how to quit your job without burning bridges

I was on public radio’s Marketplace this weekend, talking about quitting your job, including:

  • how to quit without burning bridges
  • how much notice to give
  • what to do if your office keeps contacting you with questions after you leave
  • quitting on the spot if your employer revokes your vacation time at the last minute
  • and more

The segment is 10 minutes and you can listen here:

{ 55 comments… read them below }

  1. April Ludgate*

    Particularly relevant considering how done I am at my current place – they gave my coworker a promotion to the title I had before I joined here AND I just found out she won the company-wide award for service, giving her $500. All kinds of done.

    1. Zip Silver*

      I mean, that’s not particularly egregious if she’s performed well. Tenure doesn’t mean everything.

      1. Tacos are Tasty*

        Maybe she hasn’t performed well, maybe it’s office politics pushing a subpar person up. Hot air rises in a lot of workplaces. Nepotism and cronyism has been rife in a lot of places I’ve worked and it has certainly robbed me of a few opportunities.

        I imagine something similar is afoot.

      2. designbot*

        No matter the performance of the colleague, when you can’t be happy for someone else at your company doing well, it’s always a sign that something’s gone terribly wrong in the relationship. It’s like your whole company is in BEC territory with you.

  2. Anon this time*

    My maternity leave is winding down and I’m 85% sure I want more time. But, I really don’t want to burn this bridge bc it’s my most pertinent professional experience. I don’t know how to do this if I decide to do it. I figured I’ll go back for a few months (also a trial for me to see if I get over the hump). Then if I leave at least I helped triage for a few months?

    1. chocoholic*

      Could you ask about the possibility of returning part-time? That is what I did when I was returning from maternity leave, and they let me. I did 16 hrs in the office (2, 8 hr days) plus 8 hrs/week from home spread over the week. I’m no longer at that job, but have continued to work part time for the last 14 years.

      1. Anon this time*

        Yes, that is one thing I’m considering. I’m trying to construct ideally what I would want if I stayed so I’m prepared should they be willing to do something like that. I’m fairly high-level, so my concern with part-time is that it will really just be, officially part-time but with an unreasonable workload/constant “on call” expectations – I’d be curious to hear from others who may have been in this position and how it worked, what they did to make it work and not turn into a full-time job they just weren’t compensated as full-time to perform, etc.
        I feel guilty if I choose to resign, having had them hold my job for several months during which they could have been searching. I wouldn’t be the first, I’m sure, so maybe I’m overthinking, but I just wouldn’t want to leave on a bad note if it comes to that.

        1. BadPlanning*

          Not a lot of people do part time at my company, but we do officially have a temp part-time program (where it doesn’t affect your years of service or non-salary benefits).

          The person that I know who did part-time post maternity leave worked 3 days a week (versus 5 half days). I think that helped to prevent half day to 3/4 to full day creep. Of course, it limits meeting availability — so I don’t know how she worked that out with her team.

          One time, my manager stuck his head in to tell me something and then say he wanted to tell part-time coworker as well, but she didn’t seem to be there. I reminded him that this was one of her off days (and she stayed very consistent with days in/out). It did make me wonder how many times he thought she might be mysteriously gone.

        2. AnonNow*

          I went back to work part time after maternity, that wasn’t something I had planned but it worked out well in the end. I sat and developed a schedule that I thought would work for me (as well our Department) and put together a pretty good case for how it would be successful. I ended up working full time on T,W,T and I loved having the four consecutive days at home. I know working five shorter days wouldn’t have been possible for the work I was doing and I was lucky in finding part time child care close to work as well.

          When I went back to full time, I negotiated to work 4 days a week in the office and 1 day a week at home. Practically that worked a little differently – I worked from home on Fridays with the agreement that I would have my phone on Friday and if anything urgent came up, I would come in. I had reports that were due for submission on Monday and as long as they were submitted, it was great. I kept my child at daycare for the full week for that arrangement as I didn’t want to lose the day care place, it was great having that flexibility. And as often as not, I was free Friday afternoon and did the day care pick up early.

          I think when the time is right you will know and you will make it fall into place.

        3. Safetykats*

          I wouldn’t feel bad; I would just try to figure out what really works for you, and have that conversation. Parental leave isn’t a benefit that’s provided contingent upon return, and my experience is that most companies recognize that. When I’ve had people out on parental leave, management and HR have actually had the conversation about the odds of specific people coming back, and/or how long they are likely to be out, and the steps we take to cover their job while they are out often take that into account. I expect that they have someone covering for you, so the main decision they have to make is whether they can make that person permanent in your position.

