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The 5 Stages Your Boss Will Go Through When You Resign

Resigning from a job is tricky — not only do you not want to “burn any bridges” when you leave a job, you want the departure to be as smooth and positive as possible.

My good pal Larry the Recruiter points out an excellent framework to keep in mind when you’re resigning: he suggests that you go Jedi on your boss by putting yourself in their shoes through the “5 Stages of Loss” framework.

The 5 Stages Of Loss Your Boss Will Go Through When You Resign

1) Denial

Your boss will be in denial with himself that you’re actually leaving the company.

They may do strange things such as keep the news of your resignation to himself and not share it with his manager or key people on his team.

They may not even share it with their spouse, or if they do they may sugar coat it:

“Mary on my team tells me she’s ready for a change…perhaps I need to give her more responsibility.”

This is normal.  Give them time.

2) Anger

Your boss may become angry with you or someone else in the organization who they try to blame.

Again, this is normal — change is scary for anyone and a natural way to react to fear is through anger.

3) Bargaining & Negotiation

Before you resign, you better think through the firmness of your decision because your boss will likely try to talk you into staying.

That’s why you should decide ahead of time whether there is any scenario under which you would stay (e.g. higher pay, change of role or location, etc.).

If there are reasons that you’d stay with your job, I suggest you don’t resign and instead talk to your boss about what you need to change in order to be happy.

My style has always been to tell my boss that I’m firm in the resignation so that A) I’m respectful of their time and B) They don’t have to spend time figuring out ways to keep me.

Still, most bosses (assuming they value you) will try to bargain to keep you around — be prepared from your boss to come back to you with some incentives for you to stay.

4) Depression

Around this time, as it becomes clear to your boss that you’re indeed serious about resigning, they will become depressed.

This, again, is natural — your boss will need to go through a time of mourning about the change.

Just give it time.

5) Acceptance

Finally, if you have firmly held your ground that you are indeed going ahead with the resignation, your boss will finally accept it.

Some folks leaving their company write a letter of resignation as the way to inform their boss that they’re leaving.

Letters of Resignation

I think a letter of resignation is only sometimes useful as a formality after you’ve spoken directly with your boss.

Note: see my article on Effective Communication By Bandwidth to see my thoughts on how the more sensitive a communication you have the higher the bandwidth you should communicate it (i.e. in-person is the highest bandwidth while a letter/email is much lower bandwidth).

If you do need to write a letter of resignation, I suggest you keep it short and sweet — here are some sample resignation letters that get the job done.

And if you’re read this far, you’re probably real serious about resigning — so congrats on the change you’re making in your life!