Though later-year boomers were estimated to hold down an average of 11-12 jobs in a lifetime according to the U.S. Department of Labor, as many as 34 percent of millennials are expected to stay at their current jobs for only 1-2 years, according to Job Application Center. That’s a lot of quitting — and quitting can be super stressful. Adding to that stress is the fact that companies are using electronic surveillance and analyses of their employee’s social media lives to predict which workers have a foot out the door, according to an article in the Harvard Business Review.
That said, it can take an awful lot of energy to psych yourself up to quit. “Resignations share a lot in common with break-ups in romantic relationships,” says Anthony Klotz, Assistant Professor in the College of Business at Oregon State University, and author of “On the Turning Away: An exploration of the resignation process,” a study that examines how employees go about giving notice. “Part of the anxiety comes from the fact that you are ‘dumping’ your boss, and to some extent your coworkers and company.”
Another anxiety-inducing aspect of quitting is not knowing how your boss will take your news. Also, leaving the devil you know for the devil you don’t can induce some second guessing. “Many employees are not 100 percent sure that they are doing the right thing by quitting. The resignation may be the culmination of months or years of deliberating whether or not to leave, and given its finality, taking that final step is nerve-wracking,” Klotz explains.
Part of the anxiety comes from the fact that you are ‘dumping’ your boss, and to some extent your coworkers and company.
No matter how you might feel about your job when announcing your imminent departure, there are positive — and not-so positive — ways to go about giving notice.
How not to quit your job
Telling colleagues before your boss
Though it’s tempting to confide about quitting to your co-workers — especially if you’re tight — it can come back to haunt you. “In many cases, news travels to the boss or to HR before the employee has a chance to break the news, which can be pretty awkward,” says Klotz.
Submitting an “avoidance resignation”
In his study, Klotz found what he calls “avoidant resignation” strategies, such as quitting in an after-hours email, leaving a resignation letter in a manager’s mailbox at work or resigning to an HR rep rather than one’s supervisor, can easily inspire negative reactions from managers. As hard as it can be, your best bet is quitting your job face-to-face.
Not giving enough notice
Leaving a job with short notice is a very common quitting mistake. The more integral your role, the more important it is to provide your employer with an adequate time frame to secure a replacement, says Leonard A. Schlesinger, Baker Foundation Professor at the Harvard Business School. Schlesinger recommends at least 4-6 weeks for those in management, while Klotz recommends consulting your company handbook, or taking note of how long other employees worked before leaving to figure out what’s appropriate.
Unloading on HR during the exit interview
Schlesinger says the worst time to provide critical feedback on your employer is during your exit interview. “While it may make you feel better, it accomplishes little else worthwhile,” he says. “They will be left to consider why they’re hearing all this from you for the first time.” Do your best to leave on a positive note. Klotz says the exit interview can be an opportunity to voice concerns about work conditions or a bad manager — just try and put a constructive spin on it.
How to quit
Quitting by the book
A “by the book” resignation — presenting your manager with a resignation letter in a face-to-face meeting while proposing a reasonable end-date (according to your position and industry) — is usually a foolproof way to resign, even if you and your boss have tension, says Klotz. And according to Ask Molly, an advice column published in The Muse, a career development website, you should prepare your answer in case your boss makes you a counteroffer.
Keeping your boss in the loop
If you have a positive working relationship with your manager, you could (quietly) let them know about your plans to resign before doing so formally. Though this can be risky, Klotz’s research found it to be a good move, because it allows your manager to properly prepare for your departure. But if you’re leaving for a competitor, be prepared to be escorted off the premises.
The “grateful goodbye”
Klotz says this way of quitting has potential for the most positive pay-off. “Employees not only express gratitude toward their boss and all he or she has done for them, but they also often provide a longer-than-standard notice periods and offer to train a replacement,” he explains.
If you've built a client base, or designed or developed technology pivotal to your company, make sure it’s legal to take copies of what you brought to the table. “Read your employment agreement carefully and understand the obligations it imposes on your as an employee — or former employee,” advises Schlesinger. “These legal obligations are not to be taken lightly.”
Otherwise, you risk having a lot more to worry about than what to wear on the first day of your new gig.