The pandemic hasn't just changed where and how most Americans work — it also prompted many to reevaluate their relationships with their jobs and what they want from their careers. As a result, people have been leaving their jobs at record rates in recent months.
Quitting a job is rarely a simple, smooth process, even if you hate your boss or have a better offer with a six-figure salary waiting for you. It can be emotional, and you want to keep your professional relationships intact.
Anthony Klotz, an organizational psychologist and professor at Texas A&M who first coined this pandemic-induced quitting spree as "The Great Resignation," says resigning from a job isn't much different from breaking up with a romantic partner.
"Regardless of how you're having that conversation, it's an interpersonal interaction related to a big decision that's going to affect a number of individuals," he tells CNBC Make It. "As a supervisor, having an employee quit on you can generate a lot of negative emotions, like someone breaking up with you."
Klotz adds that the pandemic "hasn't really changed the basic etiquette" and impacts of resignations, even if most employees are quitting over video calls and emails now. In fact, searches for "resignation email" have spiked on Google over the last three months as people grapple with when to quit, and what to tell their bosses.
Below, Klotz and two other career experts share their best advice for writing a strong resignation email and quitting your job without burning bridges with your former employer.
Don't surprise your boss
The first step you should take after deciding to leave your job is scheduling an in-person, phone or video meeting with your manager to let them know of your plans — "and the sooner the better," LinkedIn career expert Andrew McCaskill stresses.
"No manager wants to be surprised," he says. "Email them and say that you'd like to get some time on their calendar for an important conversation."
McCaskill recommends giving notice at least two weeks' notice before your departure. "It not only helps your current employer make plans to fill the role, but it also gives you and your team some runway to really transition and offload your work," he explains.
In the initial conversation with your manager, McCaskill suggests making your intentions clear, but keeping the announcement brief: "I am leaving on (insert date here) as I am preparing for my next play," and then following up with a short resignation letter via email.
If you're not comfortable telling your manager where you're going to work, there's a couple different explanations McCaskill says you can defer to instead. "You can say, 'All the details aren't ironed out yet, but once I'm in place and set, I'd be happy to chat about my new role and even get your perspective on ways I can grow in this next step," he notes.
Or, if you're taking time off, McCaskill suggests the following line: "I'm going to be taking some time off between this job and what I'm doing next to get a good reset before venturing into this new opportunity, but I'll be sure to let you know what's coming once I'm settled."
Maintain an attitude of gratitude
It's important to begin your resignation with expressions of gratitude, career coach Letisha Bereola advises. "You want to appear gracious," she notes. "Telling your manager how thankful you are for the opportunities you've had during your time in the role will make the bittersweet feeling of resigning a little more sweet."
In October, Bereola quit her job as a news anchor in Jacksonville, Florida, to start her coaching business. Telling her boss she was leaving was "nerve-wracking," Bereola recalls, but starting the conversation on a positive note — reflecting on how thankful she was for the job — gave her confidence to tell her boss why she was leaving and when her last day would be.
If you're struggling with negative emotions toward your employer and gratitude feels out of reach, Bereola recommends trying a thought exercise before a resignation meeting or email.
"Think back to when you first interviewed for this job, and how badly you wanted them to hire you," she says. "Reflect on the people you've met, the relationships you built and some of your biggest achievements to get in the posture of thankfulness."
Managers tend to respond more positively to resignations when the employee expresses gratitude in their exit interviews or resignation letters, Klotz says. "It completely softens the delivery of bad news," he adds. "Keep the email fairly brief: Start with notification that you are resigning, effective what date, then express some gratitude for all the experiences you had in your previous role."
Create a transition plan
Your last two weeks in a job are your final chance to leave a positive mark — and a lasting impression on your colleagues. It might be tempting to cut back on your workload and start thinking about your next job, but Klotz advises that you think about how you can minimize the impact of your departure on your current organization.
Bereola says she offered to help her boss make her departure a "seamless transition" in her resignation letter. "It also helped me reflect on the legacy I wanted to have," she explains. "In the last month of me being there, I asked myself, 'What kind of employee am I going to be? Am I going to pack up my things and put my feet on my desk? Or am I going to lean into my work, and be more engaged and helpful to set the next person up for success?'"
You can offer concrete suggestions in your resignation email to help with this transition, too, Klotz says. Those might include saying you're open to a flexible notice period or training a replacement.
"That kind of offer would immediately put your boss's mind at ease," he says. "It's the most positive way to resign … everyone responds well to kindness."
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