By now you’ve surely heard the news…
We’re all quitting our jobs at record rates. 👋
4 million of us left in April, 3.4 million in May, and Elpha’s recent should I quit my job quiz found that 90% of 4,500 respondents scored “speak up” or “start looking,” indicating unhappiness with their current role.
The pandemic gave us all time to think deeper about the future of our careers. More than ever, we’re wanting to work for companies who share our values. (To instantly match with companies that have the values you care about, check out the Elpha Talent Pool.)
But the truth is, deciding when to quit a job and then going through with it is rarely so straightforward. As Deb Liu, CEO at Ancestry, remarked recently, “Knowing when to quit is just as important as knowing when to double down. So many people cling to situations that aren’t conducive to their growth and success because they are afraid to quit.” The social stigma associated with quitting keeps people stuck in bad jobs.
We believe that sometimes, quitting is the best thing you can do for your future. It means making a courageous decision to continue developing your career. Or walking away from an unhappy situation knowing you deserve better.
Even when you know you’re making the right decision by quitting, tricky situations may come up in those final few weeks. We’re here to help you navigate them with all the best wisdom from the Elpha community on gracefully quitting your job and moving onto what’s next.
We’ll answer these questions and more:
- How do you know it’s time to quit your job?
- Can you quit your job without another job lined up?
- What do you say when quitting a job?
- How much notice should you give when quitting?
- What do you say when people ask why you’re leaving?
- Can you quit a job you just started?
- How can you stay in touch with people at your company after quitting?
Let’s dive in!
You’re considering a move but you’re not sure if you should stay or go. Here are five signs that the time might be right to resign:
1. You feel unhappy or upset most days at work.
Your happiness is more important than your company’s success. Tune into how your work is making you feel. If it’s mostly negative, it might be time to go.
Lo, Communications Manager, shared what this felt like for her, “I realized it was time to quit when despite loving my role and the company’s mission, I was unhappy, bored, and got overly upset at anything remotely bad that happened. I also noticed my mental health declining because work was upsetting me too much.”
Allison, Developer & Founder, shared:
“If I’ve been at a place for around a year and dread going into work, I know it’s time for a change. There’s no time in life for a job that makes you miserable. If things haven’t gotten better within a year’s time, it’s probably never going to get better.”
2. You’re not set up for success by your organization.
At most companies, this looks like clear objectives and milestones for your growth. Do you and your boss agree on your most important deliverables that would represent successful performance? Having a clear understanding of what success looks like in your role is important for your future career growth. Becca, Leadership Coach at Fearless Femmes, shared her thoughts: “When there are no shared criteria for success, you will stall as a result–no praise, no feedback, unpredictable advancement, all confusion. Skidaddle.”
3. You’re not learning or growing.
If you feel like you’re not learning anything new in your role, or growing towards the next step in your career, it might be time to go.
Julia, Product Marketer, shares the way she’s learned to determine whether she’s stopped learning. “I’ve found it helpful to think about updating my resume or LinkedIn, what new things do I have to add there? What have I learned in the past year? This helps me get out of the rut of just enjoying my coworkers (and what has now become an *easy* job).”
Maylee, Director of Marketing, made the decision to leave when she felt “a lack of alignment at the company, not feeling valued or empowered to do my role, and micromanaged. I didn’t see a match for my end goals here, so I recognized the need to move on.”
4. Your work environment feels toxic.
The word “toxic” is thrown around a lot, so sometimes it’s hard to know if the environment you’re in fits into this category.
Jeneba, Assistant VP of Content Ops, shared three of her non-negotiables that indicate she’s in a bad place and it’s time to leave:
Behavior that violates my boundaries or goes against my values
An environment that does not provide an opportunity to grow and expand but instead fosters a culture that causes me to shrink
An environment where my ideas are not valued or heard but instead repackaged by someone else, reshared, and repurposed without being credited.
5. You’ve tried to improve your situation at your current company but it hasn’t helped.
Think of it as “remodeling” before you “move out.”
As Sara , Head of Program Operations at Reforge shares, “It is almost always easier to advance internally at an organization… you have all the social capital and institutional knowledge. Make sure you’ve exhausted internal options before starting a search. This starts with discussions with your boss.”
Katie, Account Management Lead at Outschool, on how she approaches it, “For roles where it’s just obviously a really bad fit (like expectations and reality don’t match at all), I’ve given the opportunity to “make it right.” If it’s clear that the company is unable or unwilling to make good on the expectations that they set (and in the case where I am unable or unwilling to live with the reality), it’s time to go.”
