How to Quit your Job

Life is full of transitions.

An unfortunate stereotype of early-career workers is that they are job hoppers. Nearing-retirement workers lament the “loyalty” that they perceive characterized themselves and their forebears. What these same lamenters may not remember is that they were painted with the same brush when they were in their early careers.

It’s not generation-specific. There are newspaper editorials from the 1800s saying basically the same things we hear today – young people have no loyalty, no work ethic, blah, blah, blah. It’s always been that way.

These negative reactions are likely fueled by grief which is brought upon by transitions.

In my course on change management, participants are sometimes surprised that we review the Kubler-Ross stages of grief in depth.

We craft communication strategies for co-workers whom we perceive to be at each level. Because, you know, someone at the shock phase doesn’t need to be inundated with statistics, rationales, and justifications.

Transitions trigger grief responses.

We experience grief whether a transition is caused by us or thrust upon us.

We experience grief whether a transition is to a happier situation or a sadder one.

We experience grief…even at work! As my coaching clients are used to hearing, you don’t hang your humanity on a coat hook when you enter your workspace.

I have experienced four completely different career paths (so far). Three of those transitions were my choice and one absolutely wasn’t.

I have been coaching people since 2007, and more than a handful of them have been in some stage of a career transition.

Gathering my own experiences as well as theirs, here are my recommendations on how to quit your job.

How to Quit your Job

Before you give notice:

  • Update your resume and LinkedIn profile. In fact, this is something you should do at least annually anyway. Use the “ask for recommendation” feature liberally.
  • Map out your next steps. I went to night school and earned a certificate in entrepreneurism before I quit my last corporate job.
  • Prepare (financially and emotionally) for, at the moment you give notice, the possibility that you may be asked to pack your personal items and leave immediately. Some organizations do this, particularly for positions with access to proprietary data.
  • Update your contacts on your phone. Make sure you have last names for your coworkers and their personal contact information. You won’t have access to the company directory after you leave.

When you give notice:

  • Start the conversation with “I’m giving notice that I’m leaving the organization.” Then, out of consideration for the shock phase of grief, wait a few moments. Don’t start babbling.
  • Thank your manager profusely for the opportunities you have had…even if you really didn’t have any. If nothing else, these people compensated you regularly, if not fairly.
  • Don’t burn bridges. This is not the time to complain about the company or your working conditions. That’s what exit interviews are for. If the company doesn’t do exit interviews, that means they don’t want to hear your feedback anyway, so just take it with you.
  • Suggest a time period for your notice. Maybe you offer two weeks, maybe more. I offered a company three months, and they accepted it. PRO TIP: That was *way* too long a transition period, and things got weird that last 4 weeks.
  • Assuming they don’t ask you to grab your purse and leave, suggest a follow-up meeting to plan the transition.

After you give notice:

  • Update your job description. Set your successor up for, well, success by making sure that the job description reflects what you actually do.
  • If you are a manager of people, inform them ASAP. See recommendations above.
  • Organize your email and your electronic files. Again, set your successor up for success.
  • Sort and purge your paper files. Be brutal. Most, if not all, of those exist electronically, anyway. Don’t bequeath boxes of paper to your successor.
  • Document your processes. Your job description gives the big picture of what you do. If there are things that “only you” know how to do, make step-by-step guides for your successor.

What if I really hate my former employer and don’t want to do any nice things for them?

Do the nice things anyway.

You will not change the character of the company you leave. All you can do is leave things better off than you found them. Your character is what travels with you to your next company.

Doing nice things for people who have no way of paying you back, or wouldn’t even want to, might even help you with the grief you will experience during this transition.

Don’t think you’ll experience any grief? You may be surprised.


Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.


  1. Sarah Westcott

    Grief for unmet expectations, what “could have been” and “should have been”, if not for what it actually was!

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      So many reasons! Grief does not discriminate.

  2. Julie Bestry

    Our jobs are a huge part of our identities. For the entirety of my first career, I’d start a phone call with “This is [my name] from [the call letters of the TV station] and it took a year after I ended my career before I didn’t feel funny just saying my name and not an affiliation that “sounded” real.

    I think the only time I didn’t experience grief or apprehension upon leaving a job was when I quit my job at the public library, which I’d held from the age of 16 until the week I left for college. Perhaps it was because the end was expected; this is what all the people in my role did; perhaps it was because I was transitioning from being a high school student with a part-time job (even one that I loved).

    Transitioning, whether from the job of school (college to grad school, grad school to the great unknown) or from each of the jobs in my first career to the end. The stressors from the prior job stuck with me to the next, so I felt both grief for what was lost and the anxiety of staying tethered because, in my industry, everyone stays in contact. In each of these cases, I prepared just as you described. Only in the final case, when I was laid off my last job in my first career (slightly prior to the ultimate failure of the business), the grief was enormous for several weeks, until it wasn’t. One morning, I woke up with the realization that I was definitely not returning to that career, so that none of the stressful projects that linked one job to the next were still on my shoulders. Making the decision to change careers meant I was free of what had come before, possibly for the first time since childhood.

    I may not have fully grieved the unmet expectations, the disappointments, the headaches, etc., right away, but it’s funny that not having planned for that departure made it easier for me to see it as permanent. Who knew? (Well, Melissa, obviously you did!)

  3. Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

    Thanks, Julie. It is for the scenario you mention above that folks criticize the Kubler-Ross model of grief. No, grief is not linear. Yes, grief is unpredictable. However, I like the model for the language…definitions…NAMES!…it gives us. And, as The Doctor has demonstrated over the years, names are powerful. Grief is an unpredictable TARDIS hurdling through time and space. Also, it’s bigger on the inside.


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