The Employees Guide to Resignations

There is a Change in The Wind...

If you've worked in Corporate America, chances are at some point you have experienced the below situation:

You feel something "a little off" at work.

The boss is acting a little distant. You aren't being invited to as many meetings. Nobody seems to be checking on your work. You can't quite put your finger on it, you just know something is a little "off". You try to shake it off as paranoia, but one day your manager moves your weekly 1:1, and sends you a casual note on Slack asking you to meet in a different area.

As you arrive to the conference room, you see your boss talking with someone else. You recognize them as the "HR person". You see a manila folder on the table. Your stomach drops.

You enter the room and the HR person stands up, shakes your hand and offers you a neutral smile. Your boss starts to talk, but you aren't hearing a word. Your pulse is through the roof. Your mind is sprinting with financial calculations or projects that are due or meetings you have. You barely notice when your boss stands up to leave and says something about "good luck" and leaves you with the HR person who goes over the details of the agreement in the manila folder, it has happened, you are being let go. Exited. Terminated.

Now you are here, wondering what on earth happened, and what you should do next.

That is the point of this article, to help walk you through that and to provide all of the information you need to try and understand, process and get through the other side. With nearly 2 decades of HR experience, and within all three positions, I want to walk through how you to handle this.

Editors Note: This article is written for primarily performance related terminations in the office, a new article will be published shortly on how to handle layoffs and the remote work environment

How Did We Get Here?

I never liked the term "termination". It sounds way too violent for something like this, but it should be clarified that it refers to the termination of your work contract, or employment.

Also realize that countries have different labor laws, and even in the face of some really atrocious acts, a lot of countries in Europe have a mandatory severance for a few months. In this article, I'll be focusing primarily on the USA.

Every company is different and has different cultures to it. Within my experience, I usually prefer companies that have a more empathetic termination process (as discussed in my article here) which is that this meeting actually never happens, because you were treated like a human being, but most companies haven't adopted that principle just yet.

You should know that some managers do a fairly bad job of communicating terminations based on the human connection namely that they are afraid to use the terminology. (I've had 3 cases in which I needed to go BACK inside a termination meeting because the manager didn't clearly articulate that the employment had been terminated). So in most cases we coach managers to keep the communication quick clear and simple.

I will generally coach the manager to say their piece and then exit because I am better trained at handling the more difficult and complex questions. When the manager leaves, they are likely on the way to gather your team together and communicate what is happening.

You should know that I coach managers strongly on this with the forefront being to protect your dignity. Nothing specific is shared unless it's gross misconduct and I coach all communication to be on what happens to the work and not on you personally. I will tell the manager to tell the team to not contact you for a few days to give you time to process this.

The reason you are called to a different area is to protect your privacy. HR is there as a witness and to help with the process. IT and Facilities are usually contacted the day before, and when you arrive, a note is sent to them to disconnect your access. This is done as a way to manage risk. I know none of this feels good to read, but I'm hoping understanding the "why" helps.

From the moment you enter the room, the goal is to keep the situation from escalating and to ensure that you are aware that your employment is at an end, but while being considerate of your dignity.

The reason for that last part is that while 99% of termination proceedings go more or less as planned, there is a 1% chance that is the stuff of nightmares. I've had someone try to slam their manager into a wall, another pulled a knife on me. One went back to her work area, shrieking and threw a computer monitor out of a window. One guy when asked if he could use his laptop to get a few files, ended up uploading a virus that crashed the company servers. So the goal is to have the conversation concluded and finalized with focuses on dignity, privacy, speed and tranquilly.

The DONT's

While this can be an ugly and uncomfortable experience, below are the actions I would recommend not taking during or after.

Don't try to reverse the situation. If it's come to this, there is little to no recourse and all of the information has already been looked at. Within my entire career there was only one time I stopped a termination, and it was because the employee shared that they were just placed on medical leave that morning. When the employee was cleared to return to work, the termination continued.

Don't try to argue with HR or the manager. I usually coach managers that if the employee wants to know specifics, some high-level information can and should be shared if it helps the employee understand or accept the decision. I.e "As you know, you have been below 50% to goal for the last 3 quarters" , "Like I've been telling you, attendance is mandatory and you didn't show up all of October." However, if you start aggressively debating each point, then it draws the conversation out and takes the focus out of the point. That the termination is happening.

Don't threaten with an attorney. There is a reason for this. By all means, if you feel that the action was illegal or if you want an attorney to review your agreement, of course you should feel comfortable doing that. However, don't threaten it in the middle of the meeting.

Don't go on social media. Or to clarify, don't post what happened on Twitter/Facebook. I have seen so many cases where in the heat of the moment, an angry employee posted something they came to regret. The problem is, even if you delete it it doesn't mean the internet will and several cases have occurred in which an employee was faced with an embarrassing post while interviewing at other jobs.

Don't give in to the rumor mill. I learned this one the hard way the first time after I was let go. I was very junior and made a silly mistake. Luckily I had already resigned and was just working out my notice when it happened. However when I showed up one morning and was immediately taken into HR and told that I should leave immediately, it was a shocking and uncomfortable moment. What made it worse however, was that co-workers called, texted and emailed me over the next few weeks, all wanting to know what happened. I discovered none of them actually cared about me, they just wanted the gossip. It can be very tempting to reach out to work friends, but I find in most cases it's best to address questions with a firm: "Thank you so much for contacting me and your care, I am doing okay - let me know if you'd like to talk about something else other than this private exchange?"

