How to handle a conversation about resigning

There are plenty of reasons to leave a job. Maybe it is because you are not happy where you are, or maybe it is because another company has offered you the chance to take on a new and exciting challenge, along with an attractive salary increase. But regardless of your reason for resigning, you should be 100% committed to your decision before informing your company of your plans to leave. 

Your current company may give you a counteroffer to entice you to stay. And as flattering as the offer may feel at the time, there is evidence that accepting it could be damaging to your career, for the following reasons: 

  • Your loyalty will be called into question if you decide to stay on. Your colleagues and manager might start to wonder if you are a team player and there is a high chance you will lose your place in the trusted inner circle. 

  • The counteroffer might just be an excuse to keep you on until they find your replacement. Cognisant that you are still likely to leave in the future, your company might keep you on as a stalling tactic until they find someone else to take your place.  

    • The underlying issues for your wanting to resign in the first place would likely not be resolved. Whether it is because you are unhappy with your manager or the company culture, chances are, these are problems that would not go away even if you decided to stay on. 

  • Well-managed companies rarely make counteroffers. If a company believes its policies to be fair and equitable, it will also have policies in place that ensure it would not be subjected to “counteroffer coercion” to get employees to stay.  

  • Be resolute during the discussion 

    When you have made the decision to resign, ensure that this decision is final and communicated in unequivocal terms to your hiring or HR manager. If you waver, you might be seen as threatening to resign to extract concessions from your organisation – and this is the last impression you want to be giving. 

    To eliminate any possibility of misunderstandings, always submit your resignation in writing. This letter should contain an unambiguous statement of resignation, an expression of thanks for the opportunities you were given, a final date of employment, and a statement that expresses your willingness to do your best in the transition period prior to your last day of work.  

    Should your hiring manager still bring up the possibility of a counteroffer, be firm in communicating that you are not interested in a “bidding war” for your services, before reaffirming your commitment to do whatever is needful before you leave. 

    Related: How to know when it's time to resign - and how to leave well

    Stay calm no matter what happens 

    The best outcome of this conversation would be for your manager to congratulate you on the new opportunity and wish you all the best in your future endeavours. However, be mentally prepared for things to take an awkward or uncomfortable turn. Your manager might guilt-trip you or even display outright hostility. Regardless of how they react to the news of you leaving, you must always remain calm and professional.

    Try saying something like, “It was not my intention to upset you. Is there anything I can do to ease the transition?” 

    Remember that you might need to go back to the company you are leaving to request for character references, so it is imperative that you keep any negative emotions in check and show empathy and kindness to your employer no matter how emotional the conversation becomes. Leave no room for doubt about your professionalism – this is especially important if you work in a small industry where word can quickly spread about any bad behaviour on your part.  

    Avoid venting about your unhappiness 

    Another trap you want to avoid falling into has to do with the topic of why you have decided to leave. Even if you have been deeply unhappy for a long time, do not see this as a chance for you to unload or “give them a piece of your mind” before leaving. Most companies do not change because of the resignation of a disgruntled employee. Simply reaffirm the fact that you have been presented with an opportunity that is too good to refuse. 

    Be mindful to stay out of the office gossip mill after submitting your resignation letter. Your colleagues will naturally be curious as to why you are leaving and bring it up with you. The best thing to do in this case is to reiterate what you told your employer about having a better opportunity elsewhere. 

    Finally, do not let your standards of work slip during your notice period. It will be obvious if you have mentally checked out during the final weeks with the company – and this is not the impression you want to be leaving before your exit.  

    Follow the strategies outlined above, and you will be able to resign without burning bridges and with your professional reputation intact. Staying calm, courteous and in control of your emotions at all times will only work in your favour.  

    Read more:
    Resignation letter templates
    How to survive your job search
    How to conduct yourself during your notice period