is it rude to resign over the phone?

A reader writes:

I work for a large California-based software company but live in on the East Coast. I came to this company through an acquisition, and while they retained the small office we previously operated out of, my specific job is based in Los Angeles. Specifically, I travel to the West Coast for two to three weeks of the month, every month (fly out Sunday night, return on the red-eye Thursday).

The significant travel, as well as a general bad fit in the role, has led me to a serious job search. I have stayed with the acquiring company for over a year and they have been great to me. I have even discussed my concerns with my current boss and he is supportive and interested in finding me another role internally, but unless I move to California, any role will require the travel and being a remote employee is not for me.

Finally, the question: do I have to resign in person? If I accept a job during a week that I’m actually at home, should I wait until I actually see my boss to have the conversation? Best case is obviously to accept a job while I’m already there, worst case is that there could be up to nine business days between accepting a job and seeing him. I’d like to transition out of my role as soon as possible, while still giving two weeks notice. I am also sensitive to the cost of the travel. Each week they spend ~$1400 on my airfare, hotel, rental car and expenses.

Is it rude to resign over the phone? Will they think it’s disrespectful to continue to spend company money when I know that I’m leaving? I want to be respectful of both my current employer and the potential new employer by giving two weeks, but also moving to the new role as quickly as possible.

It’s absolutely not rude to resign over the phone. This isn’t like a break-up, where you owe it to the other person to talk face-to-face. The vast, vast majority of managers just want to receive your notice as early as possible, so that they have as much time as possible to plan for the transition, and they don’t care if it’s in person or not.

Obviously, it’s still more professional to do it in person if you’re in the same location, so this isn’t license to send off a resignation email and hide in your office when your boss is right down the hall. But when you’re not in the same location, a phone call is absolutely fine — particularly when the alternative means waiting days or weeks.

While we’re talking about methods of delivering resignations, here are two other things people don’t always realize:

* You tell your boss first. But if your boss is unreachable — out of the country on vacation for more than a couple of more days, for instance, or in the hospital with ebola — then you give your notice to your boss’s boss (or possibly HR if that’s how it’s done in your company). You don’t need to sit around waiting for your boss to come back, if it’s going to be a while — or even if it’s not going to be that long, if it would mean eating in to an already short notice period. (In other words, if you’re giving six weeks notice, it’s fine to wait a couple of days until your manager’s ebola clears up. If you’re leaving two weeks from today, then you need to tell someone that today.)

* People often think they have to write a formal resignation letter. While you can certainly do this if you want to, lots of people don’t and many employers don’t ask for them. But when they do, the point is to simply document that you resigned and what date it will be effective (in case you later sue, or file for unemployment and claim you were laid off, for instance). It only needs to be about two sentences. It’s not supposed to be an explanation of why you’re leaving, and what could have made you stay, and the drama you’ve had with your boss. You can certainly cover that in the resignation conversation, if you feel like it — but it doesn’t go in a letter.

This is your letter, if you need one at all: “This letter is to let you know that I’m resigning my position, effective May 1. I’ve enjoyed my time here and wish Chocolate Teapots Inc. the best of luck.” The end.

(And if you use a letter — which, again, you often don’t need to — you do not break the news this way. The letter comes after the conversation. Its purpose is documenting, not announcing.)

{ 35 comments… read them below }

  1. zproxy

    Due to the fact that emails can be spoofed, managers ought to verify any such notifications by phone and/or in person.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Well, hopefully you would have at least called — there are few cases where I’d say it’s okay to resign by email! The only case would be if phone were absolutely not an option for some reason, but that’s hard to imagine.

      1. Randall

        In my situation, my boss and the HR mgr are both out of the country at a company function for one more week and I wanted to give my 2 weeks notice today. I can’t call, so I’m thinking email to both and maybe give them 3 weeks notice, so that when they return, they will have 2 weeks.

  2. Yup

    Just a random aside: the “effective date” listed should be the last day of your employment at that job. I’ve seen chaos ensue when people think “effective date” means the date on which you tell your boss that you’re quitting.