          The thing that can be disruptive, and might make it hard to come back later if you would like to maintain that option, is trying to do something you know won’t work for you. If what you really want is more time entirely at home, I wouldn’t offer to work part-time. If you really don’t know when (or if) you want to come back, I wouldn’t imply that you might be back in some specific timeframe. Offering to come in for however long it takes for them to find a replacement is nice, but if they have had someone covering for you it might not be necessary – so I wouldn’t take it personally if they don’t take you up on it.

          And congratulations! On your new baby, and on having the option to stay home with your new baby. I think it’s wonderful that you can make that work, and I hope your company sees it that way too.

  3. Amber Rose*

    I wish I could leave. I’m tired of being treated like my work is worthless and I’m a waste of time.

    1. Mike C.*

      I’ve been through this, be careful not to start internalizing what happens at work. It’s easy to start believing that “you’ll never find another job” or “you’re not worth a better position” because you will and you are.

      1. K.*

        Second this – been there too. You deserve to be treated well, at work and in life. Don’t lose sight of that!

      2. Amber Rose*

        I’m doing OK because my coworkers at least are great. But being back at work today after surgery is just reminding me how little management thinks of me.

        Job hunt starts as soon as I can tolerate being on a computer long enough to look.

      3. Wendy Darling*

        I had a HORRIBLE boss and crappy coworkers at my last job and despite my best efforts I’m still a little paranoid. I tend to get freaked out if I have a weird or slightly adversarial interaction with a coworker and start worrying that people were out to get me, because at my last job they mostly were.

        I had a coworker I don’t know well ask me a ton of probing questions about my work without any context last week and it freaked me way out. It was probably not a big deal, but I was terrified that I’d done something wrong and someone was investigating my screwup so they could punish me.

    2. Wendy Darling*

      I quit because of that. My boss’s favorite phrase, which came up in ALL of our 1:1s, was “you need to prove you’re worth your salary.”

      I was super fortunate to have the finances to quit. I’d been looking for another job for a while but not having any luck, and my boss transitioned from passive-aggressive to aggressive-aggressive, so I quit. I did give 2 weeks’ notice but I made sure I was ready to leave the day I gave notice, because they were that kind of spiteful. My boss wanted to shitcan me the day I gave notice but HR wouldn’t let her… awkward.

      I was out of work for almost a year and it sucked financially but I don’t regret it. Working that job was more upsetting than being unemployed and in a financially crummy but survivable place. I’m so thankful that I was in a situation where that was possible for me.

    3. DrAtos*

      Keep your head down, make nice with colleagues and boss, and keep looking for a new job. I remember trying to find my first job when I was right out of school and how hopeless it seemed because I was unemployed at the time. Now I love being in the position of having a job and feeling secure while always keeping my eyes open for a better opportunity. Be glad that you have a job that will pay your bills in the meantime and ignore the petty stuff that goes on during work hours. If you keep looking, you will eventually find something new. I’ve been able to do this twice within the last seven years. Each time I went to a new job with a better salary and/or better location. It’s the best way to progress your career and find what you are looking for. Good luck.

  4. Kix*

    I left my previous job in December and although I tried to leave gracefully, the fact that I left was enough to burn bridges. My leaving meant my lazy manager had to pick up some of my work, and when I offered him an orientation, he said, “I’ll figure it out.” I’m not sorry I left my old job, but I am sorry they turned on me like jackals. Sometimes, you just can’t make it okay.

    1. Seal*

      Same here. When I left my previous job they burned bridges with me. My former boss had been promoted, but conveniently “forgot” to include me in meetings with the incoming boss. I ramped up my job search, got an offer, and went out of my way to tie up loose ends and document everything. Former boss congratulated me on my new job and never spoke to me again. Mind you, I gave 3 weeks notice. During that time my former boss spent several days cleaning out his old office, which was right next to mine; he refused to even look at me and didn’t even bother to come say goodbye on my last day. I was not at all surprised or sorry to hear that he had been fired for cause not more than a year later.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Years ago, I worked for a national company that had branches in different cities. My branch wasn’t doing as well and they were looking at potentially downsizing. I had done some travel to other offices in the region to train new employees, so the VP reached out and asked me if I would potentially be interested in transferring to an open spot in a different city. I had some family and friends in the other city, so I decided to go for it.

      My branch manager was livid that I was leaving even though she clearly understood that if I stayed, I risked not having a job at all.

