Our work is bound with emotions. We’re not just filling roles and providing functions like robots; we’re fostering human relationships, forming friendships, and forging bonds that may grow and develop regardless of where we are currently employed. In these contemporary times, many people spend more time with their work colleagues than their own families, so when someone decides to resign from a position, it’s important that he or she do so in a calm, dignified manner that doesn’t burn bridges.

The first thing to consider before resigning is whether there are any other options. Resigning is a drastic step; are there alternatives? (Of course, there are special cases when resignation should be done ASAP—unsafe environments, unethical practices, bullying, pay being withheld unfairly, etc.—but this article will concentrate on more mundane situations).

So, before you type that resignation letter, determine what your true motivations for moving on are. Be specific and clear: is the main factor an issue with leadership; lack of challenge; an overlong commute… what? If one or two things at work could be changed (such as having one day to work from home, or a pay increase), would those changes address your problems and give you reason enough to stay? Dig deep and find your real wounds, the true sources of your dissatisfaction, then try to address them objectively. If possible, without giving away that you might be re-entering the job market, try to set up a meeting with your manager to address possible changes that could reverse your decision to depart.

After you’ve determined that resignation is the best course for you, it’s time to review your contract and verify your minimum notice period. Employers are not obligated to accept notice beyond the minimum time agreed to within your contract. If you have questions about leftover leave, sick day allowances, and other details, it is best to review your local laws and seek advice from qualified advisors, as from a local government ombudsman.

Once you’ve settled on how much notice you have to give, and any related issues, it’s time to write your letter of resignation. The main points are to make sure you are addressing the correct person (usually your direct manager or possibly an HR person); include your present position; keep it pithy and positive; let them know when your last day will be, and offer any assistance during the transition if needed.

Avoid negativity. As mentioned in the introduction, work is bundled with a lot of emotion, and resigning is stressful enough, often for both employee and employer, so as professionals we want to leave on as high a note as possible and avoid any hard feelings, especially since creating a stink can come back to haunt us later. Check online for samples of resignation letters, and then personalize yours, always striving for positivity.

After you’re satisfied with your signed letter, schedule a time to meet with your manager. Remember, you have made this decision and you’re going to deliver the letter in a polite but firm manner. Accepting counter-offers is hazardous to your career. If your employer is so good, why weren’t you paid what you were worth to begin with? Is having a bit more money thrown at you truly addressing your wound, the motivator for looking to move on in the first place? Do you think after accepting this counter-offer, you’re going to get another raise or bonus any time soon? Are you seen as trustworthy now, or as a kind of money-motivated mercenary? The bottom line is this (and research backs up the following advice): don’t accept counter-offers.

At the meeting with your manager or HR contact, greet them cordially, hand in your letter, and tell them politely that you’ve decided to resign and when your last day will be. Stay positive and friendly, but don’t waver or hesitate—you’ve made up your mind after serious, extensive deliberations, have weighed all the pros and cons, and have come to your final decision—this is a resignation, not a ploy to find leverage to get what you want. If you’re counter-offered at some point within the conversation or shortly after, politely refuse to entertain any such notions. Nip them in the bud straight away. Also, keep in mind during this conversation that you are not required to give any details of your next plans—if pressed, just keep it general unless you’re comfortable with sharing specifics of your future employment. 

At this meeting, also ask if your employer can write a letter of recommendation, and be a reference. Recommendations from your direct manager are ideal, but if that is impossible due to the current situation, you can ask other managers or senior colleagues you’ve worked with for help in that regard. This is one of the main reasons to keep everything as professional and cordial as possible. If you’re negative, no one will want to help you down the line, and, even if your complaints are legitimate, you might be perceived in your field as a complainer or as being an overly negative person. 

At some point after you’ve resigned, you may, depending on the organisation, be interviewed by an HR person to help determine why you decided to leave their organization. Although these meetings are confidential, your words will be recorded in a report. Furthermore, you are not being paid as a consultant to help their company with retention. If they want your expert advice on how to improve in keeping talent, they should pay you for it. In such a meeting, keep it general and positive.

In conclusion, resigning from your position can be stressful and sometimes risky, but if you stay as positive as possible, act in a professional manner, and value the experiences and people you worked with, it can be a process that helps both parties. Sometimes, one just has to move on. Staying in a role that makes you unhappy is not good for you or your employer. You need to be hungry and happy to offer your best—if you can’t do that, you’re in the wrong place and it’s time to hand in that resignation letter.