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Here’s how to tell your boss you want to resign

PHOTOGRAPHY BY KAI LAO

WORDS BY SUNNY CHISHOLM

So you want to quit your job?

I’m only guessing, but I think your reason for clicking through to this piece speaks volumes. If you do want to leave your job, I hope you can take solace from the fact that you’re far from alone. In 2019, research found that a quarter of Australians were unhappy in their jobs with a staggering 70 per cent wanting to pursue a different career.

It’s important to note that this study was conducted pre-COVID before many of us were (momentarily) liberated from long daily commutes and afforded better life balance as a byproduct of the pandemic. As they say, misery loves company, and we’re all suffering from the same crippling structures of capitalism together, bestie!


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I think it’s safe to assume that job dissatisfaction could return to being just as high as we begin to transition back into conventional workplaces. The allure of a Shiny New Job is always going to be tempting, but the plight of resigning (and the feelings of guilt or doubt that follow) can be arduous to navigate and sometimes is enough of a reason to stay put.

To keep the process as professional as possible and to mitigate any hostile or uncomfortable conversations, I spoke to an expert on best practices when it comes to quitting. Alex Kingsmill is Melbourne’s leading evidence-based career coach and director of Upstairs Coaching, whose consultancy is centred on helping women find or create work that they love.

The grass is always greener

An appetite for change is completely natural and bad days at work are sadly inevitable (thanks again, capitalism). It’s easy to be seduced by sparkly job listings on LinkedIn, so how can you be certain whether you’re ready to take the plunge and leave or whether you should give your job another chance? Are you truly disenchanted or just temporarily bored?

Awareness of your thoughts and feelings towards work is a good indicator. Do you constantly vent about work? Do you find yourself justifying your job/salary/management? Are you sleeping well? Does the thought of returning to a gruelling commute make you want to stick pins in your eyes? Are you finding yourself crying (in my case, more than normal)?

On this, Alex admits that “the question of whether or not to resign can be a big one and there are a whole lot of things to take into account”. Here are a few:

  • Your mental health: even if a job looks great on paper and is leading you towards an amazing professional future, your mental health is really (really!) important. So if you’re not faring well, a move could be warranted
  • Opportunities to craft: If your mental health is strong but the job just isn’t working for you, are there ways you could shift the role, so it serves you better?
  • Career trajectory: If you’re undecided about resigning, consider how you see this role leading you towards the career you want. How does it fit into the plan?
  • Re-employment: If you decide to leave, how strong are your chances of finding another job? And one that will be better?
  • Savings: If you’re considering leaving and you know there might be a gap between roles, do you have sufficient savings to tide you over?

A cheat sheet to quitting gracefully

Motivations for quitting can be varied. Lack of growth, a change in field, poor remuneration and office politics can all play a part, or maybe you’re one of the many Australians who’d rather quit than give up remote working. Once you’ve decided to leave and you have a meeting with your manager scheduled, Alex advises that it’s a good idea to go in with a few things prepared:

  • A clear understanding in your own mind of why you’re leaving and a succinct explanation
  • An understanding of your contractual obligations for your notice period
  • A few words to express appreciation for the opportunities you’ve had in the role
  • Something to say if your manager tries to encourage you to stay: “That is a generous offer and while I appreciate it, I really do know that it is my time to move on”
  • A letter of resignation (you don’t need to take this into the meeting, you can provide it afterwards, but having it ready to go is a great idea)

“A resignation letter doesn’t have to be super complex,” Alex tells me. It simply needs to include the details of the person you’re writing to, the fact that you wish to end your employment, and the length of your notice period and the date you wish for it to begin, accompanied by your signature. “You can also include a few words highlighting your positive experiences at the organisation and expressing gratitude,” Alex adds.

And remember that “you’re welcome to share [where you’re going next] if you would like to, but you’re under no obligation to disclose [this to your current employer].”

Future-proofing your career trajectory

Chances are, you’re quitting because you’re unhappy with something. It can be difficult answering the ‘Why are you leaving?’ question when it’s motivated by something more personal than professional, especially if management or toxic workplace culture (fostered from the top-down) is to blame.

If this is the case, Alex suggests being honest but not too honest. “A response like: ‘I’ve been offered a role that is more aligned with my personal needs and professional ambitions’ would suffice. If airing your grievances will tarnish your reputation and jeopardise your opportunities for future employment it could be worthwhile putting your own needs ahead of future candidates.”  

Instead, take the opportunity to reflect on your experience and offer constructive feedback during a voluntary exit interview (usually conducted by HR or third party companies making for a less awkward exchange). Lastly, while your focus is going to be getting out of there, don’t do so at your own expense. By checking out too early and adopting the ‘IDGAF’ attitude, you’d be doing yourself a disservice.

If things end on a positive note, ask your employer for a letter of recommendation (as you can never, ever underestimate the role a referee or sponsor can play in your life). Alex recommends making the process as easy as possible for the person you’re asking, by:

  • Re-introducing yourself
  • Reminding them of the work you did together
  • Pointing out the contributions you made
  • Highlighting the key skills you demonstrated, particularly those that relate to your future career directions

Good luck to you reader, I really hope that resigning isn’t too taxing on you. While it is awfully daunting and anxiety-inducing, walking out of the door on your last day will be a money-can’t-buy feeling. A brief, albeit awkward, conversation is well worth that freedom. You owe it to yourself, and it’ll be okay.

Thinking about putting finger to keyboard and writing a resignation letter? This might help.

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