How to resign without burning your bridges

Sooner or later, most of us face a resignation.  Resigning is never easy, especially when you’ve worked at a position for several years, and have become part of a team.  Some employers and co-workers take it personally and accuse you of abandoning ship. 

However, handling your resignation as professionally and thoughtfully as you handle your search for a new job can help make your resignation relatively smooth and amicable. Keep resignations short, simple and positive

Leave your employer on a positive note.  Your moving on does not have to be a time for long faces.  After all, you have just won an opportunity to advance, an opportunity for which you owe your employer sincere thanks.  Thank your colleagues, too, for their help in preparing you to move onward and upward. If you have given your best to the job, you will be missed – especially by those inconvenienced by your leaving!  Let them know that you intend to assist them in whatever ways you can.  By showing your boss and firm due respect, you encourage future support you may someday need. When you resign, keep your conversations simple and concise.  The more you say, the more questions you may have to answer.  Avoid lengthy discussion about your new opportunity with your old employer.  Typically, your resignation creates extra work for others. Chances are, your boss will be caught off-guard by your resignation, and will not be able to listen clearly to your explanations due to concerns about the sudden challenge your leaving presents.  Because your boss is losing a valued employee and your leaving may create more work for him, he or she may express negative opinions about your new firm or position.  This will only confuse you.  You may find yourself having to justify your personal goals and decisions or absorb the personal frustrations of others.  If you’re dealing with volatile or vindictive personalities, it may be best to avoid revealing where you will be going.

The verbal resignation

Resigning verbally may place you in the compromising position of having to explain your decision on the spot.  Words are powerfully charged when you reveal a decision that has such an impact on your organisation.  Choose your words with care.  Your boss may want to probe for factors that led to your decision.  You may be asked whom or what is the reason for your leaving, or may be invited to offer suggestions to help make the organisation more effective.  If you have had a close relationship with your boss, you may feel obliged to answer candidly.

Don’t fall for this trap!  Use your head and discuss personal, heartfelt matters outside the office.  Remember, your interrogator is still your boss.  Whatever you say will be viewed as biased – after all, you have severed your relationship with your organisation – and may eventually be used against you.  At this point you may no longer be considered a team player, nor viewed as having the company’s best interest at heart. Too often, resigning employees come to regret their comments when they are misinterpreted or exaggerated in the re-telling.  Constructive criticism is no longer your responsibility, and carries a high cost, which could jeopardise your good references. Instead, offer sincere praise for the firm and those with whom you worked.  Prepare yourself beforehand by focusing on several positive aspects of your workplace, and mention them liberally when the opportunity arises.  Even if favourite aspects were, say, the great lunches, or humorous stories told over coffee, better to mention such things than to harp on disappointments or shortcomings.  (These, you are addressing by moving on to greener pastures).  You want to be perceived as a positive, constructive individual in forward motion.  People will remember your last impression.  Make it your best performance.  You may want to tell your boss something like: “I need to discuss something with you if you have a moment.  I’ve been made an exceptional offer by another firm, and I’ve decided to accept it.”

The written resignation

Written resignations give you the time to effectively prepare what you wish to communicate, and give you greater control over your delivery of the message.  You can’t be thrown off-track by an unexpected remark as can happen during a confrontational conversation.  A written resignation also reinforces the fact that you are really leaving and are not simply threatening in order to re-negotiate your position.  Also, there is something permanent about the written work that often circumvents interrogation. Under no circumstances should you state any dissatisfaction with the firm or individuals.  Not only is it good manners to stress the positive when leaving, but items in your personnel file may long outlast the individuals and circumstances responsible for your dissatisfaction.  You never know when your path will cross those of your former colleagues.  To keep your resignation short, simple and positive, you might want to write something like: “I want to thank you for all you have done for me here at [company].  It’s been a pleasure working with you, and representing the company as your [job title]. I have accepted an offer with another firm and have decided to tender my resignation as of today. I wish [company] continued success, and I want to thank you for allowing me to be a part of your team.  Please feel free to contact me at any time if I can be of further assistance in helping with a smooth transition.”

The counter offer

Surveys show that eight out of ten employees who accept counteroffers don’t complete the following year with their employer. Why shun counter offers?  Because the factors that caused you to seek or entertain a better offer are likely to remain in force.  Beside which, your current employer will probably lose trust in your loyalty. Accepting a counter offer may permanently damage your reputation with your would-be-employer.  Your prospective new colleagues may conclude that you were merely using them to gain leverage; you weren’t earnest as a candidate.  Never underestimate the value of your perceived integrity in this situation. The best response to a counter offer is to listen politely but decline.  If your current firm denied you advancement before you secured an outside offer, it will probably thwart you next time you feel ready to advance.  What’s more, your firm may start looking to replace you the day you accept the counter offer.  Your plans for leaving may not be forgotten!

Leave on the right note

Before leaving the firm, take time to speak with each of your support staff, peers, executive personnel, and others with whom you’ve worked.  To the extent practical, clear up any unfinished business.  Be sensitive to others’ reactions and keep your conversations positive and constructive.