how do I resign when I can’t get time to meet with my busy manager?

A reader writes:

Yesterday, I received a written offer from a company I’m really excited about, and I accepted. The interview process was very fast, and it just so happens that my boss is currently on a rare two-week vacation. I do NOT, under any circumstances, plan to resign before she’s back– I think that would be really rude and unprofessional. I plan to email her on the day she returns and tell her I must speak with her that day.

Here’s the rub: I am a remote employee, one of only two in my company, and my boss’s inattention is one of the reasons I was looking for other opportunities. I have gone whole weeks without any communication from her. She’s very busy with very high-level, client-facing, time-sensitive projects, and my work almost always gets pushed aside. I cannot count how many times our weekly phone check-in– that she put on the calendar– doesn’t happen without any heads-up from her. I’m concerned that she won’t make time for my resignation phone call when she’s finally back in the office, and I a) want to give a full two weeks, and b) don’t want to delay my notice any further, especially since two weeks would take me into Thanksgiving and it would be the best time to leave the company. (I don’t plan to start at my new company until early December, but I need some time off for a family visit, so I would prefer not to stay into December.)

So my question is twofold, really: first, in the event that she doesn’t make time to call me when she gets back, would it be appropriate to email her my resignation? And second, if not, can I get away with giving less than two weeks’ notice?

Well, first, this is very much a know-your-boss situation. Personally, I used to absolutely want to hear about a resignation while I was away, because it would allow me to get a jump start on the transition process, get the job posted, etc. Now I feel totally different — I want my vacation time to be uninterrupted. So you really need to know your boss. I’m going to assume you’re making the right call here about your particular manager, but I wanted to put this out there for other readers.

Anyway, back to you.

I can’t say this loudly enough: You should control the timing of your resignation conversation. You should not wait just because your boss is hard to get a meeting with, or working from home, or tough to get face-to-face, or busy, or prone to rescheduling at the last minute. This is important enough news that you need to do what it takes to deliver the message to your boss with timing that works for you.

Otherwise, with bosses like the one you describe, you could wait days or even a week or more before you’re able to meet with her. And that means that you’ll end up pushing your notice period back (which isn’t good for your or your new employer) or giving less notice than you otherwise would (which isn’t good for your current employer).

So the onus is on you to be pretty aggressive and assertive about making this happen.

But ideally you’d do this in a real conversation, not email. You can use email as a back-up if absolutely necessary, if all else fails. But first you need to try:

* telling her that you have something urgent to discuss today and need to meet with her, and only need a few minutes
* sticking your head in her office and saying you have something important and asking if she has a few minutes right now
* if you can’t find her / haven’t heard back from her, calling her directly and saying, “I have some important news I need to share with you today” (and trust me, any sane boss who hears that has an inkling of what’s coming and is going to make the time)

If all of that fails, then yes, send an email (and in it, explain that you tried to get ahold of her other ways, couldn’t, and didn’t want to delay telling her).

But don’t delay telling her.

{ 61 comments… read them below }

  1. Stef*

    I was in the same situation two years ago. Working from home, needing to resign asap and my boss traveling (but in this case it was a business trip). We used to communicate via Skype and I asked if we could have a phone conversation. he couldn’t. I tried to ask for an appropriate time during the day and he said he was too busy, but that if it was urgent I could anticipate him what it was all about via chat.
    I ended up resigning on the chat. He called me two hours later (no reply on the chat). LOL

    1. Mister Pickle*

      Is there a reason why, if the boss is just not making themselves available, one can’t just be totally up-front and schedule a meeting and say “Agenda: my resignation”, or a phone message ” I really need to talk to you soonest about my resignation”? I mean, if there is a serious issue in contacting the person, why not be open about it?

    2. The OP*

      D’oh! I was so afraid that would happen to me!!! We use an internal IMing system around here, and I swear I was waiting for an IM saying, “OK, what’s up?” “Can you call me?” “Nope, just tell me over IM.” Awkward, though I can’t exactly explain why.

