How to Resign with Grace

How to Resign with Grace

The great resignation knocked on my door this month! Sadly, I will be losing a team member who after 12 years of dedicated service is ready to take on a remote gig offering flexibility to be closer to aging family. I’ve only known this gentleman for a short time, but I know he’s going to be hard to replace. His professionalism in how he handled delivering the news is the inspiration behind today’s newsletter: How to Resign with Grace.  

Give enough notice to foster a smooth transition

The first time I submitted a letter of resignation, I gave one year of notice. You read that right, a whole year! I was accepting a fellowship to go to grad school at Florida State University and I didn’t feel like the timing was right to leave my job or break my lease. As soon as I got the news that I got into the program, I was overwhelmed by the idea of closing out all my projects and moving and jumping back into the classroom. Thankfully, my former professor who referred me to apply for the program let me know that deferment for a year was an option and I would still get the fellowship. So, I wrote my boss a short resignation letter and sat down with her to tell her I planned to go to grad school. She was so thrilled to have such a long lead time to replace me that when the year was up, she threw me a going away party and invited half the campus to see me off! 

Of course, a year notice to resign is very unusual and I’ve not had the pleasure to give that much notice since, but I have given one-month notices whenever possible because I realize how difficult it is to replace good people. However, if you must move quickly to accept the other gig or you just can’t stand to be where you are longer than necessary, you should plan to give a minimum of two weeks’ notice. This is the typical length of time required by human resources to stay in good standing with the company. Also, keep in mind that your requested time frame may not be accepted. Your supervisor may ask you to shift the date around an upcoming deadline or to remain available to help train the next hire. Such requests are negotiable based on your availability and again, you want to handle these conversations with grace.

Be prepared to leave

Before turning in your letter of resignation it will be helpful to have your affairs in order, such as items you’ll want to give your supervisor to help transition the next hire (responsibilities list, relevant contacts, etc.) or items you’ll want to save for your personal records. Once you provide notice, work will become a countdown to see how much you can complete prior to leaving and it can be difficult to add your record-keeping on top of that. If you’re a Type A, well organized person, this may not be a big deal. However, if you’ve been on the job for a decade, two weeks to gather work examples you want to save may seem like an impossible task.

In some instances, your date of separation from the company could be bumped up by the supervisor to a shorter timeframe or immediately. This may be requested in circumstances where you work on sensitive information or if you’ve had previous negative interactions with your supervisor. Being asked to separate immediately can be jarring, however, remember that you provided a letter or resignation to formally have the record show that you initiated the separation. This is another reason why announcing your plans in a letter is important versus giving notice verbally.

What to say and not say

According to, your letter of resignation should be very concise. You should state specifically that you are leaving the company, when your final date of employment will be and thank the organization for the experience. This is not the time to lament about how you were undervalued on the job or overlooked for promotions. Remember, this letter goes into your HR file and becomes a part of your permanent record with the organization. It’s important to demonstrate a professional departure in case you should ever want to return to the organization or want to use this employer as a reference in the future. If there are specific duties you can do to help assist in the transition, you may also list those. You do not have to include where you’re headed or why you’re leaving.

Don’t take company property or proprietary items

Please make sure you return all laptops, cell phones and other equipment loaned to you for work. You do not want the cost for these items to be pulled out of your last check or your last check to be withheld until the items are returned. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but people will remember how you suddenly “lost” the company iPhone just as you provided your letter of resignation. It’s not a good look. There once was an employee who took it upon herself to delete company files in a team folder on her way out the door and her supervisor learned about the missing data in the midst of the farewell gathering that was being thrown for her. The supervisor pulled her to the side to ask her about it. Her response was to storm out of the party. HR got involved to withhold her final check and eventually the missing documents were returned.

You never know when your path will cross with former employers

While in the moment it may seem like you will never need to call upon a past employer ever again, you never know when your paths could cross in the future. It’s not uncommon for a resume to land on a hiring manager’s desk and he or she sees a familiar company listed in the work history. They may take it upon themselves to reach out to a personal contact at the company to informally ask about you. I’ve personally received one of these calls about a direct report and although it meant I would lose the team member (who hadn’t yet resigned), I was happy to give a glowing recommendation because he was a joy to work with. However, how would that conversation have gone if the staff member was so ready for their next opportunity that their work on the job began to suffer or if they were a negative Nancy who sullied the mood of the office with pessimistic conversations about how unhappy they were?

While I was working as an independent contractor in LA, there came a time when the agency I was working for wanted to change the deal structure of the projects I worked on. Instead of being paid per project (I was working on about five at the time), they wanted to pay me one lump sum regardless of how many projects came onboard. This wasn’t going to be cost effective for me and ultimately, I told the agency I would close out my existing projects for them and part ways. One of the partners called me and fussed me out really good and I… took it. I told him I understood that he was upset and how much I really enjoyed the projects that I had worked on, but that the new structure wasn’t going to fit my needs and I would do everything to make sure these final projects were wrapped up as neatly as possible. After he got over his disbelief that I was really leaving, he had to accept my decision. Years later, the owner of that agency called me and offered me an even better job, making more money, which I accepted. Now, what if I had cursed that partner out for getting loud with me? It could’ve impacted an entire chain of events in my life that I was later blessed to experience, all because I offered grace in a difficult situation.

In conclusion, it doesn’t matter if this moment has to be the best theatrical performance of your life….it is imperative that you resign in a manner that dignifies you as a person of good character and integrity. Last impressions are just as important as first impressions. When it comes to leaving a company, make sure your last impression is unforgettable for all the right reasons.

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