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I'm in an interesting situation - I'm burnt out at my current job, and after a lot of thought, have decided to quit and take a little break. I've put this off cause my team was short staffed through most of the time I've worked on this role, and we're at a place where my co-workers will do fine with a little polish, though my most of my current team has been here less than 3 months. They're good folks, they'll manage, and tbh, its not really my concern at this point.

The role bores me to tears, there's no career development to speak of and a tech stack I can't really take anywhere else, and I'm basically going to take a few weeks of just recharging, then signing up for some courses to improve my marketability. My current boss is a major factor here, and I've excellent relationships with most of my co-workers as well as the current team. If asked, I'd jump ship, but I feel my current boss would likely be a blocker to it.

There's a new team coming up in future that looks interesting. I worked with their current manager previously, and another manager who'll likely be working with them's excellent. If there's an opening - its very likely one of my current co-workers will get in touch to let me know, and it's an open secret that my current boss and I don't get along, and honestly, while I'm excellent at what I do, I'd love to move on to something different.

I don't want to say a lot. I do want to keep the door open to come back to the organisation in a different role. I'd like to frame it as a mix of taking some personal time, and self improvement.

What should be the main points I should touch on "I'm taking a break, and will be looking at future opportunities elsewhere" kind of resignation?

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    Just a letter saying that you are resigning is enough. No need to give reasons or hints about what you are doing in the future. Jul 26, 2022 at 3:37
  • Do you have any idea of the timeframe for the new team?
    – motosubatsu
    Jul 26, 2022 at 8:14
  • They've been talking about it over the last... year or two? So nope Jul 26, 2022 at 8:17
  • @JourneymanGeek Ahh, of course - "6-8 weeks" ;)
    – motosubatsu
    Jul 26, 2022 at 8:20
  • Well, no, its not SE. We don't even get promised how long Jul 26, 2022 at 9:41

5 Answers 5

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The not-very-secret secret about resignation letters/exit interviews is that everyone understands you aren't happy, because if you were you wouldn't be leaving in the first place, therefore you don't need to get any substantive points across, the resignation itself is the point! Like you say the issues with your current manager aren't going to be news to anyone and nothing you can say on that will win over anyone who doesn't already agree with you to your side. But being seen to stick the metaphorical knife in can harm your standing with those who have valued your professionalism. So really you just need to avoid saying anything bad enough to be memorable should you ever cross paths in the future, whether that's as small a thing as a reference letter or looking to rejoin.

Therefore it is imperative to keep any references to the organisation or your time there positive - I know it's hard to see through the fog of burnout but there will have been positives you can draw upon for this.

In situations like this it can be very useful to take refuge in vagueness - take the truth and give it a little of what I call magnolia-washing. You aren't lying, but what you're saying is blandly inoffensve, so no feelings get hurt, no bridges catch fire and you're all good. The tech-stack is obsolete and a dead end? You're looking for a new technical challenge! You've battled with staff-shortages and high turn over? You've enjoyed forging a team that you know can manage things when you're gone! Your relationship with your immediate boss hasn't been great, You've enjoyed working with the team!

If there's anyone like the manager of the new team that you want to keep an "in" with in the future there's no harm in writing them and individual e-mail or having an in-person chat even where you can say you've enjoyed working with them, appreciate any help they've given you in your time there etc. People absolutely do remember that sort of thing.

Also you don't necessarily need to mention that you're planning on taking a break, after you finish there what you do is none of their business - but if you do and you're asked why you're doing so (e.g. by HR) I'd stick with something general and non-accusatory. One of the few upsides to the COVID pandemic is that it's provided a great reason for you to say something like "It's been a tough couple of years and I want to take some time to enjoy life and work out what I want to do next" and they aren't going to immediately assume that it's a dig at the company. Sure from your perspective you may well be meaning "My life has become a dystopian hellscape of sleep-work-repeat and I've forgotten the names and faces of my loved ones" but they'll hear "COVID and everything sucked, and I need a break".

