Never Can Say Goodbye: The Gentle Art Of Resigning

by Mark Ellwood

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As the vaccination programme rolls out globally and market confidence starts to return, we are now starting to see an increase in hiring activity and more people moving jobs. And naturally, we’ve had more enquiries about the best way to actually resign. So today we’ve written a guide to help you navigate the process, keeping key relationships intact and making the process as smooth as possible.


1. Check your contract and paperwork.

This is part that so many people miss – the first hurdle. There are two main things to check in both your contract and also any subsequent offer letters you have received (for example, when being promoted) – those are restrictive clauses and notice periods.

Restrictive clauses are clauses in your contract that may prevent you from working for a competitor for a set amount of time after leaving your current employer. They are designed to prevent employees taking the business IP and customer relationships to a competitor, or setting up their own business as a competitor, and causing undue damage to the previous employer. Their validity is usually restricted by time, geography and to businesses in the same line of work (similar services, similar customers). If you do work for a competitor, the chances are you will be required to take a period of gardening leave (where you are paid to work/sit-out your notice period without coming to the office) to minimize the potential impact on your previous employer. It’s important to agree an approach with your current employer so you can leave in good faith and avoid legal action. With that said, it is possible to be too restricted by the clauses and this could be a deal-breaker for your new role, so it is essential to check before you accept a new position.

Notice period. This is the amount of time you must give your employer to make arrangements before you leave. This amount of time varies greatly with role-responsibility, from a week during probationary periods, up to six months for very senior key people. The longer notice periods usually reflect the increased difficulty the business will have in finding your replacement and ensuring the continuity of the work you’ve been doing.  Your notice period may be stated in your contract, but often it is on your offer letter. You may also receive offer letters during your employment when you get promoted that note an increase in your notice period – don’t be caught off-guard by the small print. You may be able to negotiate down your notice period with your employer, or they may ask you to work the full period in the contract. Either way, it’s important that you come to an agreement and work out the period in good faith.  Also check your contract for the clauses around paid leave in relation to notice period. If you have leave remaining, it’s very likely these hours or days will be deducted from your notice period.


2. Verbally accept the new offer.

If you are leaving your current job, the chances are that it’s because you have a new one to go to. Having checked your contract and notice period and updated your new employer in case start dates need changing, you’ll first want to verbally accept the offer your new employer has made – this secures the new role, triggering their contract to be sent out. The best approach is to then safely hand in your notice with your current employer. Note that verbally accepting doesn’t tie you to the new role officially – only a signed contract does that. This means it is still possible to turn down the new offer, but this would be an awkward situation and best avoided unless there really is no alternative (such as a counter-offer you can’t refuse), as this can burn the bridge with the new company. Therefore, you may wish to sit on the contract until you’ve formally handed in your notice with your current employer – which means you need to be quick with that process to juggle both of these time-sensitive tasks.


3. Write your letter.

Keep your letter simple. You’ll find some guides online suggesting you include your reasons for leaving – we would advise against that. That is a subject for verbal discussion. Instead, keep to the formal basics – the fact you are leaving, when your last day will be, thanks to particular people for help, guidance and opportunity, and a commitment to work with HR to ensure a smooth handover. That’s it. The core basics with a  touch of positivity (even if you hated your job and are leaving because you couldn’t stand it – more on that later).


4. Have the sensitive conversations.

Before you hand in your letter, you’ll want to have a confidential chat with your manager first. The information that you’re leaving is best delivered by you than indirectly by HR, and your manager will be the first person that gets informed. Your manager may be a close friend you know will take it hard, or they may be your nemesis and the reason you’re leaving. Either way, you need to have this conversation as part of the professional leaving process. So be prepared for a (possibly difficult) conversation and don’t put it off or over-think it. Get it done.

Timing: Request an update with your manager, get a video call or meeting in the diary, and then divulge the information when you meet. The start of the day is often best – allowing your manager time to react and converse with colleagues in the business. Leaving it until the end of the day can create overnight stress.

Reasoning: Your manager may or may not be surprised depending on your previous conversations, and they’ll most likely want to understand your reasons, so be prepared to talk these through and be very clear in your mind. It is possible they may want to discuss possible ways to keep you – and this is where we advise you to stick to your plan.

