Your Career Q&A: How to Resign Without Burning a Bridge

By Martin Yate June 12, 2018
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Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.    

I want to resign, but I don't want to have to give two weeks' notice. If I didn't sign a contract with my company, and a resignation notice period is not mentioned at all in my appointment letter, can I just leave? 

Sounds as if another company might be anxious to get you on board as quickly as possible, and you are wondering what the least notice you are obliged to give might be. You mention contractual obligations, yet there are more-important career considerations that can outweigh what you are obliged to do by contract.

It is normal practice for a company to give an individual two weeks' notice and pay on termination. Sometimes termination is immediate but still accompanied with termination pay. While there are variations, these are the time-honored ways that terminations are usually executed. By the same token, it is traditional for an employee to give two weeks' resignation notice. 

Now, while these are all tradition, policy and contractual issues, there are important personal considerations. Upon resignation, you get two weeks' pay and some leeway to accommodate the things you must do prior to joining the new company. 

Consequently, you also have obligations to your employer: Quitting without notice can make life difficult for a suddenly short-handed manager and your colleagues, who have to pick up the extra workload. Create this headache and you can expect the favor to be returned. 

You are somewhere in the arc of what will likely be a 50-year work life. The managers and colleagues you lose contact with today will reappear unexpectedly in the future. It's never a good idea to burn bridges by quitting without notice— in return, you'll just get a bad reputation and references. 

References are checked on your recent past employers, so you don't want to do anything now that would result in references that are critical or noncommittal about your professionalism. Lukewarm references hurt career progress. 

Resignations and Bridge-Building

Back when I had a "real job" in HR as director of sales and management training, I worked at a company where on termination or resignation you were walked out the door immediately. When I accepted a new opportunity, I knew my position could not be replaced overnight, and so I gave a polite, written resignation praising my employer to the heavens and offering six weeks' notice and my full cooperation in finding and onboarding a replacement.  

To everyone's amazement, this was accepted, and I worked as hard in those six weeks as I ever had. We parted on good terms, and 30 years later the CEO reached out to connect with me on LinkedIn, which has led to our making money together again. 

Who Knows What the Future Brings?

Your career is a marathon, not a sprint, which makes maintaining good relations with professional colleagues one of the best methods of encouraging long-term personal success and economic stability.

Don't do anything today that will hurt your reputation and burn bridges, perhaps costing you future opportunities. 

The new employer will wait, and you will join them with the credence of someone who behaves with honor and professionalism. 

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.   


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Packed with practical, honest, real-world guidance for successfully navigating common HR career challenges, Martin Yate's new book, The HR Career Guide: Great Answers to Tough Career Questions, is available at the SHRMStore. Order your copy today!

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