How to Resign Without Burning Bridges

Considering leaving your job? Experts say the way you quit can hurt or help your career. 

The threat of a potential recession is not discouraging workers from voluntarily leaving their jobs. Despite recent mass layoffs in top companies and an uncertain market outlook for the new year, many people still refuse to stick it out in their current firms. In fact, 4.1 million employees called it quits in September, according to a recent survey by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

These days workers aren’t solely resigning for a pay bump or a promotion, they’re looking for a sense of gratification, experts say. Across all generations people are trying to figure out what they want to be, says Tiffinee Swanson, a senior consultant and executive coach at Korn Ferry Advance.  It could partly be due to the pandemic and the events over the past couple years. “Whatever happened awakened this need for people to want to be fulfilled in their jobs and recognizing that they might need to leave to do so,” she says.

But given the economic slowdown, experts advise to keep a window open to come back. It's important now more than ever to quit with grace. Some tips:

Reflect and plan.

Before you quit, ensure that you’re progressing towards something rather than running away from your current situation, says Valerie Olson, an executive coach at Korn Ferry Advance. If you’re unhappy, figure out the reason behind it and try to make changes. Still if you need to leave, experts advise to have a job lined up or a contingency plan set in place. Notify your boss before telling others.

Don’t mentally resign.

Oftentimes after workers turn in their notice, they tend to mentally quit during the last few days or weeks, experts say. Don’t stop working just because you’ve decided to quit. Perform like you normally would even during the period between submitting your resignation letter and actually leaving the job. “Keep going until you’re out the door,” says Swanson. If you’re burnt out and can’t continue to work, Swanson suggests taking a leave of absence or using your remaining PTO in the last few days. It’s still better than showing up to the office but not being fully present with your duties.

Hand off smoothly.

It’s typically not possible to finish all the projects you’re working on before your last day. Ensure that you create a seamless hand off process so that your boss and colleagues have an easy transition, says Swanson. Breakdown the work you’ve been doing and answer any questions regarding it. Inform your team of upcoming deadlines on the projects you’ll be leaving behind, and share documentation and any standard operating procedures with them.

Be cautious with feedback.

Most companies conduct an exit interview when an employee decides to leave. Don’t vent all your frustrations about the firm or your manager because you’re leaving, experts say. “It’s a really quick way to burn a bridge and destroy relationships,” says Swanson. To end on a good note and have an opportunity to potentially return you need to choose your words carefully. Prepare before you go into the interview so you don’t get caught off guard. Share constructive feedback and pointers that are helpful to the company.

Show appreciation.

Don’t abruptly leave. Inform your co-workers and close contacts. Meetup with them or send an email  to express your gratitude. Share what you’ve learnt from them and your appreciation. “People value relationships, so make sure you nurture those,”says Swanson. But don’t overshare your reasons for leaving or future plans, advises Olson.