  5. Calpurrnia*

    Talk about timely! I started with my current company more than 4 years ago with basically no relevant experience. Since then I’ve absorbed all my teammate’s duties (when he left without notice and wasn’t backfilled), switched locations twice (one of which added a 90 minute, $10/daily train ride to my commute), built a database to automate some tedious work (for which I was “promoted” – basically increased job duties and title, but no pay change), then helped stand up a whole new team doing work our company had never done before (because I was specifically requested by the client to help him establish the team based on my past work), AND eight months ago completed a 3.5-year part-time masters degree program (paid for by the company, so they definitely know about it). And I’ve seen, over that 4 years, about an 11% pay increase – 9.5% of which was initiated by that client who requested me by name.

    So when I took half a day off last week to interview, I barely felt guilty at all. And when I got word Friday that they’re putting my offer together, at a salary more than 30% above my current pay (without me even negotiating), I started pondering how to politely give my notice to the team I love and the company that hasn’t remotely treated me with the respect I’ve earned.

    1. periwinkle*

      “I am resigning effective [DATE].”

      That’s pretty much all that needs to be said to the company, and there’s definitely no need to feel guilty. Be polite to the company and “business honest” to the team (can’t remember who gave us that phrase in a recent open thread but it’s awesome). Come here and scream, gloat, growl, or whatever else helps you vent your true opinions about your soon-to-be ex-employer.

      Oh, but *right now* you need to verify your tuition benefit policies if you haven’t already. Is there a re-payment required if you leave within a certain number of months/years after using their tuition benefit? At my company, you are required to re-pay any tuition/fees/books paid for by the company within the last 24 months if you pursued/completed a graduate degree.

      1. Triumphant Fox*

        Agreed. My company has a 1 year policy. If you leave within one year of completing the degree, you have to repay the money. I don’t know if it’s all or part of it.

      2. Basia, also a Fed*

        My previous company had a FOUR year payback period: 100% within the first year, 75% within the second, etc. And they made people pay it even when they laid them off due to lack of billable work.

        1. Calpurrnia*

          Ours only applies to leaving voluntarily or being terminated for cause. Making people repay it when involuntarily leaving is ridiculous. Hopefully that’s why it’s good they’re your previous company…

      3. Calpurrnia*

        Yes, we have a 12-month payback obligation – they actually changed the policy two years ago to 24 months, but those of us already in the middle of a program we signed up for under the old tuition assistance terms kicked up enough of a fuss to get grandfathered. Although it occurs to me that I’m not sure I have that agreement in writing, unless it’s buried in my email somewhere – so I’ll have to go dig that up to make sure I have my ducks in a row.

        The explanation in the current manual is: “Employees who voluntarily separate employment or are terminated for cause are obligated to reimburse [company] for all educational assistance received during the [12] months prior to the effective date of employee’s termination.” So based on my reading of this, I don’t have to pay back the whole amount (something I was concerned about), just what I got in the 12 months previous to the end of my notice period. I thought that I had previously read it was money received for any courses *completed* in the previous N months, but the current policy doesn’t say that – which makes a pretty big difference in my case (I had two courses that were “completed” last spring, because I carried over some incomplete work). But since my last course was last spring term (~Feb to May), and I received money to pay tuition for the final course at the time of registration (in January), I *may* actually be free and clear within the next few weeks. I need to double check the exact date I last received money, and also whether the wording in the policy has changed – basically the amount I owe could be $0, $X, or $2X+n (for textbooks). But I’m kind of assuming it’ll be nonzero, and am planning to try to negotiate a signing bonus to cover it when the offer materializes… :)

        That said, the policy also states that they can deduct the amount I owe from my final paycheck (which is not cool), and only if a balance remains after that do I have to set up a payment plan with interest. I was expecting the payment plan option; this could affect whether I decide to use up my vacation time during my notice period or get it paid out in my last check. Yikes.

      4. Calpurrnia*

        Also, I need to go find more elaboration on the “business honest” concept – that’s a new one to me.

        The politics of giving my notice are complicated, because I’m a contractor for a federal agency – my paycheck comes from [company], but every day I go to work in a federal office building that’s probably 85% feds/15% contractors (from assorted companies). So my “boss” for day-to-day work is a fed, as are most of my coworkers/teammates, but my “manager” who does HR stuff and approves timesheets works for my company and visits my site about once a month. I think that this is a big part of why I haven’t been getting raises to reflect the amount and quality of work I do – first, there’s probably some limitations in the contract itself regarding how much they can actually charge the government for me; but second and more important, the people who actually see my work products have zero control over my salary, and the people who can control my salary rarely if ever see or touch my work. It’s also why I’m conflicted over leaving: I feel little loyalty to my actual company, but do feel a substantial loyalty to the federal agency and the org I’m working for (which I helped establish!), and am invested in the outcome of our mission.

