To Give or Not to Give…Notice in Person

It seems to be conventional wisdom that when you give notice, you must do it face-to-face.  It’s considered the most professional, courageous, way to handle things.

I don’t think the conventional wisdom is always correct. Obviously, what’s preferred should be considered on a case-by-case basis and your relationship with your boss weighs heavily. 

However, in many circumstances, if your boss really has no idea that you are leaving, I feel like this meeting is an ambush. You, the candidate, have had a long time to think about making a change…certainly weeks, possibly months. You’ve probably also had a few days since you received an offer to plan the exact day and time of day to walk in and tell your boss your plans. You’re geared up and prepared.  On the other hand, your boss had no idea when they woke up this morning that you were going to be quitting today. The first inkling they may have is when you walk into their office with a letter in hand and say, “Do you have a minute?”

But by then, it’s too late. They are already under attack. They are blindsided. Now you get to watch their reaction as they turn pale, or red, or show disappointment, sadness, anger, or all of the above.  Whatever emotions they feel in the first 30 seconds of receiving this news might not ultimately be the way they feel when they’ve had time to think about things. They may say something they regret.

It’s not like you’re never going to face your boss and have a conversation at some point anyway.   It just doesn’t have to be all at once. You can send an email to break the news and ask to meet later that day or week to discuss it. Even a 30-minute heads up via text that you want to come in and talk to them to let them know that you will be leaving gives them some necessary time to compose themselves. It could be an email, a text, or a voicemail.  Even if you catch them live on the phone they have a chance to hit the mute button and scream or utter a string of profanities before taking a breath and coming back to the call.

This could be an article for another day, but in my opinion, the best bosses won’t be caught completely off guard that you’re leaving, even if they didn’t know it was going to be today.  If they are doing their job, they are checking in with you periodically.  If you are doing your job, you are expressing career aspirations or dissatisfaction about your current situation (with your recommended solutions). Perhaps you’ve already given them a chance to address your concerns and if so, they simply don’t hear you, or they are powerless to change anything. 

In the latter case, they have a chance to start reading the tea leaves and if they want to keep you, they can let you know you are valued and try to work with you.  If they can’t, as tough as the short term will be, they should be happy that you’ve found a situation that removes a career pain or the next rung in your career, or simply a better opportunity.

Today more than ever, during COVID, it might be difficult to be in the same place at the same time as your boss.  However, even in normal times you and your boss might work in different locations or, you’re traveling, or they’re traveling, and it’s hard to coordinate when you’re in the office at the same time.

I say don’t stress about it.  Email, phone call, voicemail, or text first, and have the face to face when you can get to it.