One thing you always need to prepare a response to (no matter how unlikely) is an answer to the question "Is there anything we can do to make you stay?" , there's no wrong answers to that - just be honest and avoid negativity. If the answer is "No" just say "I'm flattered but I just think it's time for me to try something new", if (for example) a move to the new team would make you stay you can say "I'd love to work on Team X, but I understand that's not up and running as yet and I don't even know if that would be an option", by providing your own arguments as to why that's not a solution you put the onus on them to either agree with you (in which case you've made the right call and it wasn't going to be a thing) or address those points with concrete plans and actions.

Don't fall into the trap of asking for something you don't expect them to meet in order to "justify" leaving (you'd be surprised how many people do this!) - because this will either come off as unreasonable or worse, they might just do it and then you'll still be unhappy and then you'll only increase the likelihood that any exit burns bridges.

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Here is your step=by-step guide to resign

  1. Make a good faith attempt to fix the problem. Example: if you want more money and a promotion than schedule a career development meeting with your boss and ask for it. Document the outcome (this will come in handy later)
  2. Look at the job market: Most people recommend having a signed offer in hand, but if the job market looks good and you have a decent financial runway, that's fine too.
  3. Make a confident decision: Steps 1 and 2 should allow you do that.
  4. Read your contract and employee handbook. Make sure you know what you have signed and what you didn't. Verify notice period, non-competes, etc.
  5. Pick the timeline: Set dates that work for you (vacation, bonus, new job, etc). You can be nice and accommodate some employer constraints but you don't have to.
  6. Write the letter: The letter is a legal document. Short and sweet is the key here "I regret to inform you that I will resign from XXX. My notice period of YYY starts today and my last day will be ZZZ". You add something nice like "I want to thank you for the good collaboration and opportunities I had at XXX". DON'T SEND IT YET.
  7. Resign in person: Schedule a meeting with your boss or use an existing meeting. IF you can't do face to face, do Zoom or phone call. Let them know that you are resigning thank them for the time you had there. At the end of the meeting hand over the letter or hit send. Send a copy to HR as well.
  8. Done

There is probably going to be some follow up. You may get questions and/or exit interviews. It's up to you to decide how much you want to engage. In some cases it's best to say nothing further but if you have a good relationship and the employer genuinely wants to learn there is no harm in going into details.

Typical questions you may get are:

  1. Why do you want to leave? It's up to you what and how much you want to share

  2. What can we do to keep you here? Sorry, I've made my decision and I'm ready to move on.

  3. Why didn't you talk about it with us before resigning? I did (describe what you did in Step 1.

  4. We'll offer you XXX and YYY ? Sorry, I've made my decision and I'm ready to move on.

  5. How can you do this us/me ? Sorry, this has nothing to do with you, it's a personal decision on my part.

  6. We need you to sign this document ? No.

  7. Where are you going? Sorry, I'm not ready to share any future plans at this point.

  8. You ungrateful bastard, get out of my sight: I'm sorry you feel this way.

Some people find this questioning stressful, so It helps to think up front about the answers, so can reply with confidence. The homework from Step 1 will also come in handy: you tried to fix it but they didn't play. This clearly shows it's their fault not yours.

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I don't want to say a lot. I do want to keep the door open to come back to the organisation in a different role. I'd like to frame it as a mix of taking some personal time, and self improvement.

What should be the main points I should touch on "I'm taking a break, and will be looking at future opportunities elsewhere" kind of resignation?

Realistically, nobody will care what you write in your resignation letter, as long as you avoid negative tones about the company, your boss, and your co-workers.

Keep it short and simple. Just indicate that you have decided to leave and the date of your last day.

If you wish, you can thank them for the opportunity. And you can indicate how they can get hold of you if they wish (phone number and email).

If you want to come back to the company for some reason, omit any reference to being burnt out, bored, no career development, etc. - those can only hinder your goals.

Realistically, don't expect to be invited back, or even allowed back. Applying for a new role in the future will almost certainly trigger questions about why you left this time. And your actual reasons are reasons why many companies wouldn't want you back. It might be different at this company, but probably not.

