How to Tell Your Boss You’re Leaving

A Reader’s Experience With Transitioning Jobs

Jack writes, “Two years ago I left a large utility corporation, where it seemed I’d never stand out. I accepted a leadership role with my local parks & recreation department. Ever since my first day, I have been working non-stop, nights and weekends. The intensity of the job is tremendous. Things have fallen so far behind, and they expect me to do everything. My family is suffering, and now I’m considering an offer back from the utility company. My boss relies on me for everything, and I know he’ll take me leaving personally. How do I tell him, it’s not you, it’s me?”

Jack, this kind of message is especially troubling for dedicated employees. Those who work hard and don’t want to let anyone down. Loyal employees that put the company first are like gems to employers, and they’ll jump through many different hoops to try and keep you. It can be difficult, but it is possible to spill the truth, uphold your work ethic and even salvage your relationship with your boss.

The Power of Positivity and Clarity

Everywhere you look these days, we’re bombarded by dismally poor communications. Hell in a handbasket? Not quite. But it does seem that growing legions of people don’t think about the minute details behind the message we’re trying to convey. Admittedly, most of us forgive and forget the tone and content of these fumbled messages. But that’s no excuse for letting this trend gain traction in your life.

As someone interested in improving your communication skills—and maintaining your reputation—I urge you to be mindful, strive for clarity, and use a positive tone. This will help you communicate in almost any situation, not just when you’re quitting your job or delivering bad news. Clarity and positivity are also vital when communicating a mistake or managing a crisis. We even deliver good news and neutral messages with a tone that could influence how the other person perceives it. Because of this, it’s important to focus on tone and clarity to guarantee the message is being interpreted as it’s intended.

Messaging Tips for Delivering Bad News

Always begin speaking with a goal in mind and use it as a framework for choosing the language and tone of voice you need to achieve it. In the case of communicating your job transition with your boss, the objectives should be honesty, along with the clarity and positivity we discussed above. Here are some tips to prevent the pitfalls associated with the deliverance of bad news, especially when it involves a job transition:

  • Speak objectively and with the big picture in mind. Sure, you’ve met your boss’s kids, have had happy hours with your team, and are a key component of your company’s culture. Still, every coworker should understand that job transitions are a part of professional life. Remind them that you have to do what’s best for you and your family, and who knows what the future might hold?
  • Speak with respect. As with many situations in both personal and professional life, be sure not to burn bridges and ruin relationships you’ve worked so hard to cultivate. Tell them all the reasons why working with them was a pleasure, and explain to them why you needed this change.
  • Practice delivering bad-news messages when times are good, so they roll off your tongue naturally when times are bad. Practice always makes perfect. Although cliche, try creating a rough draft of what you’re going to say and then rehearse a time or two in front of the mirror. Even the most basic levels of repetition can help bring comfort and confidence to the moment.

Time to Talk to Your Boss About Your New Job

Once you’ve accepted the offer from the utility company, schedule time to talk with your boss. Begin your conversation with an opening statement like this, “I’ve been thinking about my career path. It really started when I first took on the role and lately it’s all I can think about. I’m hoping we can talk through some things.”

Pause here. Your boss will say yes or perhaps something else, but what’s important is that he’ll have an opportunity to prepare emotionally. Try not to worry about what he will say, just stick to your message. If necessary, you can always transition with “we can talk more about that later, but right now I’d like to focus on what I called this meeting to discuss.”

Next, say, “One of the things that’s important to me is that I continually gauge the value I bring to the company I work for and that I like my job.” By establishing both sides of the bad-news equation, you create an objective environment where no one is slighted.

Continue with, “When I first started here, the job demands…the intensity…was exactly what I wanted. I knew I was bringing value to my community, and I loved everything about my job.” This reinforces your credibility. At the time of your decision, you made the right one.

Next, say, “Things have changed (pause here—another opportunity for your boss to prepare emotionally)…more on my end than yours. It turns out that the very things I disliked about bigger companies are what I’m now missing…the opportunity to move around, shared responsibilities, and a shorter workday even. My family is growing up, and I need to find a way to fit my career around them. I have been searching for a solution…a way to like my job and be there more for my family, but in the end, the only fix I’ve found is to move back to corporate America. I am a better person having worked here, and I hope that you’ll agree I’ve made solid contributions. But I’m convinced that my ability to perform in a way that’s mutually beneficial has diminished. The kind of focus you need for this position is greater than my ability to balance between home and work. I’ve been approached by a larger company with an offer that suits me, and I’m hoping that you’ll support me in my decision. I will help in any way I can to transition and ensure my team’s productivity.”

Communicate With Confidence

It’s never easy to communicate a transition with your boss. It becomes even more difficult the longer you’ve held the position, and the more valuable you are to the company. Still, doing what’s best for your family and career always takes precedence over any degree of company loyalty or an obligation to stay. If the right opportunity came along, anybody (including your boss) would do the same. So, be confident in your decision and communication—be clear and positive, and everything will turn out fine. If nothing else, remember to stick with the golden rule. You can’t go wrong when you treat a listener with respect.

Want to improve your communication skills further? Reach out today and we’ll schedule a time to meet. I’ve helped professionals at every level communicate with confidence, manage crises in the workplace, and preserve both their reputation and the reputation of their company. I look forward to hearing from you!

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