        One good thing is that the core team members that I work closest with daily – and who would most sorely miss me if I left – are three SMEs who have spent several decades working for this agency in a highly-specialized, *unionized* job, and are now working an office job for the single-digit years left until they retire. As union guys they generally view management with suspicion and are highly protective of their own (plus they all have kids close to my age, and have stated they’re already inclined to be protective of me because of it). That makes me feel a lot better about leaving – I know they’ll completely understand and support me choosing my career over the agency’s mission, and will circle the wagons if the big boss gets angry about my notice. It makes it a lot less scary knowing that I’m not going to be hurting the feelings of the people I really care about here.

    2. Wendy Darling*

      When I decided I needed to leave my toxic previous job and started interviewing I developed fictitious dental issues requiring many appointments over many weeks. I regret nothing.

      1. TardyTardis*

        Considers the stirring and emotional rendition of “J’en regretted rien” from the villainess in MADAGASCAR III, and snickers. Why, yes, I do watch too many animated films.

    3. designbot*

      What I’ve found is that when I cut out all the details and day to day BS and just focus on the real core issue at a fairly high level, people respond really well to honesty. For example in your case instead of laying out the whole laundry list, condensing it to something like, “I’ve really grown a lot since I started here and it was time for my compensation to reflect what I bring to the table now.” That lets them look back and connect the dots themselves instead of getting into debates or trying to talk you into seeing each example differently. That way they have the opportunity to do better with others (if that’s something you have a concern for) but it doesn’t turn into a whole mud-slinging thing.

  6. Thornus67*

    At an old law firm job of mine, the senior associate quit and gave about four weeks notice. He quit without anything lined up but was quitting because he and his wife were moving several states away because she wanted to be closer to her family. So, there wasn’t a set timetable for a job but there was one for marital harmony. He waited until after a few major cases were finished before he told the partners he was quitting, which I imagine was the compromise he came to with his wife. When the partners told us, the senior partner somewhat badmouthed him and said that “in our line of work, we really need six months notice,” a time frame I found absolutely absurd.

    When I quit, I gave them two weeks less one day notice. And I didn’t feel bad about that at all. However, I also didn’t have much to transition or wrap up because they had been freezing me out of work for about six months in retaliation for major payroll issues on their part I had raised.

    1. Delta Delta*

      6 months is absurd. I gave 4 weeks’ notice when I left a law firm, which seemed reasonable.

      1. Thornus67*

        He had also been there for about seven years, so if they really wanted to keep him, they should have made him a partner. But, instead, I think the partners were holding out to make their son a partner after he became an attorney (and he still hasn’t gone to law school as of a year ago).

  7. Clemintines*

    My previous job almost sent me to the hospital. The amount of toxicity was leaving me depressed, anxious and damn near suicidal. I followed this blog closely and right when I almost was hospitalized I landed my dream job. I gave two and a half week notice. My old boss was shocked to find out I was leaving and acted so “buddy-buddy” those last weeks. It was honestly the lowest time in my career and personal life. I persevered and left in a respectful manner. I felt glad I didn’t just walk out or tell my boss off. Yes, its hard as heck but I feel better for it. Thanks for your advice and resources Alison. It literally gave me a lifeline in a super dark time.

    1. JessB*

      Wow, this is a lot happening. I’m sorry things were so bad but I’m so happy you’re through that now. Well done to you.

  8. I am Fergus*

    I just sent a letter last week that I withdrew my acceptance. I made my decision a few days because I was told by HR when I asked about salary I was told there is no negotiation that it was firm. I think she forgot there is the option to go somewhere else.

    1. Phoenix Programmer*

      Meh. If I ever run a company o will probably institute no negotiations. It rewards a skill that is typically not helpful in jobs and is also frequently a factor in gender based wage disparities.

  9. Mimmy*

    This was helpful to hear. I’ve thought about giving notice at my job, but 1) I don’t have anything lined up and 2) I’m doing well with my core duties–I don’t love them, but feedback has been positive. I just don’t really care for the environment.

    By the way, this is probably a stupid question, but when they say “2 weeks’ notice”, does that mean 2 calendar weeks or 2 business weeks, i.e. give notice on Monday with the last day being a week from Friday?

