A Boss's Open Letter To Workers Who Want To Quit

Todd DefrenBy Todd Defren

Two people quit my company this month. That's OK; it happens. Before these unfortunate events, I liked these employees a lot. Afterward, I only liked one of 'em.

The woman who quit "the right way" will discover that she lost a boss but found a long-term champion of her success. The other employee may as well be dead to me.

Quitting a job sounds like it should be straightforward, right? Yet as in all things career-related, there's a right and wrong way, and how you approach these delicate situations could have longer-term impacts than you might consider in the heat of the moment.

From my perspective, the graceful exit is a lost art, especially among the millennial set. To be fair, they don't have a lot of experience with quitting an employer. The oodles of time that a typical millennial spends thinking about the workplace tends to focus on perfecting the resume, the cover letter, the thank-you note, and later, mastering the rocky apprenticeship period, and looking for opportunities to advance.

Inevitably, however, "a better offer comes along." Reality sets in at the current gig and it's not nearly so dreamy after a few years of bad coffee and cranky customers. You're ready to make a move. How can you make it a positive experience?

More: An Employer's Tough-Love Letter To New Grads

1. Understand you need a plan. You should understand why you should plan for your resignation so that your leaving is a positive experience rather than a negative one. A career is something you cultivate over a long period. Everything you do, everyone you interact with, could impact your fortunes. Quit badly, and you've left a bad taste in your former co-workers and bosses' mouths that will linger -- until they've figuratively spat on your reputation: Say, when a random recruiter comes looking for references or when a colleague asks for a recommendation about your work, years from now.

2. Put yourself in your employer's shoes. Could you wait another week? If you quit when the office is in the middle of a huge project or up against a do-or-die deadline, it's going to make your employer's job doubly hard. I am not saying to quit only when it's convenient for your employer, only that it's respectful to consider such factors –- in return for the investment, the training and loyalty your current employer gave you. You want to be remembered as someone who helped solve those problems, not as someone who added to them.

3. Give as much notice as possible. Whenever that fateful "quittin' time" comes, offer as much advance notice as possible. Quitting and then packing up and leaving is very poor form. That was the big mistake made by one of the two employees I mentioned above. After spending years here as a friend and colleague, it was a shock when the employee came to the office early, resigned to work for a competitor, and walked out. Here's a pro tip: if your new employer is pressuring you to beg off the standard two weeks' notice to your old employer, make note of their lack of integrity. I predict similarly troubling things in your future with them.

More: Why I Went Into Debt To Make My Employees Rich

4. Two weeks should be the minimum amount of notice you give. If you're important to the company, consider offering 3 to 4 weeks' notice. Such offers are rarely accepted: most employers don't want a "short timer" lingering for 30 days. That said, your willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty will be remembered fondly.

5. Don't spend your last days on the job complaining about the place. Waxing lyrically about your new opportunity isn't cool either. That's poisoning the well. Be tactful. Be respectful.

6. Leave the employer a full account of your projects. If you prepare a formal memo detailing your current to-do's, offering suggestions about the upcoming work assignments, listing out the types and locations of relevant resources, etc., you'll be greeted with a grateful sigh from your shell-shocked boss. This level of prep will remind them why they hired you in the first place; why they valued your contributions; and why they'll miss you after you depart.

7. And after quitting, stay in touch. Really. Everyone says "please stay in touch" -– including employers sad to see you go –- but most former employees boogie into that great unknown with nary a backward glance. That's a mistake. You might need that employer again down the road. What if you wind up hating the new gig and are contemplating a return? What if your new employer winds up hating you, and now you need a contemporary reference?

What if, 15 years from now, you are freelancing and looking for some leads from your network? Are you catching my drift, here?

Your former colleagues and bosses are not to be considered "former" but current members of your extended professional network. Send 'em a note now and then. "Like" a photo of their kids on Facebook. Recommend someone to work at the ol' place.

8. Be a connector, not just a defector. I've been in the workforce for 22 years now, and a "boss" for about half that time. I have forged many professional friendships in that time, and include many former employees in my network. Inevitably, it was the folks who left on good terms whom I tried to help climb the career ladder even after they left.

