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  • Writer's pictureKate Gigax

It's Not a Resignation, It's a Break Up

The thought of resigning often induces feelings of anxiety, panic, avoidance and doubt. These same feelings come up when ending a relationship. A break up is a break up whether it is with a person or a job.

The Great Resignation is changing the way that people work around the globe. And yet, despite making big plans, many don’t know how to quit. Sometimes, resigning is the best business move. As the CEO of our career, we owe it to ourselves to make the best business moves for us. If that means resigning, make a plan to do it with grace.

It’s Not You, It’s Me

We’ve all heard this one, but when you’re resigning, the company, role or even your manager, is most likely part of the reason you’re making this decision. However, it’s important to not light a match on your way out. To avoid this pitfall, get clear on the messaging around your departure.

Develop three reasons why you are leaving, stick to those points in your conversations and when necessary, steer the conversation back to these three points. The points need to be about you and your decision, not what’s wrong with the organization. Of course, if you are leaving, there were probably organizational issues (i.e. values didn’t align, company culture, etc.) but keep your conversations as neutral as possible and focus on yourself.

It’s important to keep things neutral because your professional network is important and you will likely come into contact with your boss or end up working alongside some of your team members again.

If you have issues to raise, consider requesting an exit interview. This is the appropriate forum to provide constructive feedback. Still, it’s important to not just lay it all out there and burn bridges. Consider the coworkers you are leaving behind. Things won’t improve for you - you’re leaving - but what can you say that would raise awareness of issues for those who are staying? Be sure to bring a list of considerations, not complaints or accusations.

Can we Still be Friends?

Once you know you’re quitting, it’s important to have the break-up conversation. We often obsess over what to say, but here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter how you start. Once the phrase, “I”m leaving,” enters the conversation, that becomes the sole focus.

Don’t stress over the front end of the conversation. Skip the small talk. Cut to the chase.

Quitting is a loss, the same as a break-up, so during this conversation and over the course of the following days, it’s fair to expect a range of emotions - the same range of emotions that we might feel with grief.

After the initial shock and denial, we enter the bargaining phase. Get clear up front on whether or not you want your current employer to make a counter offer. Be clear if you’ve already accepted and save them the time and effort. If you are looking for a counter, say what a reasonable counter is. You’ve re-entered the negotiation phase - but carefully consider whether or not the counter offer will solve the reason that you’re ready to leave in the first place.

Anger is not an unusual response to encounter, although it can be disheartening as an employee. Consider that the anger is not about you, it likely means that you were a valued team member (perhaps even more than you realized) and now your manager is dealing with the loss. No amount of your hard work in the final days and weeks will help this, and it’s not your job to fix it or make anyone feel better.

The final phase is acceptance. Sometimes we don’t even see this before we leave. One time, I left a job and my manager wasn’t speaking to me. We had a going away party (with cake and everything!) and my manager didn’t even show up. The best thing to do when things get emotional is to take the high road. Don’t take it personally, but know that it isn’t your job to change how they are feeling. And never respond in kind, that does nothing to improve the situation.


The final stage of the breakup mirrors divorce mediation. Create a transition plan for what you will do, and stick to the agreed upon work. Many high achievers' reaction to leaving is trying to tie everything up nicely with a bow on top. Don’t strive for this - it is often unattainable and leaves us feeling underappreciated and overworked. Reach an agreement upon what is reasonable and stick with it.

Branching out from resignation conversations with your direct supervisor can also be challenging. It’s fair to let your manager know first and ask them how they’d like to share with the team. They may need to begin contingency plans with their leadership before your full team knows. It’s important to respect the organization’s wishes, because everyone else has to keep working together. You’re the one who is leaving.

However, sometimes managers want to wait a long time before telling the rest of the team, and that can affect your ability to transition work appropriately. That affects you and is something that can be negotiated when you are determining the final details of closing out your job responsibilities.

Ultimately, as you navigate your workplace breakup, there will be a range of emotions. There will be some moments that will be awkward or uncomfortable, but by preparing and approaching the situation in a professional manner, you can leave with your head held high, knowing that you have done what’s best for you.

Things at the company will go on. Now is the time to relinquish control, even over your passion projects. They are probably going to look different now. Don’t fight for things that are no longer yours, and don’t try the “I’ll show them,” approach on your way out. Here’s the thing: you’ll never know. It’s better to leave on a good note with your relationships intact, and focus on what’s best for you. Sometimes that means having to have the uncomfortable break-up conversation, but as the CEO of your career, you have to do what's best for business.

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