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Copyright by Stephen Wilbers, Ph.D.


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Letters of resignation that donít burn bridges

by Stephen Wilbers

Author of 1,000 columns
published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune & elsewhere



For many of us, there comes a time to resign one position and move on to the next.

The standard advice in these situations is to emphasize the positive and avoid the negative Ė regardless of the circumstances under which we are leaving. Donít make enemies, we are told. A letter of resignation is no time to take revenge or get even.

The reasons are obvious. Your letter will become part of your permanent file with the company you are leaving. And as Brusaw, Alred, and Oliu point out in The Business Writerís Handbook, "It could haunt you in the future." Some day you might need the goodwill and support of your former employer.

To write a standard, safe letter of resignation, you should

Open your letter on a positive note. Depending on how you are feeling, this might take some imagination, but find something positive to say about the company, how well it is run, what you learned, or how well you were treated.

Explain why you are leaving. Even if you are angry, avoid accusations and recriminations. Make your explanation brief, objective, and factual.

Offer adequate notice. It is common practice to give a minimum of notice of two weeks. If timing permits, offer to stay longer to train your replacement or to help with any special needs during the transition.

Close your letter on a positive note. Express your appreciation for whatever you have gained from your association with the company. Offer your best wishes for the companyís future success.

A resignation letter written according to this four-part formula might read something like this:

"My 45 years with Frigid Air Industries have provided me with invaluable experience in the winter clothing industry. I hope my service has also proved valuable to you and the company.

"Despite my pleasure in working for Frigid Air Industries, the time has come for me to move on to greater challenges. Therefore, I have accepted a position at Arctic Augurs, where I am scheduled to begin work as Head Borer one month from today. If you need assistance in hiring and training my replacement, however, I would be happy to stay a little longer.

"Thank you for everything you have done for me. It has been a pleasure working for you. Please accept my best wishes for your continued success."

Well, thatís the diplomatic way to take your leave, but if you are truly unhappy with the way you have been treated, you may want to take a different tack, perhaps something along these lines:

"My two months at Minnesota Long Johns have been Ė well, special. Iím sure Iíll never forget all Iíve learned about frostbite, hypothermia, light-deprivation, and winter survival skills.

"Despite the countless ways this has strengthened my character and improved my moral fiber, I canít wait to get out of here.

"To that end, I have accepted a position at the Los Angeles firm of Skivvies Anonymous, where I am scheduled to begin work in three days. If you need me to help hire and train a replacement, however, I can arrange to delay my departure by an hour or two.

"Thanks for the opportunity to work for Minnesota Long Johns. I will think of you often as I recline on my balcony in balmy southern California, watching the sun set peacefully over the Pacific Ocean, while you huddle over your coffee pot for warmth, gazing through frosted windows at the steam rising from the half-frozen Mississippi River. Your tenacity is inspiring."

Now, donít let that letter give you the wrong impression. Actually, I enjoy Minnesota winters. I do.




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