steps to ensure that difficult news is not a surprise.
If you’re in a situation where you feel less engaged—it’s crept up on you, and you increasingly feel work just isn’t what it used to be—speak up.
Whether it’s a direct senior, another leader in the team, or someone outside of your team or department, there are always people who can provide a compassionate ear.
All you need to do is say something.
Sometimes, all you need to say is that you’re not as engaged as you used to be. You don’t enjoy work as much as you have in the past and you’re unsure why. That’s ok.
Maybe you’ve put all your effort into a recent project and you feel exhausted. Maybe you just can’t get your mojo back. That’s ok.
Burnout is common. It’s not unusual. And it’s been of consideration for many years. Speaking up and being proactive can help mitigate the impact or equip other people with the necessary context to help you.
Burnout can affect anyone, at any time. (via giphy)
On the flip side, if you don’t speak up, other team members can misinterpret your body language, your attitude, or even what you say in general conversations. That’s a risk for you, and for your employer, because it will no doubt have an impact on future conduct and considerations.
You may be worried that if you speak up, your employer might think you don’t want to work in the team, and you’ll be nudged towards the door or shown less opportunities. This is likely not true.
Depending on your industry and the company you work for, the above attitude—of ‘managing people out’—is becoming less and less common. We see open and public conversations around creating better work environments, flexible work practice, acknowledgement and consideration of mental health in the workplace, and a desire for people to be themselves at work.
If you feel uncomfortable telling your direct manager that things are less than awesome, ask another senior team member to help with the conversation.
Give this person permission to provide a ‘heads up’ for your direct manager. It can be daunting to open the conversation, but the vast majority of senior leaders I know want to help their teams thrive. If one way of creating a safe environment is to have another person open the conversation on your behalf and provide a platform to talk, then find someone to help you make that happen.
There’s usually someone willing to lend an ear. (via giphy)
This is the first tip for a reason. A few confidential and compassionate discussions—where you can vent, express yourself, and get some help with the challenges you’re experiencing—can help you explore options before you feel like resignation is your best (and only) option.
Not having these conversations creates a risk of surprise; if you choose to resign without having these discussions, everyone involved will be dealing with the emotional aspects of the conversation in parallel with the practical elements. This makes things more difficult to manage because there are more impulses and factors at play simultaneously.
2. Test all assumptions.
You may have seen other people in your team resign.
It’s likely you’ve heard positive or negative stories. Their circumstances were almost certainly different to yours: don’t expect exit processes to be like for like.
If you think you know what the exit process entails, test your assumptions.
If you dread the exit process, test your assumptions.
If you have no idea whether an exit process exists, ask the question.
The moment you start making assumptions about how you ‘think’ something works in the business, you create a risk that your actions will respond to those assumptions, rather than the reality of what is designed to happen.
The more informed you are about the exit process in your business—and not just from anecdotal experiences—the more informed and confident you can be in managing yourself during this time.
There is also less risk that you will feel ‘hard done by’ or make assumptions that your employer is trying to ‘pull one over you’ as you move through this process.
By testing your assumptions and asking questions about the process, you also show that you are engaged in this process and considerate of all perspectives, not just your own. This can work in your favour in multiple ways. It makes seemingly awkward or difficult conversations a little more pleasant because you understand the purpose of those conversations.
With this approach, you can be proactive in how you manage notice and handover of work. You can also be present and involved in discussions about telling team members, timing, and other stakeholder relationships you and your employer need to be mindful of.
In other words, you can exit with a celebratory bang rather than a presumptive slump.
3. Try to avoid ‘can I grab you for a five-minute chat this afternoon?’
This message is often, though not always, sent after lunch.
The person involved in managing team members, people and culture, HR, whatever the department is called, they immediately know what this means. Trust me, we all know what it means.
If you’ve spoken up early—as per the first tip—this conversation is much easier because your employer is primed with context. If not, please consider the following:
- Pick your timing with a sense of empathy. Consider the person you’ll be resigning to and what their schedule is like at your chosen moment. Do you really need to resign before they walk into an important client or project meeting? Think about what your teammate or manager will have to think about in the moments after your resignation.
- Don’t resign on a Friday afternoon. Just don’t.
- Consider resigning early in the morning. Yes, it’s uncomfortable and, in some cases, you may run the risk of being put on immediate gardening leave. At least you can offer another conversation later that day once people have some time to process your resignation. This approach also allows space in the day for your manager or teammate to figure out next steps, instead of ending the day with this news.
4. Be generous.
This might sound like a counter-intuitive tip for a piece on resigning, but it’s an important one. An exit process provides you with an opportunity to leave a positive impression on your way out.
If it’s possible within your circumstances, you might like to consider offering the following to your employer:
- Longer notice period than the minimum requirement.
- A creative approach to handover processes. Are written notes really the best way for other team members to learn? Can you do a video or a lunchtime session? Consider how you might pass on valuable anecdotal knowledge and discuss this with your teammates.
- A thorough consideration of your situation. Do you really want or need to leave? Can you discuss a leave of absence, extended time off or even secondment options?
5. Don’t leave before you’ve left.
I remember reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, a while ago.
There is a passage in the book where Sheryl talks about young women who are thinking of having families later in their career. She recounts a story where a young woman started to lean out of opportunities because this person was thinking about having a family soon. I often think of that passage within the context of resignation and exit processes.
If you’re proactively resigning, and not facing dismissal, redundancy or another situation outside of your control, then don’t pre-emptively lean out of your current role. Just like you can’t redo a first impression, you can’t undo your last impression.
As soon as you resign, your employer knows there will be a level of disengagement from you. You’re on your way out the door, it’s clear.
Try not to evaporate once you’ve made your decision. (via giphy)
Minimise that disruption to the team and your employer by staying as productive and engaged as you can during your exit process.
This mindset may not be possible for you. Again, that’s ok; compassionately make that clear to your employer during your resignation conversation. You may not want to offer additional notice and be transparent about that. The more open you can be in this instance, the easier this conversation will be to manage.
If, however, you know you can sprint to the finish and leave a positive lasting impression then do it. Leave everything on the track. Your team will be thankful, your employer will be thankful, and most of all—it’s a small world—your future self will thank you.
There you have it. I appreciate some of these suggestions may conflict each other.
Some may also be inappropriate for you to act on, depending on the unique circumstances of your potential resignation. But I hope, in any event, these tips provide you with an alternative lens with which you can view resignation. Maybe your next one might just go that little bit smoother.
All the best with whichever choices you make.
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