American workers have been quitting jobs in record numbers. The number of people who’ve left jobs voluntarily has climbed steadily over the past 10 years and hit 3.5 million — 2.3% of the workforce — in April 2019, according to the figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The last time the quit rate was this high was in 2001.
If you’re thinking about joining the ranks of workers who have quit jobs, be aware that submitting your two weeks’ notice might be tougher than you think. That’s because things can go wrong when you try to resign. Just ask employees and bosses who’ve experienced it first-hand. Check out these true stories about resignations gone bad.
Last updated: Sept. 14, 2020
A Resignation That Led to a Lawsuit Threat
Michael Quan was working at a technology company that was imploding and laying off employees. So he decided to leave on his own terms before he got the ax. “I submitted a letter of resignation and also told them I was starting my own consulting company,” he said.
Rather than wish him well, though, the executive team threatened to sue him. “The CEO basically said he was going to sue me for breach of a non-compete because I would be performing similar services,” Quan said.
The lawsuit threat didn’t stop Quan from leaving because he had hired a business attorney and knew a lawsuit against him wouldn’t have held up in court. “Oddly enough, about a month later, the very same employer who had just threatened me did a complete 180 shift,” said Quan, who now is the founder of Financially Alert. “They actually sent me referrals for my very first clients! This ended up in a successful 10-year run before selling the company to a private equity firm.”
A Resignation That Ended in Tears
Kelan Kline dreamed of being in law enforcement. But after landing a job as a jail deputy, he realized it was nothing like he thought it would be. After two and a half years, he saw his chance to leave because his wife got a teaching job that would support them. “I wanted out of there as quickly as possible,” Kline said. “I wanted my normal life back. I filled out a special form and stated that I was putting in my two-week notice.”
However, he discovered that leaving a law-enforcement job was no easy task because of the hoops he had to jump through and the exit interviews he had to endure. In fact, an exit interview with three of his supervisors felt more like an interrogation, Kline said. “The questions kept coming from all three of them to the point where I could not control my heart rate, and I was overcome with emotions,” he said. “Tears started rolling down my face as I explained to them this was the hardest decision I (had) ever made.”
It actually took more than a month – not two weeks – for Kline to go through the process of multiple exit interviews, signing paperwork and turning in his gear before he was able to leave his job. Despite how difficult it was, he said he would do it again.
“I was at a place in my life (where) I was desperate for change and fast change,” said Kline, who now blogs with his wife at The Savvy Couple. “The only thing I might have changed is taking the time to really sit down and talk with a sergeant I trusted to get on the same page so he could have gone and talked to other staff.”
A Resignation That Resulted in Retaliation
For months, Charli Sharp tried to go through the proper channels to address what she called a “toxic work environment” at the convention and visitors bureau where she was employed as the public relations director. Feeling like her complaints had fallen on deaf ears, Sharp decided to resign. The response she got was not what she expected.
“I was told to either leave that day or work remotely while I worked out my two weeks,” Sharp. “I didn’t want to leave my team hanging, so I chose to stay. On my last day when I went into the office, they had me turn in my equipment around 9 a.m. and told me to leave right after.”
Despite the retaliation she faced, Sharp said she has often thought that she should have stayed at the organization longer to push for change for the colleagues she left behind. But she said she realized it likely wouldn’t have made a difference. “I sought legal counsel and every step was carefully thought out on my part, so beyond staying longer, I don’t think there’s anything I could have done differently,” said Sharp, who now is founding partner of Sharp Development Partners.
A Resignation a Manager Refused To Accept
As a government auditor, Sharita Humphrey met with many small business owners who struggled to grow their businesses or remain compliant because they lacked financial knowledge. So she decided to start her own financial coaching business to help small business owners. When she worked up enough courage to resign to become an entrepreneur, Humphrey’s manager asked if she was serious about leaving.
“I stood firm and said, ‘Yes, my decision to leave my government position (is) final,’” Humphrey said. “My manager stated she would not immediately turn in my notice because I needed to think things through because I was young and had two children.”
Humphrey met with her manager the next day and said she would be leaving. Her manager was shocked and asked why she would leave a guaranteed position. Even some of her colleagues said she was making a mistake.
“On my very last day of work, I was told I would be back within four weeks,” Humphrey said. “It’s been several years since I left my government position. Although I walked away from a secure government position and student loan forgiveness, my business is thriving and so are the individuals and small business owners that I continue to work with.”