Those folks who burned the bridge on their way out the door? It saddens me to admit it but –- despite years of loyal service up to that point -– their inglorious, inept or spiteful behavior during and/or after their resignation is the only thing I remember about them.

When it comes to your career, "last impressions" can be as important as "first impressions."

Todd Defren is CEO of SHIFT Communications, a national $16 million social media PR firm recently named "Small Agency of the Year." He lives in San Francisco and Boston.
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Todd Smith

You employers are hypocrites. You give NO respect and expect employees to give respect in return. I quit a job I had for years last year with no notice. Couldn't care less. You employers are the biggest hypocrites on the planet.

August 01 2015 at 7:37 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I am relieved to see so many people expressing my exact thoughts: traditional business etiquette is inequitable. Employers should not feel entitled to receive something that they don't feel obligated to give. Companies that offer little job security do not deserve loyalty, and employers who fire without notice do not deserve advanced notice before quitting.

July 25 2015 at 1:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

" I am not saying to quit only when it's convenient for your employer, only that it's respectful to consider such factors –- in return for the investment, the training and loyalty your current employer gave you. "

WHAT?? My current employer cared LESS if there were issues between my director and I, never mediated after I placed a grievance, and sided with my director and VP even after they LIED about the purpose of a particular directive. I had the email in my hand and they STILL LIED about this issue. LOYALTY?? None for me, just to those who continue to cover for their poor leadership skills and maintain the status quo. TRAINING??? I am over qualified for my position and a HS grad could do my position. My education is underutilized and there is basically no training they have offered me that is better in any way the the training and education I brought to the table without this job.

I gave my 2 week notice and requested to use my my two weeks as PTO time which I had more than enough of. I was told no way and if I wanted to do that they would consider it a "quit" with my day of notice my last day of employment. Mind you, I am a non-essential employee and there are no projects pending...

THIS DESERVES LOYALTY? The stupidest thing I ever did was be honest and give notice. I should have taken as much PTO time as I could and THEN walk the hell out.

Plus, your comment about past employees being "dead to you" is reminiscent of parents who find out their kids are gay and can't handle it. Weird...

March 13 2015 at 10:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ashley Renée Hampson

"dead to you"---really?

December 04 2014 at 7:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ARE You Serious

This is so funny, any mid-large corp wouldn't think twice about shipping your job overseas , or lay you off for a cheaper new grad... Too funny.

December 03 2014 at 6:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Employers don't give employees 2 weeks notice after being fired or laid off.

May 04 2014 at 5:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Agustina Prigoshin

Great piece, Todd! I can relate with those who've had horrible bosses and wanted to quit in a way that would hurt their employer, but leaving gracefully is always the best option. I worked for a company where I was subjected to racial and religious discrimination by all the higher ups, but I realized it wasn't worth it to stoop to their level and leave on bad terms. Every resignation is different and unique, but keeping in mind the impact it can have on your future is extremely important.

June 05 2013 at 11:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dunlop Law Firm

I agree with Todd. It is sad how often employees who are quitting become incredibly nasty and vindictive to all around them. They do not seem to understand that even in a termination, an employer worries and frets over the decision. It is nort something we enjoy.

May 30 2013 at 7:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is the right thing to do, if you are in a bad job, be the bigger person when you leave. I will not hire someone who is presently employed unless they give their current employer two weeks notice, don't want the other type of employee who quits and runs-shows me a lack of respect which will show up in thier work.

May 30 2013 at 9:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You know what? These employers who have sexually harassed me and tried to intimidate me into working long hours without overtime or health insurance can kiss my ass if they think I care about their recommendation. When I was in dire need of work and couldn't leave these painful situations for fear of losing my home, these dysfunctional abusive, users took advantage. It gave me pleasure to leave them high and dry, and they should consider themselves lucky I didn't sue. So, before they defame my character and good name, they better be willing to prove it in a court of law. Applicant be warned is more like it!

May 15 2013 at 9:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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