      1. jordanjay29*

        Response to, “Nope, just tell me over IM.” could probably be something like, “This is too important to discuss over IM. It’ll only take 5 minutes.”

      2. Stef*

        It was definitely awkward. But not my choice ( I really tried to have a phone conversation!), so it probably was more so for him than for me.

  2. Jerry Vandesic*

    If you end up having to send an email, offer to have an immediate conversation over the phone or in person. At that point the ball in in their court and they can decide if it is something that they can attend to right away.

  3. HR Manager*

    I would suggest OP call and email her on the day she returns and let her know that you would like to speak to her asap. If you get her live, all is good. If not, leave a voicemail with the request to talk. If she doesn’t respond and doesn’t call, I would suggest another attempt on day 2 with phone and email. Still no word, I would email a resignation letter, and start off with an apology for email as the medium but add that you had tried her for two days to set up a live conversation. Go into your resignation, and offer times for you to connect with her live afterwards to discuss transition and wrap up.

    1. Meg P*

      I don’t think this needs to be a two day affair. I personally would try to get her on the phone twice on the first day, and send the resignation at the end of that day if you can’t reach her. For the Manager’s sake and yours, you don’t want to drag this out. I do like the suggestion that she can call you if she’d like to talk.


      1. HR Manager*

        I had a boss like hers and she would almost be gone from her desk from about 9am to 5pm, so I understand that sometimes getting back within a few hours is just not possible for someone overextended. It’s just more of an opportunity to do this the right way.

        1. Bend & Snap*

          To this point–perhaps call her desk right at the start of her day before she’s off and running?

      1. HR Manager*

        Why would apologizing be a problem? It’s not apologizing about resigning — it’s about apologizing for not doing this in person or via the phone, whichis the expected courtesy. If I had to resign via email, I find no reason to extend that courtesy even if she’s made a valiant effort to do so in person.

        1. HR Manager*

          That should read “I find no reason NOT to extend that courtesy”. I see no need to make this into a strength/weakness mind game; she’s leaving….let her do so politely and end her tenure with the manager on a positive note.

          1. NutellaNutterson*

            Perhaps it’s just the nuance of “apologizing” seeming to indicate taking responsibility for a fault that is outside of the OP’s control.

            OP could use language such as “I would prefer to do this face-to-face” and/or “I’d like to speak about transition plans, and this email is to get the ball rolling as quickly as possible.”

        2. LawBee*

          idk, I grok what you’re saying but I kind of agree with Pete. If she’s tried to get hold of her manager and gotten nothing back, then she shouldn’t apologize to her manager for her manager’s lack of communication. She can totally do that without being rude like Nutella says below. But women apologize for too much and call it politeness, when there are other ways to be polite and cordial and not apologize.

  4. C Average*

    If you have no luck reaching her by phone and have to do this by email, this might even be the rare occasion when a read receipt ISN’T out of line.

    I feel for you, having had a couple of managers who were unreachable for days and weeks at a time.

    1. Maggie*

      Read receipts are out of line? I use them all the time because I work with flaky and/or busy people. It’s a necessity for my role.

        1. C Average*

          It’s a passive-aggressive CYA maneuver. But when someone is consistently unreachable and you really need to reach them, sometimes you resort to passive-aggressive CYA maneuvers so you can at least say “hey, I tried to get this critical information to this unreachable person, and I can at least prove that they opened the email.”

          I’ve only used one once. I needed an approval before a project could move forward, and was already behind schedule due to this person’s perpetual unavailability and lack of responsiveness. It was an act of complete desperation–but it worked.

      1. LawBee*

        We get read receipt requests from opposing counsel all the time. I always say no.

        It’s a job-by-job thing. If it’s what you need to do for your job, then there you go! The general feeling on them, however, is ugh.

