Sep 132013

How to Quit Your Job

How to Quit Your Job

I sent an email out to ALL at Return Path a few years ago with that as the subject line.  A couple people suggested it would make a good blog post in and of itself.  So here’s the full text of it:


This may be one of the weirdest emails you’ll see me (or any CEO write)…but it’s an important message that I want to make sure everyone hears consistently.  If nothing else, the subject line will probably generate a high open rate.  :-)

First off, I hope no one here wants to leave Return Path.  I am realistic enough to know that’s not possible, but as you know, employee engagement, retention, and growth & development are incredibly important to us.

But alas, there will be times when for whatever reason, some of you may decide it’s time to move on.  I have always maintained that there’s more than a Right Way and a Wrong Way to leave a job.  For me, there’s a Return Path Way.

I suppose the Right Way is the standard out there in the world of two weeks’ notice and an orderly documentation and transition of responsibilities.  The Wrong Way is anything less.

So what’s the Return Path Way?

It starts with open dialog.  If you are contemplating looking around for something else, you should let someone know at the thinking stage.  Ideally that would be your manager, but if you’re not comfortable starting the conversation there, find someone else — your department head, someone in HR, me.  Let someone who is in a position to do something about it know that you’re considering other options and why.  The worst thing that will happen is that the company isn’t able to come up with a solution to whatever issues you have.  I PROMISE you that no one here in any management position will ever think less of you or treat you differently or serve up any kind of retribution for this kind of conversation.

After the open dialog and any next steps that come out of it, if you are still convinced that leaving is the right thing for you, tell your manager and whoever you spoke to at the beginning of your search process, not at the end of it.  That hopefully gives the company enough lead time to find a replacement and provide for enough overlap between you and the new hire so that you can train your replacement and hand things off.

Why do we feel so strongly about this?

We invest heavily in our people.  I know we’re not perfect — no company is — but we do our best to take good care with everyone who works here.  Hopefully you know that.  And hiring great people is difficult, as you also know.  Losing a well trained employee is VERY PAINFUL for the company.  It slows our momentum and causes at least a minor level of chaos in the system.  And as shareholders or future shareholders (even if you leave – you can exercise your vested stock options), I’d hope that’s something none of you want to do.

I realize the Return Path Way that I am outlining here is unconventional (and potentially uncomfortable).  But Return Path is an unconventional place to work in a lot of ways.

As I said up front, I hope none of you wants to leave…but if you do, please take this request and advice to heart.

Thank you!


Now…I sent this out when the company was a lot smaller, when losing a single employee was losing a real percentage of our workforce!  But I stand by every word in the email, even at a larger size.  This kind of dialog is, as I note in the email, both unconventional and uncomfortable.  But just as one of my management mantras here is “no one should ever be surprised to be fired,” another is “we should never be surprised when someone resigns.”  Ultimately, it’s up to each individual manager to set the right tone with his or her team, and also be in tune enough with each of his or her team members, to foster this.

  • Daniel Clough


    They key is in people being able to trust that the organisation react to such a conversation in the right way (i.e the way you outlined in your email).

    • Matt Blumberg

      It's a little tricky to scale (very manager dependent), but when it works, it's a beautiful thing.Matt

  • Jim M

    Wow, that's an impressive approach to employee retention. Often times the exact opposite is true, I know of an individual that suggested that they were looking for different employement to escape a hostile work environment only to have her replacement show up at the office several weeks later.

    It's refreshing to see more employers who are genuinely concerned with maintaining a healthy work environment and recognizing the value of retaining quality employees.

    • Matt Blumberg

      Thanks, Jim. I wish more companies worked this way. It certainly makes transitions much easier (and probably prevents some from happening in the first place).Matt

  • Tea Oh

    Matt – is this a two way street?

    If you have any initial thoughts about any changes you haven't yet made that might affect an employee someday, do you tell the employee(s)?

    Quitting properly is just about preserving a resume/references – it's too bad employees don't have the confidence to make $$ without a boss (I blame mandatory public education, and perhaps years of employment/being told what to do.)