Don't say/do things you will regret. There have been a handful of cases in which during a termination, the employee is so angry that they turn down a severance package. One of them ripped the agreement up and threw it in my face and told me what I could "do with it", before slamming her phone so hard into the desk that it broke. 2 weeks later, she called and asked if we could not only re-offer the severance, but with another month added to it. Both requests were denied. Nobody is happy to be there, but this doesn't give anyone the right to be unprofessional or violent.

Don't trash talk your former manager or company. As you start the interview process, it can be tempting to vent about what happened, but to a new prospective employer, it may sound warning bells. The best verbiage to use is that you and the company parted ways with no ill feelings and that you are excited to look for your next opportunity

Don't burn bridges. If in a few months or even years, if you find yourself looking for a strong recommendation, your current manager or colleagues may be in a position to give you one.

Don't beat yourself up. You are not stupid. You are not worthless. You are not bad. A lot of the advice I give to people who lose their job, are the same ones I give to people who are going through a breakup. Sometimes it's just time to move on and the other party just happened to arrive at the decision a little quicker is all. You are still wonderful and skilled. You are worthy and talented and you will absolutely land in a better place.

The DO's

When faced with this situation, you should feel comfortable with the below actions.

DO ask the following questions. If you are up to a termination conversation, there isn't much that can be done to counter the decision, but you should feel confident in asking these questions:


  • When is my last day? How is this different than my last day worked? (These are different terms, based on the type of exit.)
  • What is my severance or exit package?
  • What happens to my health benefits?
  • What happens to any unused PTO?
  • Will the company dispute an unemployment claim?
  • What happens to my participation in additional programs? (Insurance/Transit/etc)
  • What happens to additional compensation elements like equity?
  • What happens to my 401k?
  • Are outplacement services part of this? (Outplacement is when your company contracts with an employment firm specifically for this. They will do everything from resume review, to interview prep. A lot of companies offer this for severance related positions)


Don't feel pressured into asking all of those questions at the time of exit, but you should feel comfortable asking them in a follow up note to make sure you have a full understanding of what is being offered.

DO ask if your severance package can be reviewed. There's no harm in asking, and I'd say about a third of the time I was asked, I was able to get the employee something more. Sometimes it was an additional month of COBRA. Sometimes it was an additional week of pay. Just be clear with what you are asking.

DO feel comfortable in asking for the specifics of the termination. Or to clarify, if it's a performance termination, a gross misconduct or a lay-off. This is a termination of your employment contract, so you have a right to know about why it's ending. I want to be clear that it's not a good time to argue, but you should feel confident in respectfully asking for more information. Especially if it's coming as a surprise to you.

DO be professional. This one can be the toughest, but it's really important. You aren't being told information that you want to hear. It's likely your mind is moving in thousands of directions at once and that you want to wring your bosses neck, but above all keep your head and tone professional. Even if you don't agree, it's best to just take the time to absorb what you are being told, and come back when you have questions.

DO return business property when asked of you. It is likely that based on the type of termination, that HR will ask you for business owned items such as badges, laptops and phones at the conclusion of the meeting. You can ask HR what the protocol is for porting over a phone number, or to move personal files from your laptop, and in many cases companies are quite generous in allowing for time to do this.

DO make appropriate arrangements for personal effects. Nobody. Not you, not HR, not your manager, wants there to be an uncomfortable scene with you packing up your personal belongings at a desk. If you are in a termination setting where you are being asked to leave immediately, you can request that HR or your Manager pack your belongings and mail them to you. Just make sure you go and grab anything of value first.

DO request help if you need it. I've had several termination discussions consoling someone for more than a half-hour, and when they were ready to leave, I called them an Uber or a taxi service. This is a really tough experience. Don't be afraid to ask for help getting home. Most employers are going to be eager to comply. There is a human to human connection here.

After you leave the building, there are an important, and almost essential of DO's. I will usually call an exited employee a day or so after to remind them of some of the below:

DO allow yourself to feel the myriad of feelings. You are likely feeling a swirl of complex and complicated feelings. Let yourself feel all of them. Anger, sadness, shock, fear, shame. It's all natural and it's important that you give yourself the emotional space you need

DO take the time to grieve and process the negative emotions.

DO compile a list of all the questions you have now that you've had some time to think. Ask as many as you need.

DO focus on a lot of self care. Retail therapy. Call up a friend. Even journaling or writing a scathing email (though don't send it) to the boss can help. Do whatever it takes to make you feel calm and centered, or better about the situation and realize it was simply an event that is now over. A single thread on the great tapestry of your life.

When you are ready, focus on the next steps:

DO realize this is a temporary blip, and that in no way shape or form should this make you think you are worthless, useless or unskilled.

DO spend some time thinking about what your next steps are. Take a little time to put together your resume, look at your network and think about what you want to do next.

DO take the time to honestly reflect. By this I mean really reflect on what happened. Just like break-ups, I find that there is actually a very tiny percentage of people who feel 100% blind-sighted by a termination, and usually with some reflection you'll start to see that things weren't as good as you thought and that you likely missed some signs, or contributed into this decision actively.

DO forgive yourself when you are done. You are a human being and you are allowed to make mistakes. It's a lesson, not a punishment. Once you've reflected enough, decide to learn from it and leave it behind.

DO realize that in almost all cases, these work out for the best. In my nearly 15 years of doing exits, roughly 90% of the time, I'll get a note a few months or a year down the line and the employee will say something to the effect of: "I didn't see it at the time, but that was seriously the best thing that could've happened to me! I landed at x, y, z and I didn't realize I wasn't really happy anymore."

DO remember that there is a huge world out there with tons of opportunity and that this could just be the best thing to happen!

Either way, I know this can be a really painful and difficult process, so I hope this article helps and just know I've seen so many amazing turnarounds, so never think of this as a failure.


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