What is a professional way to resign and start the notice period?

Consider these cases:

  • My boss isn't available to tell him first that I'm leaving.
  • My boss is a diplomatic person that will ask me to wait and have a meeting to discuss things first.
  • My boss asks me to wait for his manager's opinion before taking any further steps.

The common thing in all cases is that I want to leave as fast as possible, but in the most professional manner. However, I don't want to embarrass my boss or cut any ropes with my current company.

So should I tell my manager first? or should I just put them against the wall with my notice period?


  • Our management is very slow when it comes to making decisions even critical ones while our notice periods are relatively long (2-3 months).
  • The main audience of the notice period is the HR. The manager should be CCed in the mail.
  • 17
    .... how will you start your notice period without talking to your manager?
    – enderland
    Commented Mar 12, 2014 at 20:33
  • 2
    @enderland in our company we send a mail to the HR and CC our manager.
    – Long
    Commented Mar 12, 2014 at 21:39
  • 1
    2 - 3 months notice??!!! That sounds totally crazy to me! Is the company also bound by giving its employees that much notice when they're fired?
    – JoelFan
    Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 4:07
  • 1
    @JoelFan Not surprising. Here many companies have a 2 month notice period, which by law here is reciprocal (iow the company has to use a period at least as long), with more than a few making that 3 months after say 5 years. Depends on position as well, responsible positions will often need a lot of time to transfer responsibilities and knowledge.
    – jwenting
    Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 9:35
  • 2
    The rule of thumb (at least here in the U.S.) is always, their problems are not your problems. If your boss is not available, that's their problem, not yours. Don't let them try to make them into your problem. Your problem is getting on with your career. Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 12:26

3 Answers 3


Who's in control here? You're the one moving on, right? Don't worry so much. :)

  • Boss isn't available

If your boss is out of the country, dealing with a family emergency, or otherwise has a serious something going on, I would extend the same sort of time off courtesy that the employer would extend to you in the same circumstances. There are times when you're not expected to be dealing with work related things, so reflect that courtesy to your boss. They have a right to be gone occasionally too.

If that's not possible (perhaps you've already accepted an offer at a new place, and you've committed to a start date), then you might want to talk to your boss' boss, or someone in HR if this is truly some kind of emergency or time sensitive notice that you need to give. Someone above you must be working at the company, and so long as you make it clear that you tried to go direct to your boss first, and explain why that's not an option this time, it should be okay.

Most of the rest of the time, it's professional to be professional, and a bit patient.

Still give notice.

  • Diplomatic / asked to wait

This happens. Any boss would want to know what's going on, especially if they want to try to convince you to stay. After all, talent acquisition takes time and you don't want to lose people unnecessarily.

That said, you can still give notice politely, but firmly. If something is really wrong and you've been in regular communication with your manager (say, a big shakeup in the management happened, or your company was sold, etc.) then it shouldn't be a shock if you're heading out. That doesn't mean they won't make a final pitch to keep you. This is not a bad thing.

Still give notice.

  • Asked to delay for boss' boss' opinion

You're the one making the decision, not them, so I don't see why the speed of decisions at the management level plays a role here. Assuming you're not working in a sweatshop/indentured servitude/slavery situation, I don't see what "permission" you might need from anyone at the organization, so what decision is there to be made? If this is happening it may just be a delay tactic to pitch you to stay.

Be professional, and give whatever length of notice is customary to your industry / locale, and let it be.

Still give notice.

Unless you don't need or are somehow sure that you won't at some point want a reference from these people, then always give notice. Don't be so short-sighted as to circumvent whatever conventions are the norm in your industry. It might be taken as a slight, and while it's a minor inconvenience, there's no point in taking a long-term hit for what is a short-term inconvenience.

If you don't give notice, don't expect a positive reference. That may not feel fair if you believe you really put in a lot of time and/or effort at a place. But hey, people are people, and life isn't always fair. Generally my policy is, "Don't burn a perfectly good bridge for no reason." If management isn't professional enough to accept a reasonable notice and move on, then leaving too quickly won't fix anything either, so either way you don't win anything by leaving without notice.