    If you want to leave your job, just leave…

  • Matt Blumberg

    Yes, we try to make it a two-way street. Our rule of thumb is that “none one should ever be fired,” as much as “we should never be surprised when someone resigns.”Matt

    • Tea Oh

      Thank you for your response – I must add I do like how you make the expectations of your company clear to all involved, even if it is a little awkward. These are touchy issues, and I bet encouraging these discussions is usually better than keeping secrets. :-)

      • Matt Blumberg

        Always better. Difficult, but always better.Matt

  • rob f

    great attitude and probably is just one of the indicators of a good company and manager. Thanks for sharing. Wish more leaders lived with a open door policy

    • Matt Blumberg

      Thanks Rob.Matt

  • Eli

    You should bring up issues with your manager or HR, sure. But you shouldn't tell them that you're looking around for a new gig. This post makes it sound like you'll only take employee concerns seriously if that person is threatening to leave.

    • Matt Blumberg

      Totally not my point. Hopefully as a manager, you are on top of issues proactively, and better yet, helping people manage and develop their careers proactively to avoid issues. But no matter how good you are at those things, you can't prevent someone from getting an inbound offer that surprises them and makes them rethink things, in which case, this kind of moment should be an opportunity to reevaluate, if the employee allows you to.Matt

      • Eli

        I think you're misunderstanding me, actually.

        What I'm saying is that even if you have a great manager, on top of issues, but get an inbound offer that makes them "rethink things," then you should bring those NEW issues to your manager. But adding to it that you're considering an offer elsewhere doesn't need to factor into it. If it's truly a great manager, they'll treat your new thoughts the same exact way regardless.

        • Matt Blumberg

          I agree with that. But the point of my post (and email to all at my company) wasn't about how to handle a situation where an employee has an offer to go somewhere else.

          The whole point was that the dialog with the company should start before that — at the "I'm thinking of looking around" stage. That's where problems and issues can be rooted out and nipped in the bud, or if not, at least everyone knows where everyone stands, and you can plan for a more orderly transition.

    • Mike Naseef

      As an employee of Return Path, I would be very surprised if anyone interpreted this article that way, but maybe that's because I am used to the transparency and the caliber of the management here.

      Matt, I'd suggest you send this out again, I don't think I was here for the first version, and in spite of how well it resonates, I am embarrassed to admit that I would have leaned toward the traditional approach just from old habit.

      • Matt Blumberg

        Thanks, Mike (for the comment and the comment!) – Angela is going to send something out on Monday linking to it.

        • Ed Taussig

          Even better, codify it in the employee manual so that the policy endures
          forever. Also apply it to any spinoffs you do next time… :-)

          • Matt Blumberg

            Nice to hear from you, Ed – and good ideas (if only it were that easy…)Matt

  • Ellie Morris

    Hi Matt,
    I love this approach, I also have used this approach though much of my working career. I have even told others, that if they want to leave, they should tell the manager why they are considering the possibility. Perhaps the company can help, and is not even aware there is a problem or issue. I have also preached that if you do point out an issue, you should also come with a solution to the issue. The "powers that be" are more likely to go with your idea, if you have thought it through, to fix the issue, than they are to conform to demands.
    Don't just walk in and say, "I don't get paid enough, I'm quitting if I don't get a raise!" rather walk in and say, " I feel I could take on more responsibilities and would like to start on a growth path to a more challenging job role."
    Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Matt Blumberg

      Exactly. Well put.Matt

  • wmougayar

    Just curious if you could also track how many times this was used, and with positive results?

    When I was at HP, we had annual employee satisfaction surveys, and one of the question was – Are you considering leaving the company? But the aggregation was done such that you could never identify the person, but it stayed at the department or group level. If I recall, a good rate is in the 3-4%. Anything higher would be worrisome.

    • Ellie Morris

      Hi there,
      I have a theory of why that question in the survey didn't work well. I recently made a survey for my company, but instead of asking such broad questions, I was able to breakdown the questions in the survey to specific instances. The survey I sent around was very to the point. questions such as, " Do you feel you have the training and resources to do your job correctly? If not, please explain." I am not bashing anyone, but if they truly wanted to know what people needed, broad strokes wont work. I am in a very unique position, although I don't work directly with the customer support people anymore, I still keep as close as I can to them. I "walk the floor" so to speak.

    • Matt Blumberg

      This happens regularly at RP.  Not all the time (and I’d like it to be 100%), but it does happen regularly.

  • Ellie Morris

    I get to hear what is going on in the "guts" of the company… it helps when even though your not in the trenches, they can still approach you, and if you are very silent you can "hear" a lot.
    I was able to form the questions of the survey to address the issues that I was hearing from the trenches.
    I can share with you the results were not very good, but now we, the company, has very detailed information. I shared that info with the management team, and we now can address the "voice of the customer" and give the employees what they need.
    Being straight forward with you boss, or at least someone who can do something, is always a great practice! You can't go wrong!