A number of years ago, I had an employee who became dissatisfied. I think he became frustrated with his compensation, but he also hadn’t accomplished what he needed to earn an additional bonus. Undoubtedly, he had other issues on his mind as well.
He finally decided that he needed to leave our firm, so he decided to interview with other companies. After securing a new position, he came to me to ask for a bonus one last time. He asked. I answered, no. He said, “In that case, I quit!” I felt burned, and lied to, and inadequate all at the same time.
Informing your boss that you will be leaving your company is rarely and easy or enjoyable. Most people face this situation several times over the course of their careers, and have the opportunity to keep or destroy relationships in the process. You may be able to ease anxiety around this process by keeping a few clear principles in mind as you resign your position.
There are four fundamental things to keep in mind when giving notice:
- Be certain of your decision, and clear in your delivery of the news.
- Select who should hear directly from you, and in what order.
- Treat people the way you would want to be treated.
The first thing you need to do before giving notice is to be absolutely sure you want to leave the firm, and understand why you have made this decision. Everyone has their own tricks for making important decisions. I knew a person, who flipped a coin to decide between two options. He checked his reaction, and if he was happy with the coin flip, he followed it. If, on the other hand, he was disappointed, then his emotional reaction steered him against the flip.
Personally, I like to talk with my wife, an advisor, or even talk with myself about important choices. Vocalization is very important to me because I will hear whether the reasons for my decision are substantial or just rationalizations. Some people prefer the plus/minus column method. Whatever you choose, make sure you understand your reasoning, so that you will convey an unambiguous conclusion.
Clarity and decisiveness help people understand your state of mind, and help them begin to process their own reaction to your decision. Recognize the importance of the initial presentation, and handle its delivery care. I find it helpful to talk for a while after delivering bad news. This gives people a chance to process the news before offering a response. Start out in a clear, definitive way, “Unfortunately, I need to tell you that I have decided to leave the company…” Afterwards, you should plan to spend at least a couple of minutes talking without looking for any input from your boss. This will give him the time to absorb your news, and adjust his mind set to the conversation you are about to have. Once you see that the news has clicked in, you can begin to have a dialog.
You should try to make the conversation as short as possible, while remaining professional and respectful. Ask for a 30-minute window, but plan for a 10 to 15 minute dialog. This time frame allows time for the news to sink in, without forcing a hasty discussion about next steps. The additional 15 minutes gives your boss time to adjust to the news before his next piece of business for the day.
During the conversation with your boss, the topic of transition may arise. You should try to delay this discussion because you will both need time to process your emotional reactions. Take your time and let the situation unfold. Don’t try to force your way through it just to get past the bad feelings.
Bring a signed resignation letter with you to your meeting. You should keep this safely hidden away until the end of your conversation. Beginning the conversation by placing a letter on someone’s desk shows insecurity, and perhaps a lack of respect. Placing it there at the end signifies finality. A brief resignation letter brings the conversation to a close for you and for your boss. Also, you will feel much better typing it before your discussion, rather than afterwards.
Travel schedules may interfere with giving notice face to face. If this is the case, plan for a phone call. Avoid giving notice by email, and avoid sending your letter of resignation in electronic form. A written letter conveys substance, thought and finality, where emails may be taken more lightly, and may be shared more easily. You want to keep that document in as few hands as possible.
During discussions with you boss, one possible reaction is to try to keep you in the company. If you do not present your decision clearly, you leave room for the possibility of a counteroffer. You should consider the possibility of a counteroffer and what its impact could be upon you before giving notice. If you have any hesitation, then you are really in a salary negotiation, not a departure. You can find a separate article about the dangers of counteroffers here: http://www.executivesearchinsider.com/2009/01/counteroffers.html
Once you have told your boss, try to relax and get away from the office. You need to let things settle and get ready for transition discussions and notifying your colleagues. If possible, the best time to give notice is on Friday. This will give you and your boss time to absorb the impact before re-engaging.
If possible, revisit the discussion with your boss before notifying colleagues and clients. This demonstrates respect for your supervisor and the business interests of the company. Once you feel comfortable with his reaction, you need to inform your co-workers.
Think about the order of whom you will tell, and whether you need to talk with them face-to-face or over the phone. You should try to move quickly through these conversations to exercise some measure of control over the flow of information. You may also want to ask for a short period of confidentiality with the first people you notify. This will give you time to begin to set up important relationships for the future. You may use email or voicemail to ask colleagues to speak with you, but never leave notice that way. If they are not important enough to tell personally, then let them find out through someone else.
Situations with co-workers vary so much that that it is difficult to offer specific advice about individual conversations. In general, you should take your time to consider who to talk with, try to have these conversations all on one day, and give the news in the way that you would want to receive it.
Giving notice comes down to preserving relationships. If you didn’t need any connections, you could just walk out of the building and never come back. Your actions in this situation reveal your character and your ability to create sustainable connections. The best guide is a very old piece of advice, treat others the way you would want to be treated. With a little preparation and sensitivity, you will find your own path.