A Resignation That Got Pushback From HR
A year after working at a small marketing agency, Ellen found a new job at another company that was going to pay her $35,000 more and offer better benefits. “So, it was a no-brainer and an amazing opportunity for me,” said Ellen, who asked to use her first name only.
But when she tried to give her two weeks’ notice to the head of human resources, Ellen said she was blown away by her response. “She proceeded to tell me a story about how she took a higher paying job before and priced herself out of the market as a way to talk me out of leaving,” Ellen said. “She then also treated me as if I was being dishonest and unethical because I’d been interviewing ‘behind their backs’ for my new job.”
The HR director’s response was so upsetting that Ellen said she had to leave the office to collect her thoughts and was tempted not to come back. “If I didn’t care about doing the right thing for my colleagues, I would have left and not returned,” she said.
Although Ellen said she was treated badly when she submitted her two weeks’ notice, she was asked to stay an additional week to help with the transition. “I declined and said my new boss was eager to get me started,” she said. “Why would anyone choose to stay longer when they were treated so badly for leaving for a better opportunity?”
Resigning Without Two Weeks’ Notice
Shortly after being hired at a public relations agency, Vaneta Lusk realized she made a mistake accepting the job. During the interview process, the head of the agency made it sound like Lusk was going to be part of a team, but there was no team. “She had one large account that was keeping her afloat, and she expected me to work on it until late every night for no additional pay,” Lusk said.
When she found piles of unpaid and overdue bills, Lusk decided it was time to leave. “I ended up turning in my resignation letter six weeks after I started and just walked out the door,” she said. “I didn’t trust her enough to give two weeks’ notice.”
It’s best to quit a job gracefully by giving at least two weeks’ notice. But Lusk wasn’t worried about burning bridges with that job. “If you find yourself in a bad situation, do whatever it takes to get out of it,” she said.
In fact, Lusk said if she had to do it over again, she would have left that job sooner. “Six weeks was too long to put up with the crazy,” said Lusk, who is the creator of Becoming Life Smart. “At the time, I wished I could tell the woman who ran the agency how crazy she was, but looking back, I’m glad I didn’t.”
Leaving the Country in Order To Resign
Liz Eischen tried quitting a job with a non-profit organization several times. When she tried to resign, her boss didn’t take her seriously, she said.
When it got to the point that she could no longer tolerate working at the non-profit, Eischen created a plan to help her avoid being talked out of resigning once again. She had racked up thousands of airline miles from work-related travel overseas, so she asked her two sisters if they wanted to go on a trip with her to Europe — a trip that she scheduled to start two weeks after giving her notice to resign at work.
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When Eischen gave her supervisor her two-week notice, she told him she was quitting without another job lined up. He asked if she wanted to stay in her position until she found something new, but she said she couldn’t afford to stay any longer because of her long hours and inadequate pay. “He finally relented and accepted the resignation,” said Eischen, founder of Kitchen Table Finances.
The day after she left her job, Eischen flew to Europe. “If I didn’t have an absolute deadline in place, I would have struggled to leave the organization,” she said. Now, she makes twice as much in a healthier work environment.
A Resignation Gone Really Bad
Supervisors aren’t the only ones guilty of making resignations difficult at times. Sometimes workers can turn their departures into incredibly awkward situations as John Crossman, CEO of real estate firm Crossman and Company, discovered.
Crossman had a young employee who did research for the company and had volunteered to work on an important project. Her work had slowed, and Crossman assumed it was because she had been planning her wedding – to which he and his business partner had been invited. A month after the wedding when the project and a quarterly report she was working on were due, the employee invited Crossman to lunch.
“As soon as we ordered the food, she announced that she was resigning, going to work for one of our biggest competitors in one of their main areas that we directly compete with them on,” Crossman said. On top of that, she hadn’t started on either report. When he showed his agitation, the employee refused to speak or eat her meal. “Truly one of the most awkward situations I’ve been through,” Crossman said.
If you plan to resign and don’t want to burn bridges, think carefully about your actions before, during and after your resignation. “I don’t think she comprehended that inviting us to her wedding weeks before resigning was in bad taste,” Crossman said of his employee who quit to work for a competitor. Resigning without completing assigned projects also was unprofessional, he said.
The employee’s biggest mistake, though, was thinking that taking him to lunch to deliver her resignation would soften the blow, Crossman said. “She gave us two weeks’ notice, but we had her escorted out the next (day),” he said. “I’ve never seen someone so smart handle their exit so poorly.”