Take the High Road

Sooner or later, most of us face the resignation blues. Resigning is never easy, especially when you’ve worked at a position for several years and have become part of the team. Some employers and co-workers take it personally and accuse you of abandoning ship. However, handling your resignation as thoughtfully and professionally as you have handled your search for a new job can help make your resignation relatively smooth and amicable.


Leave your employer on a positive note. Moving on does not have to be a time for long faces. After all, you have just won an opportunity to advance, an opportunity for which you owe your current employer sincere thanks. Thank your colleagues, too, for their help in preparing you to move onward and upward.

If you have given your best to the job, you will be missed – especially by those inconvenienced by your leaving! Let them know that you intend to assist them in whatever ways you can. By showing your boss and firm due respect, you encourage future support you may someday need.

When you resign, keep your conversation simple and concise. The more you say, the more questions you may have to answer. Avoid lengthy discussion about your new opportunity with your old employer. Typically, your resignation will create extra work and headaches for others.

Chances are, your boss will be caught off-guard by your resignation, and will not be able to listen clearly to your explanations due to concerns about the sudden challenge your leaving presents. Because your boss is losing a valued employee, he or she may express negative opinions about your new firm or position. You may find yourself having to justify your personal goals and decisions or absorb the personal frustrations of others. If you’re dealing with volatile or vindictive personalities, it may be best to avoid revealing where you will be going.

Often it’s best to say that you are not at liberty to discuss where you are going or your new salary because your new employer wants it kept quiet and will announce it when you start. You can also ask for an immediate release by saying, “I’m happy to work for the next two weeks but my new employer really would like me sooner.” This helps you avoid the awkward “lame duck” period and who knows, you may end up with a much needed week off to clear your head before starting with your new company.

If you feel you may face a hostile atmosphere, resign at the end of your work day so that you are no longer on company time and are in control of your schedule. Try to schedule any discussions for the following morning when everyone can face your departure after time to absorb and reflect on the news. If you have to defend yourself at this meeting, or if things begin to get out of control, ask to reschedule the meeting for a more appropriate time.


Resigning orally may place you in the compromising position of having to explain your decision on the spot. The specific words you use can be powerfully charged when you reveal a decision which has such an impact on your organization. Choose your words with care. Your boss many want to probe for factors which led to your decision. You may be asked who or what is the reason for your leaving, or may be invited to offer suggestions to help make the organization more effective. If you have had a close relationship with your boss, you may feel obligated to answer candidly.

Don’t fall into this trap! Use your head and discuss personal, heartfelt matters outside the office. Remember, your interrogator is still your boss. Whatever you say will be viewed as biased – after all, you have severed your relationship with the organization – and whatever you say may eventually be used against you. At this point, you are no longer considered a team player, nor viewed as having the company’s best interest at heart. They, in turn, may not be focused on your best interests.

Too often, resigning employees come to regret their comments when they are misinterpreted or exaggerated in the retelling. Constructive criticism is no longer your responsibility. You probably already tried that in the past and weren’t heard. It can carry a high cost which could jeopardize references you may need in the future.

Instead, offer sincere praise for the firm and those with whom you worked. Prepare yourself beforehand by focusing on several positive aspects of your workplace, and mention them liberally when the opportunity arises. Even if favorite aspects were, say, the great lunches, or humorous stories told over coffee, better to mention those than to harp on disappointments or shortcomings. (These, you are already addressing by moving on to greener pastures.) You want to be perceived as a positive, constructive individual in forward motion. People will remember your last impression. Make it your best performance. You may want to tell your boss something like:

“I need to discuss something with you if you have a moment. I’ve been made an exceptional offer by another firm, and I’ve decided to accept it. My wife and I have given this opportunity a lot of thought. As much as I’d like to advance within this company, we feel the new opportunity is in our best long-term interest. We deeply appreciate all you and the firm have done for me here. I don’t think I would have been presented this exceptional opportunity if not for your support and leadership. I want to thank you. I hope I can leave with your good wishes. You’ve been a friend as well as a boss.”

Butter them up. Suck it up. Whatever you have to do. Make it positive just this one last time.  If probed for more information, you may want to claim that there is nothing else to say right now. Simply communicate that you are leaving a good opportunity for an even better one which suits your aspirations.


Written resignations give you the time to effectively prepare what you wish to communicate, and give you greater control over your delivery of the message. You can’t be thrown off-track by an unexpected remark as can happen during a confrontational conversation. A written resignation also reinforces the fact that you are really leaving and are not simply threatening in order to renegotiate your position. Also, there is something permanent about the written word which often circumvents interrogation.

Under no circumstance should you state any dissatisfactions with the firm or individuals. Not only is it good manners to stress the positive when leaving but, items in your personal file may long outlast the individuals and circumstances responsible for your dissatisfaction. You never know when your path will cross those of your former colleagues.

To keep your resignation short, simple and positive, you may want to write something like:

“Dear ,

I want to thank you for all you have done for me here at

[Company]. It’s been a pleasure working with you, and representing the company as your [job title].

After careful consideration, I have accepted a position with another company that is more in line with my career goals. Although I consider my past and present relationship with [Company] to be very beneficial, my decision is firm.. Therefore, I must submit my resignation effective [Date] (i.e., Monday, January 14th).

During the remainder of my stay, I will continue to conduct my work professionally and efficiently, and do all that I can to minimize the effects of my departure.

I wish [Company] continued success, and I want to thank you for allowing me to be a part of your team. Please fee free to contact me at any time if I can be of further assistance in helping with a smooth transition.


[Your Name]

Letters get filed and passed around to explain what happened, reducing the call for endless orations on the same subject. They also dispel any perceived ambivalence in your behavior during this delicate time.


Before leaving the firm, take time to speak with each of your support staff, peers, executive personnel and others with whom you’ve worked. To the extent practical, clear up any unfinished business. Be sensitive to others’ reactions and keep your conversations positive and constructive.

Some people may naturally express their own discontentment and may egg you on to agree with them. Don’t! Your name WILL come up the next time they make a complaint. “Well, Bob left because…” Instead, express your appreciation and tell your colleagues you’ll miss them. A little time spent nurturing relationships before leaving for your new job will go a long way to build support for your future.

Also keep in mind that it is professional courtesy to give your employer ample notice to help them prepare for your departure – typically 2 to 4 weeks. However, you should try to get out as soon as possible to avoid recurring invitations to tell your story, and to avoid having to deal with the frustrations and pressures at the job as the firm adjusts to your leaving. Offer two or three weeks but actively seek to minimize the number of days you have left.

©Tom Keoughan 2016