By Karina Margit Erdelyi

The “Great Resignation”…Quitting Your Job? How to Make a Graceful Exit

A seemingly massive exodus of workers has been looking to change jobs, motivated to land a role they feel is more in line with their vision of life post-pandemic. If you are one of them, here’s how to make your exit in a smart and graceful way.

A wave of workers looking for flexible working arrangements, promotions, and better pay are thinking of saying “I quit” as the United States emerges from the Covid pandemic.

Four million Americans quit their jobs in April — a record high according to the U.S. Department of Labor. And 27% plan to leave their positions when the pandemic more fully subsides, according to Prudential’s Pulse of the American Worker Survey conducted in March 2021. And it’s not just here — workers worldwide are sharing similar sentiments. More than 40% of respondents to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index — a global survey of over 30,000 people in 31 countries — conducted in January 2021, said they were thinking about leaving their employer this year. Say hello to the ‘Great Resignation.’

The pandemic created an opportunity for people to re-examine their lives and think about their careers from a new vantage. After WFH for the last year and a half, many people are not eager to return to the slog of a daily commute and/or perhaps give up the freedom of a more autonomous schedule, having more family time, and control over their work environment. Many workers also saved money by not spending as much on trains, planes, automobiles, and more hum-drum things like dry cleaning, pantyhose, and manicures. The reality is that we have stepped into the future of work, and many workers have no interest in returning to the pre-pandemic status quo.

Whether you’re a seasoned executive or just starting in your career, there are right and wrong ways to make an exit.

Play it wrong now, and you may miss out on future job opportunities or a positive reference. A graceful exit is a strategic business move and will help you build your professional brand while creating goodwill and preserving social capital — here are some tips to help guide your next steps.

  • Think (carefully) before you jump.

Make sure that the new position is all it is cracked up to be. Does it fit your career path? Does it offer you room for growth?

In the interest of avoiding potential misunderstandings, get all details around compensation, responsibilities, PTO, benefits, and start dates in writing. Be sure to discuss plans for giving notice to your current employer and negotiate a start date that gives ample time for notice and a break (i.e., 2-week notice is standard to current employer, 1 to 2 weeks acceptable to refresh). Definitely consider taking time in between roles so that you can make a fresh (and well-rested) start.

  • Tell your manager first.

Before putting anything in writing, schedule a meeting with your boss. Share that you have something important to discuss but don’t explicitly say that you’re leaving. Ideally, the conversation should occur face-to-face or via video chat as a professional courtesy. Devise a set of talking points. Have ready answers to questions like “Why are you leaving this job?” and “What can we do to keep you?” It’s essential to organize your thoughts so that you can communicate clearly. And if possible, express gratitude for the opportunity to work at the company.

Word to the wise: Your manager should be the first to know about your plans to leave — while you may want to discuss with work friends, but sometimes the rumor mill may beat you to the punch. The best course of action? Proceed as respectfully as possible.

  • Be prepared to mitigate the impact.

Recognizing that the news will likely be unwelcome, come prepared to soften the information. You can do this in several ways: we advise in most cases not to entertain counter offers, expressing to your employer that you have too much respect to use an outside offer for leverage, and if any big projects think about the benefits of completing those first before executing notice (to ensure seamless transition), and if leaving on good terms following up in a couple of months with supervisor to see if replacement had any questions or information gaps.

  • Keep your resignation letter simple, positive, and straightforward.

Your resignation letter will serve as a follow-up to the conversation with your boss and is an excellent example of less-is-more. A few sentences will generally suffice — be sure to include your last day of work, your future contact information, and echo the expression of gratitude from your conversation in writing.  

  • Make and plan and prepare for your resignation.

Create a project status list complete with next steps and detail work processes essential to your current role. Your manager may not be aware of all your job details and tasks — crafting the crucial components of your job in an actionable fashion will help with the transition.

  • Inform internal and external audiences.

Once you have had a chance to speak with your manager, craft a coordinated plan to notify your colleagues and those that may report to you directly. Keep your disclosure positive and chalk your move up to “pull” factors rather than “push.” Maintaining a helpful tone in your communication will allow for a smoother transition. Be sure to discuss your communication plan with your boss and plot out who should know and in what sequence — which is of particular importance for outside partners who may need to have a clear transition plan when notified of your resignation.

  • Give two weeks’ notice.

The customary and acceptable practice is to give two weeks’ notice, but those in executive positions may want to provide more time to allow their company to find a suitable replacement. The more proactive you are about helping ease the transition, the more it demonstrates goodwill to the organization you are leaving, helping keep bridges intact.

  • Stay in touch.

Staying in touch with former colleagues is not just polite; it is also a strategic networking practice. After you start your new role, update your LinkedIn and other industry-specific social media channels. Consider sending thank you notes to each of the people who helped you along your journey at your old company. After a few months, check back in with your colleagues. Perhaps send an article or short “thinking of you” note, which will help keep those relationships salient.