Who among us has not had a day (or several) at work when the boss, or your co-workers or the clients or customers, or just the sheer volume, tedium or aggravation of your work makes you want to do like flight attendant Steven Slater; grab a beer or two and slide away on an escape chute to freedom? Sure, it’s a tempting fantasy, and social media seems to convey an uptick in outrageous job quitting scenes but the rationally minded among us know that impulsively quitting your job, whether dramatically or not, is not a good idea. This article will help you compose a solid plan for giving a responsible two weeks notice.

How to Give Two Weeks Notice: “I quit!”

Let’s start with why impulsively quitting is a terrible idea. You will no longer have an income. Beyond this you will have ruined your work reputation with your boss and all the co-workers you will be leaving in the lurch. All these people are contacts you may need down the road as you develop your career who now may not be willing to help you.

So what do you do if you really do want to leave your job? You search for another of course. This search may require a certain amount of stealth on your part, such as using your lunch break or vacation time to interview. After all, you don’t want to tip off your boss that you’re looking before you’ve found a new job. But eventually you will find something that meets your needs and you will receive an offer from a new employer. Congratulations!

Now That I Have Someplace To Go Can I Indulge That Job Quitting Fantasy?

No, sorry, still not a good idea in most cases. Although it is certainly your right to leave your job whenever you wish, there is still that matter of your professional reputation and the burden placed on your co-workers. Especially if you plan to stay in the same or a related field, you will run into these people again and your hasty departure will leave a lasting impression. What if, for example, your new job turns out to be a disaster? Or worse, what if one of your current co-workers launches a cool new start-up sometime down the road that you would love to be part of, but you’re unwanted because they see you as a quitter?

In addition to your professional reputation there may be a financial penalty to you if you quit on the spot. You will want to check your employee handbook on this one. In some cases you will be forfeiting educational benefits, vacation time or bonus pay if you quit without following an established procedure.

For this reason, it is best for all to “give notice”, in other words to announce you are leaving and the date of your departure. Although there is no hard and fast rule for how long your notice period must be, the standard length is two weeks. (Again, check your hand-book to see if your employer requires a different length of notice.)

How to Give Two Weeks Notice

On the day you announce your leaving you may be tempted to tell your closest work friends first but most professional consultants agree that there is a protocol to be followed regarding who gets told in what order. In a nutshell you should tell people in this order:

  1. Your boss
  2. Your mentors (or mentees) and co-workers whose work is closely related to yours
  3. The rest of your co-workers

Telling Your Boss

This may be uncomfortable for you but there comes a time when difficult conversations are unavoidable. To keep things professional and a little less uncomfortable you should ask your boss for a private meeting and once alone keep the conversation to the following points:

  • State that you have received and accepted an offer from another organization.
  • Tell your boss what your final date at your job will be.
  • Thank your boss for the time and opportunities he or she has given you.
  • Offer to help with the transition your department will face.

Take note of what is not on this list; blaming, name calling, statements of who or what you hate or can’t wait to get away from, complaints of any sort. Keep to the high road and you will come off as a professional. After you’ve had the conversation you will most likely be asked to write a formal letter of resignation. In this letter you should just summarize everything you stated in your meeting. Again, keep it professional.

After you’ve had the conversation with your boss you can move on to everyone else. Please be aware that your boss may ask you to hold off telling the others until he or she has time to come up with a game plan and respect this request if asked.

Once you’ve announced your departure to your co-workers you will probably be met with a variety of reactions. Many people will congratulate you. Some will want you to gossip about the “real” reason you’re leaving. Resist the temptation. Still others will be jealous or resentful and will throw shade on your plans. This is just the way some people are. You can empathize and assure these people that you will help with the transition as much as possible in the next two weeks, but try not to take their reactions personally or get defensive. It’s just not worth it.

Helping Your Co-Workers Cope with Your Departure

Speaking of the transition, now is the time to make your regular tasks as transparent as possible so your replacement can step in to your role as easily as possible. Work with your boss to do the following as needed:

  • Train another person to perform your routine tasks. Are there reports you create on a daily basis? Make sure your replacement knows how to do them and share your personal best practices for doing so such as macros or pivot tables you find useful.
  • If there are email chains on your personal server that your replacement will need to see move these to a group mailbox if appropriate or add your replacement to the email distribution.
  • Same goes for files you are working on. If you are storing files on your desktop move them to a shared drive or send them to your designated replacement. Be sure to share any required passwords.

Your Last Day

When your notice period is up and your departure date arrives there may be a cake or a lunch to celebrate you. You will likely be asked about your reasons and plans by several more people. For your own comfort you may wish to mentally rehearse your answers and stick closely to your mental script every time you have to answer the same question. This will help diffuse the inevitable rumor mill where everyone is announcing “what I heard…” regarding your leaving.

Also on your last day you may be asked to meet with a representative from HR to give an “exit interview.” During this interview it is ok to be a little more candid about your reasons for leaving if you truly believe that there were conditions related to your job that can be improved upon to prevent others from also departing. As always, keep your remarks professional.

When All of the Above Goes Out the Window

Now that you know how to gracefully and professionally leave your job with formal notice, please be aware that there are situations when leaving your job on the spot is advised or unavoidable. These situations could include the following:

  • You feel threatened or unsafe in your current situation.
  • Your stress/anxiety level has become so extreme that your health is threatened and you do not feel capable of finding another job under such stressful circumstances.
  • You suspect that your boss or your organization is involved in illegal activities. Continuing in such circumstances could eventually implicate you in a criminal matter. Save yourself and get out.
  • You are taking a job with a competitor and your boss terminates you on the spot to prevent you from taking away any competitive information.
  • Your boss fires you on the spot out of anger or spite at your leaving.

These last two bullet points may seem a bit petty on the part of your boss, but they are in fact very real scenarios. Most employment situations in the country are what’s known as “employment at will.” What this means is that legally you or your employer can terminate your job situation at any time for any reason other than actual discrimination based on race, age, sex, etc. Your company may have a policy where an employee is paid through their notice period even if they are removed immediately, as in the case of leaving for a competitor. If you believe you will be terminated upon giving notice then you should remove your personal belongings from your office before giving notice and see if you can have a sooner start date with your new employer.

Further to the “employment at will”, you may have heard of non-compete agreements where an employer can try to prevent you from working for a competitor for a certain period of time. Though laws can vary from state to state, it is very unlikely that you will be prevented from working at a new job because of a non-compete rule. These agreements usually apply only to very high level executives, are spelled out explicitly at the time of employment, and are generally very difficult to enforce.

A Note about Counter Offers

When all is said and done your boss may make you a counter offer to entice you to stay. If the reason you want to leave is all about the money and you like the counter offer then go ahead and consider it. But if you have other reasons you should be aware that these reasons are unlikely to go away just because you’ll be making more money. Your boss may only be offering this out of panic or the desire to avoid the hassle associated with a departure. Also you may end up being seen as a person who makes threatens to quit for personal gain. Consider these offers carefully.

In Summary

To sum up, it is best to leave your job in a professional and courteous manner by giving appropriate notice except in extreme situations. Giving two weeks notice is the best thing to do and it doesn’t have to be too difficult. Whenever the thought seems overwhelming, revisit this post to reinforce in your mind how it’s done. And as always…