  3. Sascha

    As soon as I read the title, my first thought was, “Well no, especially if you are remote and it’s difficult to come in…” So, bingo. It sounds like your employer will appreciate not having to spend another $1400.

    I don’t blame you for looking for something else, I think that much travel would drive me insane!

  4. Erik

    I had to resign from a job once on the phone. It turned out that my boss went out of the office for some business related items and I didn’t know about it until the last minute.

    I had to give my notice before her all day meeting started. I called her up, gave my notice and told her that I would put a written version on her desk.

    It was strange, but I didn’t have much of a choice at the time. Thankfully she understood the situation and handled it well.

  5. AA

    I am glad this letter was sent in. My manager is in our office only a few days a month and I wasn’t sure how to handle this if he was gone. I’m *supposed* to get an offer by the 15th, based on yesterdays info from the recruiter. My manager is on vacay till the 22nd. (Not that I am automatically assuming the offer will be ok, but it should be, and after 2.5 months of talking I think we csn get there.)

    Also, I hsv

    1. AA

      Ok my phone freaked out. ..sorry.

      My question was whether it is normal just to drop in your boss’ s office or call out of the blue, or if you schedule a meeting first. I think scheduling would be a tip-off that something was up, but I also would not want him to take my call while he was stepping on a plane or something.

      1. KellyK

        I would schedule. You don’t want to be halfway through explaining that you’re resigning when your boss has to leave for another meeting.

    2. AmyNYC

      I asked his assistant to give me a heads up when he’s free for 5-10 minutes.

  6. Brandy

    Don’t do an email resignation; call your boss. But since you two don’t work on the same site, it is totally legit to resign in via phone. I’ve got a job similar to yours–my 1:1s, performance reviews etc. are all via phone. Resignation would be as well.

    Unless, of course, I happened to be working out of the same office that week. Then it’s in person.

  7. Liz in a Library

    I have only ever resigned in person, but when the time comes with my current position (far down the road), it will need to be by phone, so I’m glad to hear that is OK.

    I have received an e-mailed resignation, once, from a student employee, and it did feel weirdly like she was avoiding talking to us. So I have to agree with everyone who says not to do that.

    1. Julie K

      AAM clears up another common misconception (like that “hiring manager” means the person who will be the manager of the new employee – not the HR person who does all the hiring)! I always thought you were supposed to write a letter of resignation and leave it on your boss’s desk. Now I know! Fortunately, I haven’t made this mistake recently – I’ve been at my company for 10+ years.

  8. Rob Bird

    But, what if you don’t work for Chocolate Teapots; what do you put in the resignation letter???

    Just Kidding! My previous employer tried to get me to list why I was leaving on the resignation letter. I told them that is what exit interviews are for. When my exit interview came around and they asked me why I was leaving, I said “You” and refused to give any more detail. Exit interviews are a joke.

    Not the best way to go about it, but oh well.

    1. Interviewing in Philly

      “You”….hahaha….loving it. Yeah, they really don’t want to know why we resign. The fact that your employer had the gall to ask you to put in writing why you were resigning speaks volumes about their level of cluelessness.

  9. Sarah

    When I resigned from my university job (it was a temporary contract), I had to submit a letter so they could repost the job. It might be a state of Texas thing.

    1. Yup

      I had to submit a letter at my last job too and it wasn’t a university. Apparently they required signed written notice of resignations, just as an HR policy thing. (I still notified my boss in person first.)

      1. Guest

        I used to work for a University in Canada and was responsible for hiring research staff. One of them went on a vacation to her home country and sent an email to her boss/professor that she would not be returning back to work with him. Since the email did not exactly use the word ‘resigned’ or state what her ‘effective date’ was , HR would not allow me to terminate that position until I got a properly written resignation letter from this person. So we waited 3 months to re-post the position.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          What?! What if she’d never sent the letter at all? And why wouldn’t they have just considered her fired after she didn’t return to work? That is insane.

          1. Anonymous

            Well, it sounds like it might have been a unionized employee, and chances are they’d need to do formal warnings or some such before actually firing the person, and it probably was easier to get a letter.

