By now you’ve probably heard about the so-called “Great Resignation.” In the last few months, survey after survey have shown that people everywhere are thinking about quitting their jobs. It seems that the global pandemic has caused many of us to reconsider what we want from our careers (and our employers) — and the strong job market has granted us the freedom to make changes.
If you’re one of the millions of people who are considering giving notice, you’re probably wondering the best way to do it. Fortunately, this is a topic that HBR has covered quite a bit over the years, so I dug into our archive to surface our best advice.
The first step is, of course, to make the decision.
Are you really ready to quit?
Carefully consider what’s motivating you to make a change. Perhaps you’ve been feeling antsy in your current position for a while, or you’ve figured out that you’d rather be in a different industry or role, or you feel like you’re ready go out on your own and work as a freelancer or start your own business.
But how can you be sure if it’s really time to leave? Of course, it shouldn’t be a rash decision. Career coach Priscilla Claman says that you want to ask yourself several questions before you get to a breaking point. Consider:
If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” then it’s a sign you need to look for a new opportunity. You should start by thinking carefully about what’s going on in your current organization. Maybe you’ve noticed people you respect are leaving the company, profits are down, or changes are implemented with little notice or rationale. This could be a sign that your organization is the problem, and you might want to look for a similar job with another employer. Perhaps you don’t have opportunities to learn and grow, or you work for a boss who is impeding your career. In this case, your job might not be a good fit, and you might seek out a position in another part of your company. Lastly, consider whether you’re actually prepared to take your next career step. If not, focus on building your career assets — your reputation, your industry knowledge, or your network, for example — to equip yourself to make a move in the near future.
Before giving your notice, coach and consultant Dorie Clark says you might want to consider whether your problem with your current organization can be remedied. She encourages you to share your concerns with your manager. For example, if your company has announced that everyone needs to come back to the office and you’d prefer to continue to work from home, you can ask if an exception can be made. The answer may be no, but it doesn’t hurt to ask before you quit. Or if you’re worried that there’s no room for growth with your employer, ask to get involved in a project or initiative that interests you or request a development program that could teach you new skills.
Money is another reason many people want to leave. If you feel you’re being underpaid, or if you’ve gained new skills or experiences that make you especially marketable, inquire about a raise, making a reasoned argument about why a salary increase is merited.
Of course, a pay increase won’t help if you’re miserable every day. Consultant Mary Abbajay says you shouldn’t have to stick it out if you have a bad boss or work in a toxic culture: “If you dread going to work every day, if you feel physically or mentally unsafe at work, if you spend more time thinking about your boss than your work, if stress from work permeates the rest of your life, if your self-esteem has plummeted, it’s time to go,” she writes. “You must give yourself permission to make a career change — to let go of hope that things will get better, and to overcome the fear of quitting.”
Do you need to have another job before quitting?
Some experts say you shouldn’t leave until you have another opportunity lined up. That’s good advice but not always feasible, especially if you’re at your wits’ end. If your financial situation allows you to swing a period of unemployment for a while (being realistic about how long that period might be), then you might consider going against this advice.
Claman says there are two situations that warrant resignation without knowing exactly what will come next: first, when you believe something illegal or unethical is going on at work and you are concerned it will reflect badly on you, and, second, when your current job is negatively affecting your health and your life outside of work.
She does suggest that prior to giving notice, however, you put together a plan that includes when and how you’re going to resign (more on that below), whom you’re going to use as references, and, most importantly, what you’re going to say to your employer about why you’re resigning.
Who should you tell first?
Once you’ve decided to quit, inform your manager first. You may have talked it over with some close colleagues, but you shouldn’t tell anyone who you don’t completely trust to keep it confidential. After all, you don’t want your boss to find out that you’re leaving before you get a chance to explain your reasoning. Even if you have a tough relationship with your manager, keep in mind that they are likely to be contacted as a reference by future employers, so you want to leave on good terms.
