Consultancy, strategy and change

Top tips for a smooth resignation

There are lots of ways to resign. Punching the boss at the Christmas party, ‘defriending’ him on Facebook or putting your golf membership on expenses are just some of them. While all of them will have the desired effect of a rapid departure from your employer, they don’t really represent best practice.
I’ve been helping people resign from employers for 20 years. Their range of emotions going into the meeting has varied from elated to terrified, but by following the approved methodology it need not end in violence.

1. Make sure you’re on safe ground

Finding a great new job is obviously a cause for celebration, and so is leaving one you are tired of, however too many candidates resign without having a confirmed offer in writing from their new employer. There are about a million reasons for not doing this, but the main reason is that you are about to effectively make yourself redundant from your current role and hence you need to be very sure that the role you’re resigning for definitely exists. This means a written offer, defining all your pay and benefits, and ideally both a confirmed start date and sight of the contract you’ll be asked to sign. If you haven’t got the written offer, don’t resign. Ever.

2. Finding the right moment

Never resign by email.
In fact, conveying any important piece of information by email is a bad idea, but resigning by email is really poor form. My reasons for saying this have their antecedents in old-fashioned good manners, but actually are grounded in pragmatism. A resignation, while inevitably and ultimately a formal process, is better handled face-to-face – with nothing committed to paper.
Timing is important. I would generally say that the end of the day is the best time to do the deed. Your boss is unlikely to have the excuse of another meeting to go to and there is the additional benefit of less people around to hear his cries of anguish.
While a convivial pint afterwards might be in order to show there are no hard feelings, I would strongly advise that the resignation is done somewhere quiet, private and a short sprint from the HR director’s office if things get nasty!

3. ‘It’s not you, it’s me’

In fact, it usually isn’t. The biggest single genuine reason I have come across for people to register with me is because they don’t rate their manager. Not money, ‘making a difference’, learning new things or any other reasons they think they should tell me but just that they’ve lost confidence in the boss.
However, the resignation meeting is too late to air your dirty laundry. Now is not the time to mention the boss’s lack of vision, poor management skills, obsession with Oldham Athletic and halitosis. It’s not going to help you get out of the door with the minimum of fuss. Much better to use one of the lines you used on Mavis/Godfrey (delete as appropriate) when you decided you didn’t want to share their Space Dust while watching 3-2-1 on the telly… “I’m really sorry. You’re great. But I’ve changed.” There was no reason to tell your first love that you were seeing their best friend, and the resignation meeting is no time to tell your boss they’re a chump.
“It’s been a great two years. You’ve taught me loads. Now it’s time to move on and learn something new. Thank you for your support. You’ve been great”.
Works every time.

4. The ‘buy back’ - stand firm

Assuming you’ve handled this half well and that you’re reasonably good at your job, your boss (or his boss) is unlikely to take this lying down. Depending on how good you are you’re likely to be offered:
  • Advice that the company you’re going to is rubbish, you’re rubbish and your life will be rubbish if you leave Nasty Git Computers Inc to try to make it in the world outside.
  • A seat nearer the window and your own choice of pot plant.
  • A meaningless job title and no more money.
  • A meaningless job title and a bit more money.
  • Your boss’ meaningless job title and quite a bit more money.
It amazes me when candidates fall for this stuff, but they do. “Yesterday they didn’t know I exist, but now they love me," they say. This happens all the time in movies for pre-teens, but in the real world it just reflects the following thought processes in your boss’ mind…
  • ##########!!!!!! (insert expletive here)
  • That’s incredibly inconvenient
  • How do I make this go away?
  • I’ll offer him something I should have given him anyway and is less than I’ll have to give to his replacement
  • Now I know he wants out I’ll start to think about how I manage him out on my terms and not his
It really does happen like this, and the important fact to hold onto no matter what they offer you is, ‘what’s changed?’. In reality, the only thing that’s changed is that they know you’re not there for the long haul and they need to manage a transition – ideally on their terms. This is why 90% of candidates who are ‘bought back’ leave within a year.
This is a good time to mention the clever, insidious tactic of the exit interview. This sinister artifice of the large corporate is always dressed up as a touchy-feely HR-led initiative designed for companies to ‘learn how we can be the best employer we can be and improve our employee engagement.’ This is the equivalent of a magic spell, and the next thing you know you’ll be sitting in front of Hermione Granger from the HR team and wondering why you were so stupid.
The exit interview isn’t anything to do with employee engagement in a general sense. It’s entirely about making the employee sitting in front of them learn the error of their ways. If you imagine Hermione is actually O’Brien from 1984 all they way through the meeting, you may come out the other side clutching your P45 after all!

5. ‘Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye’

Although what I’ve written above may convince you otherwise, the reality is that for most candidates this process will go fairly smoothly. Good employers will understand your reasons and handle you courteously. Bad employers are so used to doing this stuff so will handle you just as they always have done.
Now it falls to you to take the moral high ground. Many candidates at this stage go demob happy, start handing out the business cards of the recruiter that has found them a job and spend the day planning their leaving drinks and writing rude messages on the company intranet site. There are loads of reasons why you shouldn’t do this, but here is my favourite (real) example.
Keith (not her real name) is offered a position and more money at her employer’s most fierce competitor. Having accepted and resigned her position, she decides to use her notice period to call all her friends long distance, take prolonged absences to go shopping and to the hairdressers and tell everyone in earshot above how much more money she’ll be earning and what a great guy she’ll be working for.
On her final Friday she receives an email from her new employer asking her to attend a meeting at 8am on her first day.
On the Monday morning she arrives on time to meet her new employer and she, along with the rest of the function, are brought into a meeting room… to meet the CEO of the company which has acquired them over the weekend. Guess who? The CEO of her old employer, which has just bought the company she now works for.
You can guess what happened next.
Most candidates give scant regard for their old employer while they’re serving notice, but it’s incredibly important to maintain cordial relations during this time and afterwards. Nothing is forever and a lasting, positive legacy may well be invaluable in the future.
Paul Simon wrote that there are fifty ways to leave your lover, and there are at least that many ways to leave your job. However, handling it the right way will make it a painless exercise for all concerned and send you off to your new role in the right way.
For more career advice from recruitment experts, visit Michael Page Consultancy, Strategy & Change or get in touch.