The question of whether to leave your job before you’ve got your next one lined up is tricky. You’ve likely heard the common advice that doing so is “wrong”.
The reality is more dependent on your specific situation and how comfortable you are financially. These are the 5 steps we recommend before making a decision. Consider it your “Should I quit ASAP?” checklist.
Trust your instincts. Observe your body’s reaction when thinking about work or while at work. How long have you felt that this is not the right job for you and what have you tried to improve the situation?
Assess your financial situation. If you’ll be unemployed for a while, the most important question is whether you can support yourself financially. Experts recommend at least 6 months of savings. If you don’t have that, do you have another skill you could monetize? A partner or family member you could lean on?
Talk to trusted people in your life. Ask the people who have your best interest in mind for their honest input. Share the facts of your current situation and ask what they’d suggest.
Start browsing opportunities. Without making a decision yet, start scoping out other jobs and companies. Are there other potential opportunities out there that seem exciting or more aligned with your career trajectory?
Consider talking to a mental health professional. If you’re feeling really stuck and burnt-out, or if you feel you’re in a toxic job environment, this can really help guide your decision.
Sometimes taking action and leaving before you have your next step planned out is helpful for your future career. Sarah M shared how having a break between jobs helped her be more deliberate about her next move.
“Having time and space to finish up the role and not go straight into a new role really helped me to work through my experience and to understand what I wanted next, without my decisions being reactively based on the experience I had just left.”
Another reason to quit before securing your next move is if your current job is significantly slowing down your search. As Meaghan, Career Development Coach, advises,
“Job hunting, when done right, is at least a very draining part-time job. If you’re already unhappy at work, adding a job hunt to your nights and weekends is a fast track to misery and exhaustion. And trying to engage with an unsatisfying job will drain the creativity and confidence needed to network and put yourself out in the job market authentically.”
If you are in a role that involves lengthy interview processes (eg. an engineer), consider whether you have the bandwidth while working to also prep for interviews. Engineering interviewing is a separate skill from the job itself, so having the time to brush up before you start interviews is important.
Sara, Head of Program Operations at Reforge, agrees;
“I found that trying to run a search while fully employed at a high level wasn’t feasible for me — it meant that I was splitting my attention between two really important aspects of my career and not executing at a high level at either.”
But, it’s also important to consider the additional stress that leaping into the unknown without anything lined up can bring.
Kellie, Product Manager, had this experience:
“I quit a job without having one lined up and it was not the right decision for me. I had some money reserved but it felt I was jobless longer than I actually was. I was really scared and depressed because I was getting rejection after rejection and I know I wouldn’t have taken them so personally if I was working and looking for something new.”
If you can’t or don’t want to risk a break in employment, one solution is to set a deadline for yourself by which you’d like to transition. This can help motivate you to look for new opportunities. Ana , Chief of Social Policy a.i. at UNICEF, shared how this worked for her:
“I decided to set a hard deadline for myself, using my contract renewal date as the benchmark. I started exploring the market and cast a wide net, scoping both open opportunities and interesting organizations about six months before my deadline, to get a sense of what was out there, and didn’t mentally commit to that deadline until about 3 months later.”
* The exception here is if you feel like your physical and mental health are at a breaking point. Then, it’s best to get out ASAP and lean on those in your life to help you through. As Lauren reminds us, “It’s just work, after all, which no one ever mentions on their deathbed as something they wish they did more of.”
You’ve determined it’s time to say move on. How do you share the news? Here’s the order we recommend:
Prepare. Know what you’ll say, the reasons you’ll share for leaving, and how much notice you’ll give. (more on that below)
Plan. Book a time to share the news with your manager, face-to-face or via video chat if working remotely.
Communicate. After talking to your manager, come up with a communications plan to the rest of the team/company together, if possible.
Accept. Be ready for an expedited departure, the possibility of a counteroffer, and/or potential questions from your team.
Transition. As you move on from your position, support your team by putting together a transition document. Also, be ready for an exit interview on your final day.
The first thing to do is prepare for those final conversations. It can be really helpful to write out what you’ll say and practice in advance with someone you trust (not from your company). Be sure to do this when you’re in a rational, calm state instead of emotionally charged after a workday.
Here are some powerful statements that are truthful and succinct:
>>> There’s no easy way to say this so I’ll be direct… I’ve found a role elsewhere.
>>> I’m so grateful for the time I spent at [Company].
>>> I’ve decided that it’s best for me to move on from [Company].
>>> I’m going to be pursuing my career somewhere that better aligns with my aspirations.