        2. Amy

          I did this…kinda. I was a student employee and we were allowed to stay through the summer after graduating – especially nice if you didn’t have a “real job” yet. I was the student team lead and had already trained someone to take over, then took a month’s vacation out of the country, intending to come back and work my remaining eligible weeks. Of course, I realized I’d rather have a few weeks off before my “career job” started than hang out with the student staff and collect a paycheck. I had to email and say I wouldn’t be coming back and there was no need to sign me up for security access for the new building we just moved to – pretty sure everyone understood. (I did go back and *visit* – just not to be on the clock.)

    2. Kara

      I’ve had to submit letters too, per HR policy. I kept it short, basically “I will be resigning my position as Head Chocolate Teapot Maker effective on [date].”

  10. Chocolate Teapot

    I wanted to talk to my old boss about the fact I was resigning, but he was away at the time, and I needed to get the resignation letter sent by a certain date.

    So I sent the resignation letter to the HR Director, who then told my boss when he returned. Sadly this meant we never had an exit interview/discussion, but then I am not entirely sure how helpful these can be. (Perhaps this can be a future post topic?)

  11. Kev

    Hmmm… Oops. My managers knew I was leaving, and I had told them an approximate date. I told them the definite date in a memo as my “official 2 week notice.” I was going to do it in person and hand them the memo, but they both ended up being out of the office on the day I was going to do it.

  12. Anonymous

    I know OP said the company treated its employees well, but one thing struck me – suppose the company didn’t treat its employees well, and OP resigned while in the office, they could probably then strand OP there and make OP pay for a flight back home.

  13. Anon. scientist

    I did this the wrong way as well. I traveled a lot for work, although I was lucky in that I was physically in the office when I gave my 2-weeks’ notice. I told my boss I was leaving, and then the next week (in the field) I got an e-mail that I was supposed to write a resignation letter for my HR file. Luckily, he said it was ok to backdate it so that I “officially” gave my notice in 2 weeks. And I spent an entertaining evening after work trying to print, sign, scan, and e-mail a letter of resignation in the middle of nowhere.

  14. Jennifer O

    I’ve got a related question:  with my last two jobs, I received the offer a day or two before the Christmas break (when most of the office is away).  

    The first time was fine:  my boss knew I was looking, let me use her office for the phone interviews and acted as a reference.  I basically spent the previous 3 months writing documentation and cross-training, so it wasn’t a big deal to tell my boss I’d be leaving a few days into the new year.

    The second time was exactly the opposite: no one at work knew I was looking.  I received the written offer an hour after my boss had left for  Christmas break.  His boss, most other staff, and all but one of the management team were out of the office for at least 10 days.

    Even though I really only wanted to give them two weeks notice, it didn’t seem right when the office was essentially closed for 10 of the 14 days.  Though I’m not too concerned with a reference from them, I did want to be professional on my end.

    (I ended up giving one month’s notice in person to the only manager around and then emailed my boss with the news.)

    But what’s the proper protocol in such a situation?

  15. lisa

    If companies can fire you or lay you off over the phone, yes, you can resign over the phone

  16. Sally Go Lightly

    Please consider me for the position at the Chocolate Teapot company. I have been a fan of your work of quite some time. I believe that my love for teapots and experience with chocolate would make me an excellent fit for advancing the goals of chocolate teapots.

  17. ON

    Similarly, is it rude to resign by email?
    A bit of context – I work for a very small organization (less than 10 staff) and we do not have an HR departement/person. I report directly to the CEO and he is on Annual Leave but indicated that he would be checking emails. I will be signing a contract with another company tomorrow and would like to give notice right away. Is it ok to email him?

    Also – My work place is extremely unpleasant, staff are unbelievably stressed and don’t get proper support from management; it is overall a very negative and bad work environment. Is it ever ok to give less than 2 weeks (say 8 work days instead of 10) in order to have a couple of days off in between jobs (I haven’t had time off in a year because my boss wouldn’t approve it… Even if I have accumulated the annual leave days)? If it makes a difference I already have 2 references from former directors at the organization who have since left because of the bad CEO and negative work place.

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