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  • While I agree that keeping the resignation letter short and to the point while avoiding mentioning burn out is a good idea, I don't agree that you can't go back. The "why did you leave before?" question is easily answered with a "to pursue my education and improve my skills". If it's a new team and a new role, those new skills may make them the perfect fit.
    – ColleenV
    Jul 27, 2022 at 14:33
  • Well, that can happen anywhere if someone you've worked with before has a negative opinion of you. I don't think that a tactful resignation is going to exacerbate the problem. I know of many people who were hired back after leaving a company, but I'm in kind of a specialized skill set field, so it probably depends on what sort of profession you're in.
    – ColleenV
    Jul 28, 2022 at 13:46
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What has worked for me in the past is to focus on one positive reason you have for changing jobs. From what you've described, your reason is probably "I want to take advantage of the opportunity I have to improve my skills and need to focus completely on my education."

You may write a resignation letter that is just formal notice that you are resigning and the timeline without any reason, then explain the reason verbally. If anyone at work asks you why you are leaving, just smile and stick to that one reason and stay focused on where you're heading, not where you've been.

Fulfill any obligations you agreed to in your employment agreement. Do what you can to make sure the transition is smooth without letting them take advantage of you. Don't give into the temptation to mention to anyone at the company the negative things that factored into your decision to leave. Even though some of your coworkers know there were probably some things other than that one reason, not focusing on those things on the way out is best for everyone.

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Put in everything that legally needs to be in there. That should be enough to not burn any bridges.

If you want to be positively remembered, put in the positive things. How you enjoyed working there. How you liked your team and the people working around you. How much the job has taught you and/or how much you grew through the job. That you wish them the best for the future.

Obviously, do not put in anything negative. If you have a reason that is unmistakenly non-negative (because it's about you, not the company), put it in. Otherwise, leave it out.

There is only two people who will read this letter before it becomes some boring, cold combination of bits in a computer system: your boss and HR.

So the only impact it has, is how HR thinks about your boss. If you put in positive things, they will think about them as a good boss. Because having quit, there is nothing for you to gain by lying. If you put in a lot of negative things though, HR will not know what to think, because obviously you are a disgruntled worker and who knows why?

So keep it short. Keep it positive. If you can find a short line on why you quit and you can say it's about you and not about the company, put that in, too.

Nobody will really read it and remember it, but positive things increase the chance of your boss or HR go "oh yeah, that person, I vaguely remember, nice guy/gal" the next time your name comes up.


That said, actions speak louder than words. Do your best during your notice period, make sure all your tasks can be done by your successor, bring a cake (or whatever you do where you live) on your last day, make sure your boss and maybe HR are invited to a piece. Because chances are that the next hiring decision is not made by your team mates, who know how good you are at what you do, but by a boss and HR. If they remember the cake, that is a huge step forward. Sucks to be remembered for cake instead of years of good work, but unfortunately that is how the human brain works. You have a chance to make an impression so the next time HR hears your name, they have a face (or piece of cake) to go with it, instead of a lifeless CV of technical jargon.

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  • TBh - that would be literally "Hi HR! I'd like to give my notice, my last date will be one month from now" Its tempting - but feels off Jul 26, 2022 at 5:37
  • What about everything I wrote after my first sentence? Is there nothing nice you have to say about the company at all?
    – nvoigt
    Jul 26, 2022 at 5:39
  • Honestly? Not really. There's a bit of a story about a toxic boss, and increasingly wierd shifts behind here, but that's out of the scope of the question Jul 26, 2022 at 5:47
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    @JourneymanGeek It would feel off to me too but only because you wouldn't like to do it but are doing it. A resignation letter is primarily a legal document for ending a work contract. "Dear HR, I'm hereby giving my notice, my last date will be <date>." is all that is required and all I would give them in writing.
    – user29390
    Jul 26, 2022 at 5:47
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    So? If you want to leave a positive impression. "I learned a lot about <obsolete tech>" is a positive thing to say. "My colleagues always had my back, even when times were rough" is a positive thing to say. You want to leave a positive impression. I cannot find positive points for you, I didn't work your job, you have to do that. If you think you cannot find any, then just do the minimum. But be prepared that that other future team might ask "why would you like to work here" and "well, I really hated every single aspect of working here last time" is not the answer that will get you the job.
    – nvoigt
    Jul 26, 2022 at 6:19

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