A reader writes:
I am on the precipice of accepting a new job offer, and I am having some trouble deciding how to approach my resignation. I know it would be best practice to notify my supervisor (Nancy) first, and then maybe HR, and the rest of my team, if a superior hasn’t shared the news with them by that point.
The trouble is, I’ve watched two former colleagues give their notice to Nancy, asking that they be given the day to personally announce their departure with teammates on-on-one, only to have Nancy walk into the middle of our department and abruptly announce that they are leaving, filling in any gaps in understanding with her own assumptions. She is a volatile personality and frankly one of the main reasons I’m leaving. I am very close with my immediate team (six people) and would be devastated if they did not hear this news from me and were stripped of the opportunity to ask questions or discuss my departure more privately.
Even going to HR first seems like a gamble because the VP of HR and Nancy are somewhat close, and private announcements have slipped through that way as well. Ideally, I would prefer to notify select team members on my own, then tell Nancy last, but I also know that would lead to drama that I’m not sure if I really want to deal with in my final weeks. There’s no way to spin that into a positive interaction.
Should I tell my peers anyway? Should I suck it up and let Nancy handle this however she wants because, even if I don’t like it, she is the team leader? Please help!
Generally, the protocol when you’re resigning is that you tell your manager first, then other people. The reason for that is partly professional courtesy and partly because your manager is the person presumed to have the greatest need to know, and she has an interest in being prepared to answer questions from others about how your work will be covered (especially if they’re worried they’ll have to cover it) and plans for hiring a replacement.
Also, managers sometimes want to ensure a resignation is announced in a way that minimizes drama, especially if you’re playing a key role in an important project or if your resignation comes right on the heels of someone else’s. Sometimes that’s a reasonable thing (managers should minimize drama) and sometimes it’s not (like if the drama is about their own bad management).
But a situation like yours, where your manager has a track record of announcing resignations with facts that aren’t true, is an exception to the rule. Given that, I don’t see anything wrong with discreetly telling a few people on your own ahead of time. But I want to stress discreetly and few. It’s not cool for the whole company to know before Nancy does, or for it to get leaked back to her before you’ve told her yourself. And even if you trust people to keep it confidential, they can be careless — you don’t want two of your coworkers discussing it in the bathroom and then Nancy walks out of a stall. So if you do tell some coworkers first, you should tell Nancy as soon as possible afterwards.
At the same time, though, you’re probably putting more weight on this than you need to. Your coworkers won’t be “stripped of the opportunity to ask questions or discuss (your) departure more privately” if they hear the news from Nancy first. They can still talk with you afterwards, and you can still answer their questions and give them the real story. And they presumably have the same set of facts about Nancy that you do and know to take her proclamations with a grain of salt.
You said you think it will cause drama if you tell coworkers first. If you trust them not to share the news and not to make it clear when they found out, and if you tell Nancy that same day, it shouldn’t cause drama because she probably won’t find out. But if there’s something I’m missing and drama is going to happen anyway … then there’s nothing wrong with following the normal protocol, telling Nancy first, letting her do her weird abrupt announcement, and then filling in your coworkers (who know Nancy and her habits) on your perspective right afterwards.