      2. Whippers*

        I think read receipts are pointless. For one thing, it asks you if you want to send a read receipt the second you open the email and doesn’t even give you a chance to read the damn thing. So I always decline to send a read receipt because there doesn’t seem to a option in delaying sending one until you have actually read it.
        Maybe there is an option but I haven’t bothered to look for it; hence the problem with read receipts

  5. some1*

    Am I a horrible employee for thinking if I was in the LW’s situation, I wouldn’t have a problem resigning while my boss is on vacation, to my boss’s boss, perhaps? I don’t think I should have to stay at a job longer than I want to or need to because I happen to get an offer while the boss is on vacation.

      1. The OP*

        This is good to know, and in my case it was definitely a Know My Manager– I like her personally, even if I think she could improve as a manager– and I just knew she would be checking her emails on her relaxing European vacation, and I didn’t want to step on that in any way. Of course, if her vacation had been any longer, I probably would have spoken up, though I would have felt odd about it. The funny thing is, I almost did say something before she got back– our head of finance/HR called me to give me information about changes in the 2015 health plan, and I waffled for a few seconds over whether I should tell her. The company is really small, and while I have no qualms about leaving it, I also didn’t want to be fodder for, “OMG, can you BELIEVE THIS?” conversations.

        1. Sans*

          That’s what I was going to say – either resign to your boss’ boss or to HR. That doesn’t mean you’re gone as soon as your boss comes back from vacation – you can still do a longer notice if you have the time. But it gives your company longer to start dealing with filling your old spot, etc.

          There’s just no way I could sit on that news for two weeks!

          1. Maggie*

            Me neither. I wouldn’t wait unless my new job started sometime in the far future (eg teaching, etc).

          2. The OP*

            Luckily, I only had to sit on it for about 10 days. :) It was tough, though. The timing worked out well in that Thanksgiving is coming up, so that’s a natural “out”, and my new job had no problem waiting until December. If there had been any extenuating circumstances, I probably would have bit the bullet.

      2. Vicki*

        Thanks. I was waiting for someone to chime in on the part about “I do NOT, under any circumstances, plan to resign before she’s back.” I don’t see that as rude or unprofessional at all.

        OP – this is your life and your job offer, which you now have in hand. The etiquette of 2-week notices starts when you have the offer in hand, not when your manager is conveniently available.

    1. Matthew Soffen*

      I actually (once, many years ago) gave my notice on Christmas Eve (“Merry Christmas ! I’m leaving in 2 weeks”) and the manager was on vacation the following week.

      He tried to offer more money (Nope)… The main reason I left was that the manager acted bi-polar (and it was 70 mile commute – BOTH WAYS through a big city on a highway under re-construction.

      I went to a location about 20 minutes from home (via Back Roads).

      1. Vicki*

        I’ve been laid off twice the week of Thanksgiving.

        The fact that it was just before Christmas or just before the boss’s vacation is not your problem.

    2. Betty*

      I guess it depends on your relationship with your boss. I was in a similar situation a month and half ago and I waited until my boss got back from a rare vacation. I wanted to give her time to get the ball rolling on finding a replacement and I knew if I told her while she was away, she wouldn’t get to do that. That said, she was a great boss that I respected. If I had problems with her, I don’t know that I would care so much.

  6. esra*

    Ugh, I feel for you. I accepted a job offer two weeks into December, when my current employer closed over those weeks and I was the only one on call.

    I couldn’t not let my manager know though, so I gave her a call as soon as it was reasonable business hours to get it out of the way.

  7. The OP*

    As I’m replying to individual comments, I should just add my own update and a BIG thank you to Alison! I think your advice is excellent, in this situation and in many others.

