How to quit your job and your nightmare boss without burning bridges

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Ask around about nightmare bosses, and you’re likely to find more than a handful of stories. A 2019 survey by staffing firm Robert Half found that almost half of the workers surveyed quit because of a bad boss. A new survey by ResumeLab found that 75% of workers stay at a job with a bad boss because they need the money, but most typically last two years or less before moving on.

When it’s time to do so, should you tell your micromanaging supervisor exactly what you think of him or her, or take the high road? The latter is 100% a better bet, says Brandi Britton, district president at Robert Half in Menlo Park, Calif. “How you leave a job can be just as important as what you did while you were there,” she says. “It’s important to leave on the best terms possible.” Note that in another Robert Half survey, 83% of HR managers said that the way someone quits affects future career opportunities. 

“As tempting as it may be to tell people what you really think of them on your way out the door, please don’t do it,” says Elene Cafasso, founder of Enerpace, an executive coaching firm. “With social media, you will stay connected to these folks in some way forever, just by virtue of having worked together for some period of time.” Plus, you have a career to protect. So when it’s time to move on from your nightmare boss, there are some ways to do so that give you the best chance to keep your relationships intact. 

Do some prep work

It’s a good idea to get your work in order before you give notice. Keep in mind that you’re not just trying to preserve your relationship with the supervisor, but also with the rest of your team, says Susan Peppercorn, executive career consultant with ClearRock, a career transition, outplacement, and executive coaching firm.

At some point you may need a reference, and you want to be fair to your coworkers. “Take the high road in the way that you leave so that people have a good feeling when they think of you,” she adds. 

Think about how to prepare personally too. If your boss is volatile or becomes angry, they may ask you to leave immediately. So you may want to discreetly clean out your desk and take home important personal items prior to giving notice, Cafasso says. 

Know how to give the news

Think about the appropriate amount of notice, and try to adhere to that. Typically, two weeks is customary, but if you have a high-level or critical job, it may be longer, Britton says. You may also want to draft a transition plan that maps out the responsibilities you have, relevant deadlines, and suggestions for getting them done. 

It’s a good idea to make an appointment and have your resignation discussion in private, Peppercorn says. You might want to give your boss a heads-up that you want to discuss your career, so that they’re not completely blindsided. If your company policy requests a letter of resignation, have that prepared for the meeting. 

Be ready to stick your talking points during the conversation, Cafasso says. “Put down two or three talk points that you’re really not going to deviate much from. You may get badgered with questions, but don’t focus on the past,” she says. “Make those talking points be about what you’re going toward, not what you’re running away from.” 

So, for example, thank your boss for the opportunity you’ve had and talk about the growth opportunity you’re pursuing. If the meeting gets heated, hand over your letter and end it. While you want to leave on a positive note, you also don’t need to be subjected to abusive or rude behavior. 

Share, but do it appropriately

Britton says she often sees people tell their peers that they’re leaving before they tell their boss. And then, after the resignation, they may talk about the reasons they’re leaving. Although it’s tempting to share your plans or badmouth your boss, you never know who will spill the beans. “You just never know how that can come back to you,” she says. It’s usually better to keep those things to yourself. 

There is somewhat of an exception, however. If your company does exit interviews, Britton advises that you be honest, but factual. Don’t embellish or editorialize, but it’s fair to share your concerns, especially if a supervisor is abusive or behaves inappropriately. “Participate in an exit interview if it’s offered. Be honest with your feedback, but keep it constructive and professional,” she says. 

Be sure to thank your colleagues before you leave, Britton adds. If there are coworkers with whom you’d like to keep in touch, share your personal contact information or connect on LinkedIn. 

Cafasso adds that you may want to be flexible about discussing the transition during your final weeks. Sometimes, people may need time to process information, especially if they’re angry, she says. By allowing time for them to cool down and engage with you rationally, you may have a better shot at leaving the bridge intact—even if you never want to cross it again. 

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