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Once you finally decide to leave the job you've always wanted to quit, you might find yourself daydreaming about having the last word or writing a scathing resignation letter that lets the company know exactly how you feel. At the risk of an overused and trite warning, "don't burn bridges" in your professional career. Leaving a job you hate in a dignified manner conveys an important message. It tells your manager and your peers that you have solid business principles and that you value professional behavior, despite your personal feelings about your job or your employer.
The employment-at-will doctrine doesn't just apply to employers who can terminate the working relationship at any time, for any reason or for no reason, with or without notice. Employees have the same right to end their employment without notice; however, the price you might pay by exercising this right could be a rather steep one, concerning the impact it could have on your professional reputation, the respect you can command and even your credibility in your field.
Many high-level managers, directors and executives have the terms and conditions of their working relationship set out in an employment agreement or contract of employment. If you are under a contract of employment and intend to resign, review the terms of your agreement. You may be required to submit written notice -- sometimes as early as 30 to 60 days before your resignation -- to terminate the working relationship. Avoid letting your feelings about your job affect the way you terminate the contract. Resigning in the manner required by your agreement can protect you from being sued by your soon-to-be former employer for breach of contract.
You may be inclined to pour out your feelings or express criticism you've been holding. Don't. Avoid writing anything that you can't take back -- and, in a resignation letter, that's everything but your name, position or title, and your last day of work. Address a brief resignation letter to your manager that contains your position, department, and the effective date of your resignation. Manhattan-based career expert Roy Cohen, and author of "The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide," sums it up perfectly when asked what goes in a resignation letter: "Less is always more," said Cohen in an October 2010 article titled, "What Should You Include in a Resignation Letter?" in "The Wall Street Journal."
If you won't feel like a hypocrite by signing your letter on an upbeat note, include a final sentence like, "Thank you for the opportunity to work with ABC Company." Otherwise, simply write, "This is written notice of resignation from my position as Manager, Sales Department, effective April 1, 2013." Skip down two lines, type, "Regards," and sign your name. Indicate that a copy is being forward to the company's human resources department to be included in your employment file.
Format and Delivery
Always provide a written resignation -- preferably a hard copy that contains your original signature. If you believe you can do so in a professional manner without displaying emotion, personally hand the letter to your manager. If you send your letter via snail mail, send it certified or return receipt requested, particularly if you feel your employer will question receipt or delivery of your resignation. Only if circumstances prevent you from submitting a hard copy resignation letter to your manager or the HR department, should you email it. Select a feature provided by your email client to ensure the message gets delivered, such as return receipt, confirmation of delivery, or a postscript asking the recipient to acknowledge receipt.
References and Employment Verification
If you sense that your employer knows you're leaving your job because you don't like working for the company, ask your manager or the HR staff how the company will report your resignation to companies that call for references during your job search. You know that you resigned of your own volition, but it's wise to ask how the company will characterize your resignation. Will they say that you left in a huff? Or, report that you didn't get along with management? Resigning from your job without intimating that you hate the job or the organization can prevent the company from giving any type of false impression or interpretation of your decision to quit.
Even if it's the job you hate, you may have colleagues you want to keep in touch with. If so, exchange contact information with them. You can wait until your last day if the company doesn't broadcast your resignation date, or you can disclose your resignation to those you trust. That said, don't flaunt your decision to leave and don't brag about a better organization that you believe will appreciate you. Keep your resignation reasons and your personal feelings out of your conversations with others.
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.
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