Author and CEO coach Ron Carucci says that you should tell your boss as soon as you’ve made your choice. “You may feel inclined to put off announcing your decision because you don’t want to add to the already stressful environment on your team,” he writes. “But that isn’t good for anyone. If you’ve decided that moving on is what’s best for you, then delaying your announcement only further risks your mental and emotional health… It’s better to just be upfront. Most bosses prefer to have as much advance notice as you can provide.”
Carucci also gives some useful sample language for cutting to the chase in this conversation: After a lot of consideration, I’ve decided it’s time for me to move on to the next chapter of my career. My goal for this conversation is to discuss how to make the transition as smooth as possible for us both.
What reason should you give?
I’m a big believer in being honest and straightforward. However, this is one conversation where you might not want to share the full truth, especially if you’re leaving because you hate working for your boss. Carucci has good advice here: “Be clear that this is about your shifting needs and career goals. Avoid sending any messages that signal your boss is the reason you’re leaving (even if they are). When you put blame on the person with whom you’re trying to negotiate a peaceful ending, you risk burning yourself along with the bridge. The last thing you want to do is lose a positive reference, or worse, trigger your boss to go on the offense and say unkind things about you to cover themselves.”
Since you can’t say, “I’m leaving because I’ve been miserable here,” frame your reasoning around what you want to do instead: a different kind of role, a new industry, or even just that you feel the need to shake things up.
How much notice should you give?
As you probably well know, a minimum of two weeks is customary. But as writer Rebecca Knight explains, you might consider offering to stay longer to help with the transition (assuming you don’t need to report to your new job sooner). How much longer will depend, in part, on your level in the company. “The higher up you are in an organization the longer it will take to extricate yourself and possibly train the next person coming in, so you may need to give closer to a month if possible,” she writes. Unless you work in an industry, such as education, where giving longer notice is the norm, you don’t want to give too much notice, because you may start to be treated as an outsider. Ideally, you want to allow enough time so that your manager and coworkers don’t feel you’ve left them in the lurch.
Again, Carucci provides some useful sample language: I want you to know that I’m grateful for the opportunity this job has offered, and for the colleagues I’ve met. Ideally, I’d like to be finished by [date]. How can I be most helpful to the team during the transition? He says your focus should be on helping with the transition as much as possible: “There may be a few assignments you’re unable to wrap up before your departure. Offer to do what you can to pass the baton. If you’ve already accepted another job, this is another good reason to negotiate a grace period longer than the typical ‘two week’s notice’ with your new company. Doing so will give you more time to make a gradual transition and to finish up any outstanding projects at your current employer.”
What do you do in your last few weeks?
After you’ve given your notice, you have two primary goals: to help with the smooth transition of your projects and responsibilities and to solidify your relationships with any colleagues you want to stay in touch with.
Transferring your work to others may mean helping to hire a replacement or it may be a matter of handing off projects to colleagues. Sort out with your boss which projects should go to which people. It may be helpful if you have some suggestions, but let your manager make the final decisions. As Rebecca Knight says, this should be a collaboration “with your boss to figure out the best use of your remaining days and how you should tie up loose ends.” Once you’re gone, you want your former boss and colleagues to think of you as thoughtful and professional.
You should also use some of your remaining time to connect with colleagues. Go out to lunch or coffee. Be explicit that you hope to stay in touch. And express gratitude for the opportunities and learning you’ve had. Consider giving personal notes to your direct manager, any mentors, and close colleagues. This can help you leave a good impression.
Stay in touch!
Once you move on to whatever’s next, it’s easy to focus all of your energy on building the new relationships you need, but don’t lose touch with your former colleagues either. “Keep your network of trusted friends, colleagues and advisors warm,” advises consultant Jodi Glickman. “If you’ve done good work, built real or meaningful relationships, or even just gained a valuable skillset, don’t throw away all of that experience by pretending these years of your life didn’t exist.”
I’ll admit that I’m a fan of those “I Quit” videos you see online, where an employee (who has typically been mistreated) walks out of their job after quitting in a dramatic fashion. But, let’s be honest, that’s not a smart way to leave any position. Ultimately, you want to do what’s best for you, of course, but leaving on a positive note will help make the transition easier and allow you to tap your network in the future.