Most reactions from your manager, and ultimately your employers, will fall into three categories.

i. The counter-offer: Is it just more money or are there other changes as well? Would it change the way you feel about the business and the new job opportunity that you’ve verbally accepted? Many people who do accept counter-offers end up back on the market within the year. Unless there is substantive change, possibly including in the structure your current employer’s organisation, then counter-offers are often simply rearranging the furniture. So, do consider any counter-offer carefully, but also analyse the core reasons you wanted to move and whether this changes them. Be clear with your manager about what your new role offers you in terms of progression and development.

ii. Emotional response:  Often along the lines of incredulity – “we’ve invested so much in you” – or panic damage control, such as immediate gardening leave with an unwarranted, perhaps unceremonious, ejection from the office. Your employer may even feel angry or betrayed. Accept that these are possible scenarios. The important thing is to stay rational and professional, even if those around you are being less so. Remember this is a process you have to go through before enjoying the new opportunity that awaits.

iii. The fond farewell: Of course, this is the response we would all hope for. Your manager and employer ask if there is anything they can do to make you stay, but ultimately accept your reasoning, thank you for all your hard work and help arrange a goodbye for you with your colleagues.

Internal stakeholders: Once you have informed your manager and there is an understanding about your leaving, you may wish to personally inform any other key people who have sponsored or assisted or worked with you closely in the organisation. This common courtesy will avoid them feeling let down or left out and keeps these important relationships positive.  Afterall, keeping your network in good health will increase your employment opportunities down the line. Just mention to your manager that you intend to do this to make sure there are no issues here.


5. Submit your resignation letter.

After squaring the situation with your manager, submit your resignation as soon as possible so that it stays in-line with your stated leaving date.  Make sure you keep a record of when you submitted the letter and who received it (usually HR)  - ideally keeping a read receipt on an email. This is simply covering you in case your letter gets lost, or your employer claims they never received it. This is unusual but can happen. It is also reassurance in case you don’t get a response for ages – a result of it falling down the essentials list of the HR department, or your employer quickly trying to arrange counter-offer plans.

A good approach is printing a signed copy of the letter to give to your manager after the meeting and then following up with an email just to be sure. If you’re doing this online, Cc your manager on the email to HR with your letter.


6. Continue working.

After the previous stages, you now need to keep working, as per your contract, until your end date, with the added workload of preparing a handover. The workload should ease as tasks are slowly offloaded to others, but not always. Also note that you should not approach clients with the information unless your manager agrees, and be careful about who you discuss your situation with inside the business. It is best to err on the side of confidentiality as much as possible. If your employer feels you are causing a fuss, this can create issues.


7. Exit interviews.

Your employer might ask if you will take part in an exit interview - usually with a manager or senior managers. This is now common practice in large organisations and gives them valuable intelligence as to why people are leaving, allowing them to make changes internally as a result.

These meetings are not designed to try and persuade you to stay – so be as professional and helpful as possible and get the panel to understand your push-pull factors. Afterall, the employer wants to know what they can do better to hold on to the rest of their staff, which is virtuous. It’s possible you were simply headhunted out of the blue and took days, with much soul-searching, before you decided. You can be honest about all of this in the meeting.

If there are things the employer could have done better, you can cover these briefly and as diplomatically as possible. Do not start ranting about all the things that were wrong in your opinion, or people that you didn’t get along with – none of that will help you, even if it is the main reason you are leaving. Definitely don’t use it as an opportunity to settle a score or verbally abuse anyone. Conversely, leaving on good terms will be hugely beneficial. So often we see people being tracked down and hired by people they once worked with.


8. Handover meetings.

You may also be required to have follow-up meetings on your handover – this is to ensure all the loose ends are being tied up, and you may be asked to mentor, and possible train, the person who will be taking on your responsibilities. Be as diligent as possible can so that everyone feels you’ve done what you can to handover well.


9. Secure references.

This is where all your diplomacy, hard work and diligence with the handover pays off. You’ll need references, one of which is likely to be a current employer reference.  If you’ve kept all those relationships intact, it should be easy to get a good reference. That said, some employers will only give a formal reference – which includes your start and end dates and what role you were employed for, with no assessment of your performance.


10. Stay in touch.

And again, the other reason you want to keep things smooth is so you can stay in touch with your past colleagues. You may well have friends from work who you’ll want to keep up with, but staying in touch with key people is important. You’ll never know who you may want to hire, or who will hire you down the line, and references from past employers are not uncommon, including character references.


Don’t forget, as recruiters, we are here to help you with every step of this process and to offer guidance and advice when you’re not sure, so drop us a line if you need to clarify anything or need some further guidance.