Social Minefield: How To Quit Your Job

Illustration for article titled Social Minefield: How To Quit Your Job

After last week's breakup post, lots of you asked how to break up with that most fickle of mistresses — your job. Now we have the answer!


Quitting your job is one of the things that seems like it might be awesome in the abstract (freedom! Telling your boss to suck it!). But while sometimes fantasy becomes reality (like when this doctor's assistant got to turn in a crappy boss to the FBI), all too often quitting can be awkward, painful — or just ineffective, if your boss ends up pressuring you into staying. Below, we break down ways to avoid these pitfalls in a variety of situations.

When you definitely want out

Whether you've got another offer you can't refuse, or you just can't stand to work at your current job a day longer, a successful quitting experience is as much about what you don't say as what you do. Mark Suster of Business Insider advocates that you don't give a detailed explanation of why you're leaving. Instead, say "personal reasons." If you're more detailed, he warns, your boss will either "invent [the] history that you were the bad guy for complaining" or "use what you're unhappy about as a means to convince you to stay" — but if you're already sure you want to leave, whatever they do probably won't change things all that much. Suster says, "If you weren't happy before this superficial change is only window dressing." Here's Suster's script for departing employees:

I'm leaving for personal reasons. I loved my time at YourCo. I learned so much. I grew. I build fantastic friends and I'll always be part of the alumni club. But it was just time for me to move on to another opportunity. It wasn't YourCo. It was me. I was ready for the change.

It's worth noting that lots of quitting advice takes the form of a script, and with good reason. When you're quitting, you want to be clear and concise and (usually) avoid getting talked out of it. So knowing what you're going to say beforehand will serve you a lot better than hemming and hawing — and it will leave fewer openings for your boss to question or argue with you. And you don't have to worry about seeming stiff or over-prepared — this is a situation that's pretty formal anyway.

When you might actually want to stay

Maybe you've got a counter-offer that you want your current employer to match, or maybe things suck but aren't quite at the unsalvageable level yet (always the most fun part of any relationship). Here's a situation where you should actually elaborate on your reasoning, because otherwise (again, as in a relationship) things are never going to change. Business Insider's Bianca Male offers this script:

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today, Boss. I wanted to let you know that I'm considering leaving the company and have received a compelling offer at company TKTK. However, I would much rather stay here if a couple of small things could change. Would you like to hear what those things are?


When you're early in your career

It can be especially scary to quit a job when you're young — especially if it's your very first. You may not be that used to asserting yourself, and you might still be pretty grateful to these people for giving you a job in the first place. But don't let fear or gratitude stand in your way. Your early working years are a great time to try out different stuff, and they're also a time when employers are less likely to look down on you for switching jobs relatively quickly. What's more, your current boss will likely understand that you need to move on. Says Intern Katie,

[W]hen my friends have been in the position of wanting to leave an entry-level job they were ready to be done with, I just try to remind them that no one expects them to stay at the bottom of the pay scale forever. If there's no room for growth, and you have been there for a year, your boss will understand that you have your career to think about.


And if he/she doesn't, that's too bad. Your boss isn't the one trying to pay rent, utilities, and student loans while simultaneously trying to figure out what to do with her life. And if she is, maybe it's time for her to quit too.

When you need to get out fast

Many people give two weeks' notice as a courtesy, and some companies require it. When you give notice, your employer may ask you to leave right away — in which case they're probably not obligated to pay you for the two-week period. On the flipside, though, they may try to get you to stay longer. If you don't want to — and, especially if you have a new job lined up, it may be in your interests not to — you need to be firm. Suster suggests including a "presumptive close" when you give notice, saying something like, "So I just want to confirm with you that you want me to stay the full two weeks," as though that time period and no more is already a done deal. If your boss argues, here's Suster's script:

I understand why you'd feel that way and I'd love to help. But it's super important to me that I don't lose this opportunity and I'm 100% sure I'm going to eventually join. So I'd really like to work with you to minimize any pain for you. I can take those two weeks [...] and really do a thorough transition to anybody you'd like. I'm happy to put in evenings and weekends to make this transition smooth. Please let me know how to best help.


