Dear Employees: Here's How to Quit Your Job

Engineers are in high demand and short supply. Does that mean they should be looking elsewhere for better options? Maybe. But maybe not.

In 2021, more than 47 million people quit their jobs and 41 percent of the global workforce say they're thinking about quitting in 2022. In fact, by June 2022, quit rates remained above 4M for the 12th straight month. The reasons vary: burnout, better pay, greater flexibility, desire for meaningful work, more supportive leadership, healthier cultures, exciting opportunities. 

And with worker demand far outpacing worker supply—even amid a possible recession—job seekers have choices. Particularly in the engineering disciplines, where job postings are well out-pacing the number of workers available to fill them.

A 2022 Engineering Management Institute A&E study found that "Nearly two in three architecture and engineering professionals are considering resigning in the next 12 months."

"One in five employees who left their job during the Great Resignation regrets it." Forbes

For many who've quit, the decision was life-changing. Even overdue.

For others, participating in the great resignation quickly turned into their great regret. "I left for better pay but wish I'd known it came with a micro-managing boss. Unfortunately, I didn't do a great job of leaving the door open at my previous employer," said Paul, an electrical engineer. "At least now I have a better idea of what to look for and ask about in my next interview."

Paul's experience raises a couple of important questions for those considering a change:

  • How do you know when quitting is the right choice?
  • And if it is, how exactly do you quit a job?

How to Determine if Quitting is the Right Option

Turnover contagion is real. Will Felps, who teaches management at the University of New South Wales, led a 2009 study of turnover contagion. He and his team found that a single quit could result in a hot spot of quits due to "peer effect." In other words, the behavior of a single person can dramatically influence similar behaviors in others.

LinkedIn recently asked its users: Has a colleague's resignation led you to consider leaving your job as well?

And of the 25,881 people who responded, nearly 60 percent responded: YES.

When teammates quit, a common reflection is, "Should I quit, too?"

The only way to know for sure is to get crystal clear on your reasons for quitting:

  • Without hesitation, if your work culture is toxic, your boss is a bully, or your team is a miserable lot, then it's probably time to look elsewhere.
  • But if you're thinking about leaving because others have, or because there are parts of your job you don't like but just as many or more parts that you do, leaving may not get you closer to what you want.

But your boss might.

"As I hear about employees leaving, I also hear about the lack of communication that leads up to the final conversations. What I find interesting is that the resignation is often the first time a manager is learning that an employee is unhappy or dissatisfied. What I've come to understand is this: if an employee with a strong work ethic and positive attitude communicates with their manager about what they need or aren't getting, the manager will respond with solutions – more pay, different projects, a job change, flexibility. But if the employee doesn't communicate and the manager doesn't inquire, then it's too late and the employer can't help." Martin Schager, Director of Strategic Operations at Actalent

The truth is, many people struggle to have these conversations, even though they know they should, even if it would benefit them, even if it would spare them a lot of regret. If there are one or two things you don't like about your job, a new job might address that, but it could also introduce new things you don't like and didn't expect. In other situations, the experience that's advertised isn't the experience that's delivered.

Annamarie, a project manager, had "the conversation" with her boss, and was glad she did. "A friend just quit her job due to long hours and burnout. She wanted to spend more time with her family and felt quitting was the only way to make that happen for her. I'd been struggling with the same feelings for a little while and wondered if quitting was an option for me, too. After a conversation with my manager, however, he rearranged my projects and added in flexibility. Staying was a better option for me and I'm glad I had that conversation."

Before you quit, make a list of why you're unhappy or dissatisfied, along with a solution for addressing it. For example:

  • I haven't had a pay raise in over a year and my motivation has taken a hit. Here is how I feel my value has increased (describe). I’d like a raise, is there anything you can do to help me get it?
  • My commute is getting tough and I'm missing out on a lot of things at home. I'd like to work remotely two days per week.
  • I've been working on the same projects for a while and keep getting similar ones that aren't very exciting to me. I’m really interested in working on x,y,z. Could you help make that happen?

Most managers are reasonable, supportive people who want to help you feel happy and see you succeed. If yours doesn't and you don't feel like you could have this conversation with them, it's probably time to move on.

If You're Going to Quit, Quit Like a Pro

Some people regret quitting altogether; others regret how they quit.

While it may be tempting to go after that viral video on social media, maybe don't. Even if you're certain you'll never return, things change. The world is small. Careers are long. Paths cross and cross and cross. Quitting like a professional means honouring the relationships you've built, keeping doors open for the future, and respecting the lessons this experience has taught you.

As you prepare to let people know about your decision, it might be helpful to operate from this perspective: How can I conduct myself in a way that this company, or my manager, won't think twice about taking me back in the future?

1. Develop a clear, consistent message.

When it comes time, you’ll want to deliver the message quickly to the people who must hear it from you, especially your immediate manager. As soon as one person finds out, everyone will find out. So, make your list: who needs to hear the news from you?

2. Determine how much notice you'll give.

This decision considers your needs, but also those you've grown to care about. Be prepared to offer a thorough rundown of outstanding projects and related tasks, along with a plan for how you'll help transition the projects, ideally over a period of two- to-three weeks. How you assist with the transition could be the last imprint you leave on an organisation, and you'll want to make that as positive as possible. But don't stay too long. Once people process the news of your departure, they'll begin to move on quickly. Overstaying will be awkward for everyone.

3. Determine the right delivery method.

Face-to-face is the best option if you have a strong, or long-term relationship with your manager. If your relationship is strained or difficult, a phone or video conversation is also appropriate.

Email or text messaging should be used as a last resort since tone doesn't translate through email or text and is easily misinterpreted.

4. Prepare for a variety of reactions.

Counteroffers, surprise, tears, anger, frustration, desperation. Prepare for all possible scenarios and have a standard response prepared, “I know this is surprising/upsetting, but I appreciate your support and will always value what I've learned here.”

Providing an exit out of the conversation is also a gracious gesture for a surprised/upset manager, and a way for you to remove yourself from an uncomfortable situation, "I know this is surprising/upsetting. I'll give you some time to process this news. Please reach out with questions or next steps whenever you're ready."

In the best-case scenario, your employer will be disappointed, but also appreciative of the value you've brought to your role and express hope you'll consider returning one day. Afterall, a good employer loves a boomerang*, especially one who performs—and quits—like a professional.

*Boomerang employee: An employee who leaves an organisation but later returns.