I wouldn't interpret them trying to slow you down as unprofessional necessarily. Like I said above, if you're one of the more senior people in your role, and if the working relationship has been great up to this point, then they might not want to lose you. As a result they may try to delay. There are a ton of other context-specific reasons they might delay, but you're the one making the decision, so be sure about it.

Just suck it up and give notice if you want to be taken seriously as a professional, even if the working relationship isn't a good one. Time heals whatever wounds you may be feeling at the moment.

  • 1
    +1 for saying what I was going to say, but doing it better than I could :)
    – David K
    Commented Mar 12, 2014 at 21:06
  • 1
    It sounds like you're answering the question, "Should I give notice or not?" when I interpreted it as more like, "Should I speak to my manager first or just start my notice (presumably by handing in a notice letter)?" In many countries notice is more than just a "convention" - it's legally required. Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 10:40
  • @starsplusplus I would take it as - your employer can't prevent you from giving notice, but they can try and convince you to delay giving notice (let's wait for boss to get back, etc etc). But if you've already got your new job lined up, you need to give notice to get the clock running, and being polite but firm is perfectly fine. Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 16:56

There's a common acceptable notice period in your locale - that plus any company agreements you've signed dictate your bare minimum notice period. With that requirement comes the responsibility to have a suitably official resignation communication (letter, email, etc) in the hands of the appropriate supervisor (your boss, or someone he designated as his authority if he's out).

The polite thing to do is to hand in the letter with a last day of work date on the letter. If they wish to talk, have follow up meetings, etc - that's acceptable at your discretion - but the date on the letter does not need to change. If they say "do you mind extending the date on this letter so we can talk about it?" - the answer can be "no".

That's one of the nicer points of sending the letter both by email and in physical form - it gets the point home that this isn't a changeable date.

The trick here is - you have to be clear and you have to make sure that the message is received. If the conversation you have is ambiguous or leads the other person to believe you might be willing to delay for some reason, then you do both yourself and the company a disservice.

For the specific cases raised:

  • My boss isn't available to tell him first that I'm leaving.

If this is a short delay (a conference for 2 days), then don't set a start date that makes it impossible for you to have a courteous conversation, give notice, and still have a good first day at your new job.

If this is a long (week + ) or indefinite delay - your boss should have designated an authority in his absence. If this person is not clear, talk to the next level up. If this is the case, and you like your boss a lot, leave him a nicely worded email saying how much you liked him, and your regrets that could not speak in person with him.

  • My boss is a diplomatic person that will ask me to wait and have a meeting to discuss things first.

You have two options: - NO - for when there is absolutely nothing he can change that will make you stay. For example, your spouse must move, and you will want to move as well - very little can change about your job to make that situation change.

  • Maybe - Stick to the final date of work, give a deadline for the discussion - "Yes, we can discuss it, but I want to stick with a last day of X in the meantime. Given that I do not want to disappoint my future employers, you and I should discuss this no later than Y, so I have time to consider adjusting my plans." It is now his call. If it is absolutely urgent that you stay, he will make the time. If not, it's not urgent enough.

  • My boss asks me to wait for his manager's opinion before taking any further steps.

Similar to the answer above. He can talk to as many people as he likes - getting buy in from others is his job, setting a date is yours. If it won't do any good, save him the effort and tell him no. If there are negotiation options, set a date for resolving the question.

This is not an option of doing it when it is convenient for the company. Having to find a new person to do your job will never be convenient. Since you are the person who cares that you leave, you need to the person to take ownership on clear dates and clear communication.

  • +1 for clear communication. So many problems can be solved by stating things simply, clearly, calmly, but unambiguously.
    – jefflunt
    Commented Mar 12, 2014 at 23:28

If your direct superior isn't available, he'll have a chain of command you can go up.
That would be his boss, or he has appointed someone to take over from him during his absense.

Your notice period doesn't start until you give notice, unless both parties (you and the company) agree to a shorter period. So no, you can't consider your notice period started until you have given notice according to the requirements set forth in your contract.

Of course your company may well have policies about where to send notice, which may mean you only have to notify human resources for example (though in my experience you should always notify your direct superiors as well, they're the ones going to have to deal with not having you around after all).

So read your contract and company procedures, figure out who to notify and when, and then go and do that. Don't just assume that your notice period has started just because you want it to have started.

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