    Here’s what ended up happening: my boss came back a day early (long story and not unlike her, though in her position I would have taken that day to recover). All went as I’d hoped it would: I sent her an email saying I had something to discuss, she asked if I was available at a certain time, I said yes, she called me at the appointed hour. I think I lucked out by getting her on that day, when she was kind of frazzled by jet lag and devoting the day to playing catch-up. The resignation conversation went well, and she (like most managers!) knew something was up; turns out she was checking emails and saw that I’d sent some messages about doctor’s appointments. (Irony alert: those were actually doctor’s appointments.) So in the end, I gave the full two weeks and will wrap up the day before Thanksgiving then have a week to relax and enjoy time with my visiting grandparents.

    So now I’m working out my two weeks and she’s giving me projects to update and all that good stuff, yet… she ignored our weekly one-on-one without actually cancelling it. Sigh.

    1. Zahra*

      Actually, even booking multiple (real) doctors appointments could be a red flag that you’re trying to get everything done before your coverage ends when you leave your job. I know I would do it!

      1. The OP*

        Good point, and yup, that was definitely a concern. My new job doesn’t have a health plan yet (it will in 2015, I just won’t go without coverage) so while my boss was on vacation, I took care of my semi-annual skin screening and dental exam and such. Other people in the office came in late and left early and took long lunches.

      2. Katieinthemountains*

        Or pregnant. ;) I had a haircut, a dental appointment, and two appointments with my ob gyn in the first trimester and I thought my small office would be suspicious.

    2. Buu*

      I had one day off sick at a previous job then randomly got headhunted a few weeks later and was able to do a Skype interview early in the morning so I could avoid taking time off work. Pretty sure they thought I’d interviewed then but they let it go.

  8. Csarndt*

    I resigned by email. My boss was avoiding me (like turning around and speed walking away when he saw me coming) until he had his 12 year old daughter in tow. I did not want to have this conversation in front of a 12 year old. So I emailed and put a printed copy in his box, and explained that I wanted to talk to him that day, but not in front of his daughter. He avoided me and my resignation for another week until I eventually wrote my last day on the office calendar and told coworkers so that we could cobble together some sort of transfer of duties. He finally acknowledged my resignation and suggested a career change.

    Yeah…he was the #1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 reasons I left that job.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      WAT SRSLY?

      Alison, can we have a “worst boss reactions to resignations” post? Because this chickens!@t deserves to be immortalized in an article.

      1. Csarndt*

        It honestly wasn’t too far beyond normal behavior there. I’m looking forward to starting a job at what appears to be a functional employer next month, it’ll be a new experience for me!

    2. Buu*

      Ahh Office Metal Gear, in order to corner the manager you need to figure out their regular walking patterns or enlist a co-worker over G-chat to alert you where they are.*

      * Have done this at an office I worked at. Manager had no idea myself and random coworker knew each other out of work, so had no idea they clued me in on Manager’s location.

      1. Bender B Rodriguez*

        Just don’t assume the manager won’t further question the giant box in his or her office, especially if the box is wearing a sombrero.

  9. Sans*

    I will admit that I resigned my last job by email. And that’s because I was the 7th person in 6 months to leave my department. My boss didn’t take the first resignation well, and you can imagine how much worse it got with each successive instance. She took it personally, was nasty, and then ignored the person for the remainder of their time there. Many of us were remote workers, so it was easy for her to ignore us.

    She had inherited our dept in a re-org and there was an absolute culture clash from day one between what she viewed as “her people” and us, the new people. All of us found other jobs as quickly as possible. But she was very slow to replace each person that left, had lousy judgement when she did hire someone, and then didn’t train them, which affected everyone else. I was the last one of the “new people” to leave — and the last one who really knew what they were doing. So I knew it was going to have a huge impact. I didn’t need to hear the nastiness and snide remarks others had, so I sent an email. I never heard a word from her. She actually skipped the last two weekly departmental meetings I attended (via phone). I talked to other people in the dept, wrapped up my work, etc, had an exit interview with hr, and left … very happy I never had to talk to her again. lol

      1. Sans*

        Oh, they noticed. I had an interesting exit interview, for sure. And I know that at least 5 of the 7 people who left were very honest and specific in their exit interviews, as well. But my ex-boss knew how to manage upwards – and had a lot of friends in high places. I think hr wanted to do something about it, but I’m not sure if they were able. I do know she still works there.