In general, play nice, but don't let your employer guilt-trip you. You have your career to consider, and they can find somebody else.

When you've suffered discrimination or harassment

Obviously, we hope this never happens to you. But the reality is, it can. We talked to Elie Mystal of Above the Law for some advice on what to do. He broke it down into choices: speak up, or get out quietly. On speaking up:

If you are willing to risk your career with a harassment lawsuit (and fair or unfair, it is a career risk), you need to document everything. Every slight, every opportunity you were passed over for, basically any piece of hard evidence that suggests you've been mistreated. The process of quitting with a viable lawsuit at your back takes time. You actually might have to put yourself in an unfair situation for a little bit longer just to build up the record of the unfair treatment. It's sad, but you have to assume A) nobody will believe you, and B) anything you've ever done that makes you look like a bad employee will be brought against you.

And obviously, there is no way to know that you will win your suit. Even if you do, it will take years before you see and settlement money or back pay. It's a huge risk. But, if people weren't willing to stand up and take those risks and hold employers accountable, we'd be 50 years behind in terms of racial and sexual equality in the workplace.


As admirable and necessary as it is that people speak out against harassment and discrimination, whether you do so through legal action is a personal decision, and you're not obligated to put your career on the line unless that's what you truly want. If it's not, here's Mystal's advice:

If you just need to get out of there and you don't want to the trouble of a lawsuit, then what you are really worried about is how to explain "why" you left your old job when a new potential employer asks. Generally, you don't want to say "my old boss was a racist jackass" in a job interview. For whatever reason, that makes potential employers think you are a liability risk. Nobody want to hire a squeaky wheel or somebody they perceive as oversensitive. But there are subtle clues and code words you can use. Employers who are paying attention (and, you know, care about equality) will notice.

"My opportunities for advancement were... limited."
"They really wanted me to stay, but it wasn't a good fit."
"I'm looking for a more team oriented workplace environment."

Those kinds of phrases signal that you weren't forced out of your old job, but they also say that you weren't really comfortable at your old job. Hopefully, a new employer will read between the lines without you having to spell it out.


And in terms of telling your current employer, this is probably a time for "personal reasons."

When you actually have to stay

Mystal says "I always advise people to leave as soon as they can if they feel they are in a situation where they're being harassed." But what if your job is just boring and soul-sucking, and you want out but you can't quit ... yet? Congratulations, you're in good company — for every spectacular quitting story, there are millions of people slogging away at jobs that piss them off but provide a much-needed paycheck. What to do in this situation? Well, you could burn down the building — but we advocate a subtler approach. Make liberal use of whatever perks your job offers. Free copying? Make a zine (secretly, of course). Employee discount? Buy shit for your friends (make sure they pay you up front). Career development/skill-building classes? Take those, even if they sound boring, so you can get a better job down the line. Meanwhile, indulge your dreams of quitting — like, say, casting a pox upon your company in the name of Satan. Or, you know, just peeing on everything.


The Right Way To Quit [Business Insider]
How To Tell Your Boss That You're Quitting [Business Insider]
Your Most Spectacular 'I Quit' Stories [Gawker]
Above The Law [Official Site]

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Question: if you think you are on the path to being fired (not for incompetency or theft- simply the management staff I work for are extremely bad people who rub everyone who works for them the wrong way and they are going under so they are looking for excuses to get rid of anyone on staff who has a higher pay grade. There is also one particularly crazy manager who has been making up conduct incidents with not just me but other staff members and none of the other management staff seem to be grasping that she is lying) is it better to quit preemptively or let them fire you?

On the one hand firing can lead to unemployment checks. But on the other I worry what being fired would mean for my resume. I am 27 and this is only one of three jobs on my extremely unimpressive resume. The first was a college dayjob that I was at for five years, the second a temp part-time office assistant I only managed to keep for 6 months before they're profits dipped and cut me loose to save money and the current one I've held for four years. How would being fired look to anyone I was interviewing with afterward with an already paltry resume?

I'm really stressing about this. Ideally I want to try and build myself an escape pod (get a new job first) before quitting but I've only got 30 days before my next review when I think any decisions can be made.

I just don't know what to do.