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How to properly break up with your boss

How to properly break up with your boss

Let's face it. We have all, at one time or another, dreamt of quitting our jobs. This past week, during our class on Transformative Conversations, a subject of the the soft skills series offered by the Goodman Institute of Investment Management, one of my students asked, how do I leave my job? What do I say to my boss? And is it possible to leave on good terms? Dr. Gill, can we really have a transformative conversation about quitting?

Great questions.

And the answer is yes! You can transform an anxiety provoking and dreaded conversation into a professional discussion that allows you to leave on good terms and make a gracious exit. But, like most soft skills, you need a PLAN and you should practice so that you're not caught off guard, swayed to reconsider (unless you are using this opportunity for your boss to make a counteroffer) and maintain composure.

You may hope and pray that your manager will see this new job as a wonderful career move that will support your professional development, BUT hoping and praying is not a plan. And remember your boss is human - that means they may have an emotional reaction to your leaving!

How to structure your resignation conversation

Do not quit with a post-it note, text, email or by ghosting your manager

Regardless of your relationship with your boss, unless you're dealing with abuse or harassment, you owe it to her to have a straight up face to face, virtual or in person, conversation about quitting. Besides, this is an opportunity to flex those soft skills muscles and learn how to have difficult conversations. While the classroom is a wonderful place to learn about professional business skills and chat about effective ways of managing challenging relationships, it is so much harder to maintain composure in high stakes situations characterized by intense emotional reactions. And these situations require practice. So take this as your opportunity to practice!

First things first, send your manager an email requesting a one on one meeting so that you can discuss your reasons for quitting and your commitment to ensuring a smooth transition.

Get clear on your reasons for leaving by focussing on your career aspirations

The conversation should focus on you and a brief explanation about why you're leaving. While you may be tempted to air your grievances, this is not the time nor place to do so. Remember, you don't want to burn a bridge with the very person who may be asked to provide a future reference for you. You want to leave on good terms. To do so, focus on your desire to work in a different role, industry, or even your need for change. Frame the conversation positively by focussing on what you have learned and the skills that you have acquired in your role. For example, you can state:

"I am grateful for the opportunity to have learned from you. After much consideration, however, I decided that it's time for me to move on. I want to make this transition as easy as possible for both of us and the team".

Be Gracious about Passing the Baton

Assisting with the transition provides an opportunity to highlight your professionalism and signals your desire to see the company succeed. Document daily activities, detail the location of important files, take inventory of clients, identify, if possible, a strong replacement on your team, determine if your tasks can be divided among current employees, finish as many of your projects as possible, specify next steps for projects you will not finish, and assist in training your successor if they arrive before you leave. These tasks will also go along way to strengthen your relationship with colleagues.

Reflect on what needs to change for you to stay

I am always puzzled by employees who want to jump ship without ever discussing their grievances with their current employer. It takes so much time and energy to find a job, learn the job, understand the organizational culture, and develop meaningful relationships. Why not take the opportunity to discuss your misgivings with your boss? Do you need a mentor? More meaningful tasks? A transfer to a different department?

These are hard questions because they require that you reflect on the possibility that you actively participated in creating a challenging situation. And by active I am including never speaking up or sharing with your boss what he is doing that is having a negative effect on you. Is it his communication style? Her unreasonable expectations? Their preposterous deadlines?

Perhaps you never realized that she too has a full plate, is juggling home and work and is doing her best.

Managers are human. And they too have blind spots. They don't always recognize that their actions have inadvertent effects on their employees. But if made aware of their negative behaviour and what they can do differently, they may just rise to the occasion and change! And if they don't, then you can feel confident that you proactively tried to change your circumstance. By all means quit - but do so professionally with your reputation in tact and flexing those soft skills muscles!

To your success!

Dr. Gill

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