>>> I’m putting in my two weeks notice. My last day will be [date].
Once you’ve come up with what you’ll say, schedule a chat with your manager. Diana , Portfolio Marketing Manager, suggests you touch on these three things in your conversation with your manager:
1. Appreciation for the opportunity and experience you’ve had at the company
2. Your decision to move on to a new opportunity
3. An explanation that your decision is based on personal and professional growth
It’s up to you what reasons you want to share when leaving. But generally, we recommend framing your decision so it’s not about the shortcomings of your current employer, and instead is focused on your own career growth. If you do have feedback you want to share, keep that for your exit interview (more on that below!)
Nina , Director of Communications, says to also practice follow-up questions that you think might arise.
Q: “Why would you leave at such a busy time when we don’t have anyone to replace you and so much work?”
A: I understand that it’s a very stressful time, and I’ll continue to support the project/team until [LAST DAY].”
They may ask what they can do to make you stay. Be prepared to reiterate that your decision is based on personal and professional growth, or whatever the reasons are that you’ve already shared.
They may also ask where you’re going next. If you’re not sure, or not ready to share, you don’t have to! You can simply reply, “I will share how we can stay in touch once I am settled.”
After talking to your manager, you’ll likely need to follow up with a resignation letter via email. That email could look something like this:
Confirming what we spoke about earlier: I’ll be moving on from [Company] and [date] will be my last day.
Thank you again for the opportunity to be a part of [Company] team — I’ve learned so much in my time here.
I’ll be working to hand off my ongoing projects. Let me know if there’s anything else I can do to help make this transition smoother.
Rachel , CEO at WOKEN, suggests offering any support you’re willing to give, like help finding a replacement for your position. But be sure to set boundaries here, so you make your decision clear and stick to it.
Be ready to respond to a counteroffer. If you’re clear on why you’re leaving, you’ll know if a counteroffer (and of what amount) would be enough to make you stay.
In general, while more money is great in the short term, the same problems will still be there. So unless salary is your main reason for quitting, we don’t recommend staying for a counteroffer.
Putting together a robust transition document is a great way to build bridges even as you exit. Make it as easy as possible for people to take over your work. We’ve created a template for a transition document that will be constructive and helpful to your team.
As one Elpha remarked, People may remember your last weeks and the legacy that you leave behind for them more than they will remember your history of accomplishments with the company.
Right before you move on, you’ll likely have an exit interview and your company will ask for feedback. Now’s the time to share more in-depth, constructive feedback , if you’re comfortable and if you feel your company will be receptive.
“In my exit interview, I took the opportunity to have a constructive but candid conversation with the founders on some of the more prominent problems that I saw. These are hard conversations and are much easier coming from someone that will no longer have direct ties to the company.”
Two weeks of notice is generally standard in the US. But if you’re in a more senior role or you know it’ll take your company longer to transition, giving some extra time is often appreciated.
Some Elphas shared that they’d given an extra week of notice, or even a few months. Emily shared:
“I gave 6 weeks notice at a job I’d had for 5.5 years. I did this as a courtesy so that I would have time to get all the signed contracts that I could and set them up for success.”
Linda shared her approach:
“I gave my manager and my founders three months of notice. I knew that my institutional knowledge was not written down and needed to be and that I had 1-2 unfinished products that I wanted to ship. I had no ill will towards the company and I wanted to make sure that I did what I could to set them up for success while also clearly establishing expectations.”
You should also be prepared for an expedited departure. Nina shared her boss’s reaction to her submitting her notice:
“My boss said, ‘I think it’s better if today is your last day. I’ll pay you for two weeks but today should be your last day.’ Everything in me wanted to hang my head in shame, become invisible, and run out the door never to show my face again. But at that moment I had a choice: I could let my toxic boss write the ending to my story, or I could write my ending. And I chose to write my ending.” 👏
Once your news has been shared, you’ll likely be asked by coworkers why you’re quitting. People are naturally curious and may want to find out the “gossip.” Here’s what to do:
- Be honest and straightforward
Camille , Content Writer, suggests speaking truthfully and honestly. “I won’t lie about why I’m leaving as I don’t think it helps anybody. I don’t mean that I’m rude, but more so that I don’t hide when something isn’t working for me.”
How transparent you decide to be with coworkers is completely up to you. Many people will likely ask where you’re going next. If you’re comfortable, be honest about your future direction, interests, and goals – you never know how they can help you in your next steps.
- Keep it focused & future-oriented
No matter what your personal reasons might be for leaving, keep the reason you share purely focused on your professional and career goals.
