How To Resign Without Burning Bridges

Of all the awkward things we have to do as adults (see: talking on the phone, visiting the gynaecologist, fighting it out for rental properties), resigning from a job is up there with the most cringeworthy. Even if you’ve only been in a job for a couple of weeks, or you loathe it intensely, quitting is no easy feat.

You never know how your soon-to-be-former boss will react – this writer alone has experienced tears, understanding, begging and dead silence – or if they’ll even care at all. And even though you’re leaving now, there’s every chance you might want to return sometime in the future. Your new role might not pan out, or a more senior position in the company might catch your eye in a couple of years’ time. Even if you’re quitting the job just because you plain and simple hate it, it pays to get a decent reference and keep your employers on side.

So, how to leave a job without burning bridges? We break down how you can avoid leaving with bad blood.

Give notice

Remember that contract you signed at the beginning of your tenure? It should outline how much notice you are required to give when you terminate your employment. Dig it up from the bottom of that drawer where you keep all your IKEA manuals and old phone bills, and double-check how far in advance you need to advise them of your last day. Usually for a full-time workers, four weeks is standard – but this could differ depending on whether you’re still on probation or in a senior position; up to three months isn’t unheard of.

Write a decent resignation letter

Sorry, but “I resign” just won’t cut it. Make your resignation letter part termination of employment, part thank you-letter to your company and boss. Tell them what you’ve enjoyed about working there, what you have learnt, and thank them for the opportunity to be on their staff. Be honest – to a point – about why you’re leaving. This isn’t the time for making recommendations on how they can improve their company; save that for your exit interview. Make sure it’s grammatically correct, and you haven’t misspelt anything. Get a mate to give it a once-over if writing isn’t your strong suit. Few things indicate a lack of respect more than a lack of attention to detail.


Make the transition smooth

Make it clear that you will make the transition to a new staff member as smooth as possible. Write legible, easy to follow handover notes, let clients and colleagues know what is happening, and go through everything your role entails with your boss or manager so they can advise their new employee – often they don’t have a clue about half the things you do. If there’s any crossover between you and the new staff member, train them up properly – this will reflect as positively on you as it does on them.

Keep on keeping on

It’s pretty difficult to continue trying hard at a job once you’ve resigned. Those last four weeks can seem to drag on – but if you want to leave with your good name intact, continue putting in your best work until you finish up. Be at your desk on time, don’t take extra-long lunch breaks, and don’t leave early. We’ve all experienced colleagues who resign and spend the next four weeks using up their sick days. They are probably not going to be asked back in the future when a more senior position is up for grabs.


Play nice

Before you leave, don’t use the fact that you can’t be fired as an excuse to whine about your job, your boss, or your workmates. Once you’re at your new job, don’t complain about your old job to your new colleagues. The last person people will trust is the new staff member who won’t let up about how Janet from accounting at her last job was terrible at accounting and had bad BO.

Have a good justification

This is important for a couple of reasons. Number one, you should have a decent reason to put on your resignation letter. Even if you have a new job, your employer may want to know why you are leaving your current role – and it’s completely reasonable to tell them why you’ve sought out a new job. It might be that there was no room for growth, the pay is no longer enough, you want to take a different direction with your career, or you’d like to relocate to another city or country. Second, if they try and get you to stay, you need to be pretty clear on why you’re leaving, and back that up if they try and offer you more money, more perks, etc.

Through the whole process, be professional, be friendly and don’t be any more negative than necessary. If you’re strategic, you might have a job waiting for you for life. 

Che-Marie is a London-based writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Australian Gourmet Traveller, Collective Hub and Virgin Australia Voyeur among others. Follow her travels on Instagram @chemariet