Hint: Don’t throw things.
Everyone loves a good quitting story. The time when an account manager at your old job who’d been passed over for a raise stormed out, shouting about the patriarchy. The time when your cousin smashed every dish she was carrying to the bus tub when a customer called her “sweetheart.” And of course, all of those times that you’ve rehearsed telling you manager right to his stupid face exactly where he can shove it.
You may fantasize about quitting in a dramatic fashion. But while zany antics may be cathartic, they won’t help you pay your rent.
In general, there are a few stock rules of politeness and professionalism that tend to go a very long way when it comes to leaving a position without getting blacklisted.
DO: Tell your boss in person, if possible. If you’re especially close with your direct supervisor or you work for a fairly small company, try to get some face time—a lunch works well—to tell her directly.
DO NOT: Worry if you have to do it over email or the phone. Look, not everyone can get a one-on-one with a manager, especially if you work at one of those places where you have approximately 18 bosses. In that case, a brief, direct letter of resignation sent over email or a conference call will suffice.
DO: Give a fair amount of notice. It can be flattering if your new job wants you to start right away, but as much as day-of quitting can be extremely satisfying, the polite thing to do at any job is to give at least two weeks’ notice. This allows your management to assess what they need in your absence, and helps you get your ducks in a row.
DO NOT: Feel compelled to share every detail. Often, when quitting, workers may feel the need to explain every single detail of their exit, especially when sending out a company-wide farewell. This is unnecessary. Your close work friends probably want to know what you’re doing next, but most coworkers don’t need to know where you’re vacationing during your week off.
Similarly, you’re under no obligation to tell anyone what your next job is or why you’re leaving. Feel free to keep it as simple and short as you like.
DO: Leave a constructive review. Websites like Glassdoor can be valuable resources, especially for job-hunters from marginalized groups. If you see that a startup is truly terrible at promoting women, or they don’t hire with an eye towards diversity, you know to stay away. Your experiences can be really helpful to potential new hires.
DO NOT: Take to social media about it. You can definitely announce on Facebook that you’re looking for new work, or that you’re excited about your new opportunity, but unloading all of your workplace gripes on social media is neither a good look for you, nor helpful for the company. You do want to work again, and future employers, I’m sure your mother has told you, might go looking to see what you’ve said.
DO: Be prepared for some unprofessionalism from the upper-levels. There are times when quitting is tense business and, unfortunately, not all adults respond as they should. (Not every goodbye can be accompanied by some half-stale donuts and a farewell card signed by at least a few people you’ve never met.) If you know your exit could come with some unpleasantness, prepare yourself for it. Think they might just try to up and fire you instead? Take the severance and run, or spite them with your grace and give them the best two weeks ever. Worried about retaliation? Look up the laws in your state to ensure that you know your workplace rights.
Here’s how to handle some particularly sticky scenarios:
You realize you’ve made a huge mistake.
It’s been one week since you first plopped your pencil cup and favorite mug onto your shiny new desk, and already you’re positive: This is a mistake. You were never supposed to be here. This is a terrible job. You have to leave.
When you realize that your brand-new job is really just an undiscovered circle of hell—maybe it was the close-talking boss, maybe it’s the fact that you are actually way over-qualified—it’s best to make the quietest and swiftest exit possible. As much as you may feel compelled to grind your teeth and stay the course, the truth is, the sooner you leave, the sooner your employer can call some of the other applicants and hire someone who is going to be great for that gig.
Go directly to your supervisor and let her know that this is just not a good fit. Don’t offer excuses, don’t say what you’re doing next—just hand in a printed letter of resignation and clear out.
Additionally, allow this time to be a cautionary tale: This is why you should absolutely not friend every co-worker on Facebook on your first day, even if they seem very nice.
You’ve been here for nine million years.
Maybe you like your job, but it’s time to move on. Or maybe you’re just over it. When your company has become dependent on you and your expertise, the most important thing you can do is try to anticipate the needs of the next person to fill your role. Odds are, you’ve probably amassed a lot of institutional knowledge. Before you put in your notice, be sure to compile all of that.
For a week before you quit, start documenting what you do, who you contact, and what would make it all easier for a new person. Turn that into a job description and preliminary training document. That way, you can help your company find someone new during your final two weeks.
You are quitting for reasons that you really think the management should know.
Sometimes, it’s not so much the job you hate—it’s the company. It could be a sudden pivot in direction, a corporate culture that’s sexist, racist, or ableist, or a slew of particularly awful hires who are sinking the ship.
For whatever reason, as much as you may want to just moonwalk out and let the company fend for itself, your insider knowledge could be extremely helpful moving forward, and by speaking up, you’ll be doing new employees a huge solid.
Plus, if you get it off your chest in a constructive manner, you’ll be less likely to spend every happy hour for the next six weeks complaining about that spate of woefully underqualified and hopelessly mediocre middle-managers they hired while your patient friends pretend to know who you’re talking about.
Be sure to request an exit interview. This is the time to let your bosses know exactly why you’re leaving. It’s a growth opportunity for them, and ideally, they’ll leap on it.
Not every company wants to hear what exiting employees have to say, though. If that’s the case, consider writing an explanatory email to your direct supervisor or your HR manager. Let them know exactly why you’re leaving—they deserve to know, and you’ll feel better for it.
You really don’t care about anyone here and who needs bridges, anyway?
Some employees just want to leave a flaming mass of desk chairs and crappy, company-issued laptops in their wake. If severing all ties with this job truly will not impact your future—or, if it does, it might be worth it, anyway—feel free to let everyone know exactly why you’re leaving with exactly as much colorful language as you want.