  10. Snarkus Ariellius*

    My former boss had similar habits.  When I finally chased her down to tell her I was resigning, she had the audacity to complain behind my back that she had been kept out of the loop!  I finally put the issue to bed on my last day when her assistant kept giving me grief about being “sneaky.”

    “After two years of unapologetically being stood up, blown off, ignored emails, ignored voicemails, project proposals literally piling up on her desk with no response, hearing Boss say unapologetically to someone else that she blows me off all the time, and then hearing that I wasn’t dedicated enough, I’d had it.  Any semblance of a response on any of those issues (except for the last one) would have preserved my loyalty.  Any loyalty would have had me giving her far more than two weeks notice.  Please consider this issue closed.  Her sadness and anger are no longer my concern.”

    It was an awkward happy hour after that.  I have zero regrets.

    1. Hermoine Granger*

      I had a similar experience towards the end of a contract assignment. During my last month, I made numerous attempts to discuss / plan a smooth transition with the owner but Boss wouldn’t respond to emails and seemed to be avoiding me in the office. When we finally met the day before what was to be my last day, Boss became angry and belligerent because I turned down an offer to continue working on a project basis.

      This individual was generally unresponsive and very difficult to work with (rude, disorganized, socially inappropriate, clueless about my work but arrogant about their opinions, etc). Somehow it was considered traitorous that I’d decline to keep working for their company.

      1. snuck*

        An offer of contract extension the day before the existing contract ends is too late. You need that a MONTH at least before the existing contract ends, or you need to find another job somewhere else. He was a doodlehead wasn’t he!

  11. Kate*

    If you can’t get a one-on-one with your boss, write a letter of resignation and hand it to her (or her assistant). Maybe ask someone to sign a copy for you, so it is clear they have received your resignation, just in case. It’s always good to have it in writing and some acknowledgement of receipt.

    That’s what I did with my former boss who didn’t have time for me. I left the resignation with her assistant.

  12. Whippers*

    “sticking your head in her office and saying you have something important and asking if she has a few minutes right now”

    Am I missing something in the OPs letter? I thought she was a remote employee; how would she stick her head into the boss’s office?

  13. snuck*

    I have had remote staff – you have to be like clockwork with those weekly catch ups, and available multiple times through the week – because you can’t have hall way conversations, everything is remote.

    In this situation I’d (personally) prefer my leave to be unbothered (unless it was a key staff member – a technical person in a one off position for example, or a team leader/people manager) if it was just for another week or so, but an email saying you want to talk on my return would be expected. And on my return if I don’t see the email (because I’d come back from a week’s leave to over a thousand emails!) then follow up at 3pm with a reforward of it and a friendly add on “we really need to talk, can I ring you now?” and then pick up the phone five minutes later and call. And try again at 4pm. And 4.30pm. Leave messages “Trying to get ahold of you for an important chat as per my email please ring me” and keep a phone on you.

    If you don’t get an answer try again the next morning after 9am at the latest, and if they don’t answer still they are avoiding you or have other priorities. So then you send the email saying “I’ve been trying to contact you and cannot leave this any longer. Can you please ring me by lunchtime today as I need to discuss finishing up with Company XYZ and would like to discuss my resignation with you” (subject line “Urgent – end date required”) and then stick one of those handy dandy ‘read receipts’ on the email so you know if someone has read it (assistants will trigger them too so it might not be the manager who read it mind). Then stick to your guns on your end date. If they don’t read it, or act on it, or follow up it doesn’t mean you have to push out your time. It’s a courtesy to provide time (and I don’t hold to two weeks – I hold to “reasonable for the role” ie a project team don’t bail the day before release of new software, bail three days after unless it’s more than a month away).

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