  10. new job soon*

    I’m in my notice period now! Gave notice last Monday. My boss seems to be avoiding me but…what can you do? I’m just going to do my job, leave things in a good place and celebrate my new job!

  11. Bookworm*

    Quite timely for me too. I’ve decided I have to go: I’m miserable because I think it’s just not working plus I’m increasingly wondering about my manager’s ability to, well, manage. It is not ideal for me and it won’t be for them either (is it ever?) but I’ve only felt this terrible once before and I was much happier once I quit. Finally coming to this decision in the past week-ish has brought me some peace. The segment was important for me to listen to because I will be putting them somewhat in a bind but as I look at this the job has served whatever purpose.

    I wish I could wait for something more solid (had an interview recently) but I spend too much time resenting this job, which tells me it’s become untenable. So I appreciate all the tips (the 2 week notice part, especially). Thanks for sharing this.

  12. Other Duties As Assigned*

    About eight minutes into this Marketplace segment, Alison and the host touch on something worth repeating: that the firm you’re interviewing with may contact any past employer on your resume and not just the references you provide. That’s why burning a bridge is to be avoided if at all possible.

    At a previous job, I hired, trained and supervised a lot of entry-level part-time employees, most of whom were college students. I hired and trained one guy (let’s call him Fergus) who just stopped showing up after a few months, which is really unusual in our industry. He wouldn’t return repeated phone calls so I cancelled his building access, left him a phone message terminating him and mailed him his last paycheck. I’d had nearly a hundred employees in my time there and he was the only one I’d ever fired.

    Fast forward to two plus years later. My manager says there’s a call at the switchboard from someone doing a reference check on Fergus! I check with my manager to make sure I can say what I want (for full-timers, we can only verify employment, if we’d re-hire, etc.) Yup, since Fergus was part-time, I can say whatever I want to the caller.

    The fellow on the other end asks if Fergus worked for me and what I could tell about him. I told him I’d fired Fergus for being a no-show, he wouldn’t return my phone calls, he’s the only employee I’d ever fired, etc. Then I asked if he’d actually put me down as a reference. The caller said no, but he was just going down the resume calling his former employers and he’d only talked to one thus far, but that one had pretty much said the same thing as me. The caller said he thought that maybe Fergus and this other manager had just not hit it off and he wanted to give Fergus the benefit of the doubt, which is why he called me. He said my response made him glad he’d taken the extra step.

    Since Fergus had put our firm on his resume after such a short tenure, I asked what he said he’d done here. The caller reads Fergus’ job titles to me and what he’d done was to take MY job titles, and add the word “senior” to them. I said no, except for the “senior” stuff, that’s really my position he’s describing and that he was a part-time hourly entry-level employee. The caller was stunned and now super-happy he’d called me. He said “you’ve saved me endless headaches.”

    It always bothers me when people who exhibit poor workplace behavior or inflate their resumes never have it blow back on them. In this case at least, it did.

    And no, I have no idea where Fergus ended up.

  13. LibrarianInTheWoods*

    I’m coming up on a year from leaving my previous job, and definitely happier for it; I still believe in the mission of the place, and still have a lot of affection for the people in my unit that I supervised/worked with;
    but it had been 3 years out of 5 with ongoing drama (some shady, some just incompetence) on the part of upper management. The last part included staff layoffs within our unit and others at 48 hours notice (to middle managers, the layoff-ees, everybody) 4 days before Christmas (meaning I was out of state at the time!). So when the job offer came a few days after that (and after 1 year of searching), I kind of took it all as A Sign From The Universe that it was time to go.

    Our org handbook ‘required’ 4 weeks notice from supervisory personnel (with the prerogative of immediate release), and I was going to go the bare minimum (though some friends suggested even just 2) but because my co-supervisor and I ended up having a meeting w/ Big Boss about staffing a new location (i know, I know) directly after the New Year break, I ended up telling him/laying it on the table at that meeting. Thus, 6 weeks notice, and fortunately there was no shady stuff about that or my vacation time. I think I’m ultimately happy that it went down the way it did, allowing Co-Supe to have leverage with Big Boss and preserve some of the good things we’d done in the library together. I’ve stayed friends with C-S (the experience was a weird life-time bond) but *have* had to enforce Don’t Cross The Streams when it comes to work talk and friend talk, but it’s otherwise been good.

  14. TardyTardis*

    And yet there are times when a Molotov cocktail is a *really good idea* (cf the most recent episode of THE GOOD PLACE). Jason isn’t as dumb as he looks.

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