If you’re a manager, share the news with your direct reports, individually if possible. Let them know you still believe in your team’s future, and be clear that your reasons for leaving are about your own desire to explore a new challenge, rather than about them. Explain what they can expect next and who their next manager will be. This will help the transition go smoothly for them and keep their morale high.
Lauren , National Strategy & Business Operations at Revel, suggests you say something like, “I’m ready to start my next phase of growth, take on more responsibility, or try something different.”
Another great way to put it is, “I got an opportunity that perfectly fits where I see myself headed, but I’ll miss everyone here.”
Sara , Head of Program Operations at Reforge, says you should have one story, and tell it that way, to everyone. It’s tempting — especially when you have close relationships or you’re leaving for complicated reasons — to let people in on the juicy details. But don’t.
“If you have a single story or phrase, and repeat that in every conversation, there’s no chance that alternative narratives start circulating. Tech is super small and you want to be able to call people again without hesitation.”
Let’s say you started a job recently and have only been there for a month or two. But you’re having doubts about whether your new role was the right choice. Can you quit even though you just started?
If it’s only been weeks, or months, Teresa , Community Lead at Elpha, recommends staying for a little longer to ensure you’ve done all the due diligence you can and give them (and yourself) enough time to evaluate the situation. She suggests identifying what your non-negotiables and important questions are and the timeline in which you’d like to finish evaluating. Then, you can see how things stack up after that amount of time so your decision is better informed.
With that said, here are three reasons you might want to move on, however long it’s been:
- The job is very different from what you expected.
Maybe your role as it was described to you in interviews is very different from what your day-to-day actually looks like. If there is a major misalignment in what you were brought in to do vs. what you’re actually being asked to do, you may need to move on.
- Your instincts are telling you this role is wrong for you.
A bad situation can impact your mental health and self-confidence, and it’s not worth it. It’s okay to acknowledge you made the best choice at the time you took the job, knowing what you knew then, and that now it might be time to make a different choice.
One Elpha who left her job after six weeks shared her experience: “Life is too short to stay in unhealthy jobs, and I personally wanted to leave before it started to impact me and my self-confidence.”
- Your job isn’t covering your most important “job must-haves.”
Remember, everything is a learning opportunity. Take the time to write out – daily, if you can – the details that are bringing you to this decision. Maybe it’s unsupportive teammates or not trusting management. This understanding can be helpful when you’re looking for your next step. If you do decide to leave soon after starting, in your future job search, you have options for how to talk about your decision.
You could choose to not mention this job on your resume or in interviews.
Or, you can say it was an opportunity that helped you figure out what you really want. You can honestly share your story, talk through what did and did not work well in the role, and describe how the experience helped you clarify who you are as an employee and what the right workplace looks like for you.
To avoid a similar situation in the future, take some advice from Elizabeth , who says, “When I interview for new jobs I always ask the hiring manager or recruiter to give me 3 references to speak to within the company… It absolutely sucks to go through a honeymoon, 90 days, to discover things you probably could have found out if you were allowed to speak to the team upfront. If a company can ask for references, so can you!”
Read more about leaving a job soon after starting in this members-only conversation .
Before you leave, and assuming it’s OK with your company, ask for personal emails or social handles from people you’d like to keep in touch with. You can also send out an email to colleagues and provide your contact info.
You’re definitely not obliged to stay in touch, but if you feel you’ve formed important connections, you don’t have to say goodbye just because you’re moving on from the company.
As Career Coach Anemari says, “As a general rule, putting the effort into building long-lasting relationships with people is always worth it, professionally and personally. You never know what the future might bring.”
Here are 3 unique ways to set up a recurring relationship with the people you care about before you leave:
Get feedback from them before you leave. As one Elpha shared, I’ve found that people will give me great feedback in the last few days/weeks, and it’s been helpful to set up informal time from cross-functional partners to ensure a smooth exit and to get their feedback. This can also be an opportunity to identify future references if you’re applying to jobs in the future.
Ask your boss or executives to join your “ board of directors “ and let them know that you’d love to have a monthly or quarterly call to check in. If this feels natural to your situation, Sara suggests owning that calendar invite and agenda.
Create an alumni Slack channel – if you’re at a big enough company and one doesn’t exist already! This is an easy way to stay in touch with those you’ve worked with.
Quitting a job takes a lot of courage. If you’re in this process right now, take care of yourself! Remind yourself often of all your successes and the skills you’ve learned so far. Celebrate your tiny wins! And for more support in finding your next role, join the Talent Pool to connect with companies that are a match for your cultural values and skills.