Why Write a Resignation Letter?
Do you really need to write a formal resignation letter? The short answer is that most of the time, no letter of resignation is necessary.
Many people do believe that as an employee you need to formally resign from a job by writing a formal resignation letter to your current employer. However, at most companies, there’s no formal requirement that you do so. Most employment in the United States is called “at will”, which means that your current employer can fire you at any time and for any reason (except those that are prohibited under law).
Even those that require you give a certain amount of “notice” before you quit your current job (two-week notice is standard) often may not provide any formal requirement that you do so by writing a letter of resignation or explain in detail why you’re leaving.
So...why might you still want to write a resignation letter?
Many experts believe that writing a formal or even a basic resignation letter when you’re leaving your current job helps make you seem more courteous and professional. However, the real reason to write a resignation letter is to create a paper trail documenting that you have given notice (if your employer requires two weeks notice or some other amount of notice) on a certain date, and to formally kick of the process should there be any legal hiccups (quite rare) with incorrectly processing your final paycheck and last day of benefits.
What Should My Letter of Resignation Say?
If you’re not sure of how to write a resignation letter, that’s normal — it’s certainly not an everyday task. Take a look at a sample resignation letter, or a few if you want to explore different options. In our view, the shorter the resignation letter, the better.
The 3 points you want to get across can be accomplished in just a couple of sentences that include (a) your announcement that you are quitting, (b) as of a certain date, and (c) provide information about your last day.
Here is a resignation letter template for a basic resignation letter.
[Date — Don’t forget this since this starts the clock on your notice period]
Dear [Manager’s Name],
Please accept this letter as notice that I am resigning from [company name]. My last day will be [Insert your last day].
If You Want to Do More Than Just the Basics with Your Resignation Letter
You can always write more, and craft a longer resignation letter, but the truth is that it isn’t necessary. You can add a portion of the note where you thank your manager or boss for the opportunities and time you have had together, or add that you hope to keep in touch, but in reality, if you really feel this way you probably should make an effort and find an opportunity to say these things in person (rather than getting an email). Breaking up is hard to do, but pouring your heart out on paper is rather awkward.
There is really no need for any other information in your resignation letter (including a reason — which is completely optional). No effusive template and formatting effort is required. This is not a letter that is going to be hanging on anyone’s wall, and it probably won’t even be filed away!
What Else Should I Do When Resigning?
First, out of respect and common courtesy, you would ideally tell your manager in person that you are resigning. If you can’t wait for that or work remotely or some other complication prevents that, the telephone is the next best option. You can choose to follow up or accompany that discussion with a formal letter of resignation afterwards, but it would be a rare workplace that would require that formality.
An email is often completely acceptable (and permanent) proof of job resignation if you're concerned about making sure you have a documented paper trail. In fact, an email is probably better than an old fashioned piece of paper since it cannot theoretically ever be “lost” and you can send yourself a copy of the letter.
In lieu of giving or emailing your boss your resignation letter (which can feel overly formal), you can also send an email to your HR department or give it to a member of the human resources team. The main legal reason you might want to make sure you have documented your specific last day of work is that you receive all your pay and benefits through your final day.
Who Should You Send Your Letter of Resignation To?
You will want to address your email or letter to your manager, but it can also be helpful to cc: your human resources contact in order to make sure you’ve kicked off the logistics of processing the paperwork associated with your departure.
What Else Should I Consider in My Resignation Process?
For your own personal well-being, you might want to consider some other things when you’re thinking about leaving your job. Be sure that you follow your employer’s policies (which may be in your initial employment contract or located in an employee handbook) about how to give notice. Some companies require a 2-4 week notice period.
Other than following the policies that apply to you, try putting yourself in your employer’s shoes. It’s up to you whether you want to help or train team-mates and colleagues adjust to your departure as a measure of goodwill, but if you feel guilty and loyal to your team, this may be something you plan to do. If this is the case, be sure to get permission from your manager so they know you plan on telling others and that they are on board. You never know whether some managers prefer that you simply walk away in order for them to be able to manage team morale or restructure responsibilities after you leave.
You may be tempted to check out early and coast through your last couple of weeks at work, but it’s worth your while to do the best you can to tie up loose ends and leave your coworkers in good hands. Try to complete your outstanding and projects, or at least leave them in a state where your manager or someone else can understand where you are and what else someone may need to know in order to finish where you left off.
Your company may ask you to complete an exit interview, in which you’ll be prompted to provide feedback and constructive criticism about your role or position and experience at the company. When you have the opportunity to give feedback in an exit interview, it’s important to be as honest as possible, but try to avoid bashing or trash talking.
Finally, remember that there is little benefit to burning bridges. There is no reason to gloat about your new position or complain about past grievances. Even if you have plenty to complain about, take the high road and exit gracefully. You never know when you will run into old colleagues and managers in the future, or when you’ll need to reach out for a letter of recommendation or a reference letter!
As a logistical note, you may want to collect colleagues and friends’ email addresses and contact information as well as get together with them after you depart. Sometimes quitting a workplace can feel like breaking up with a group of friends or even family — after all, many of us spend more time in the office than we can at home or with friends. Take the time to say goodbye and thank people who have been important to you.
About the Career Expert:
Fairygodboss is the largest online career community for women. Its editorial team is made up of career experts across industries and occupations with a love for sharing professional advice.