During WWII, the term “Dear John letter” became popular when soldiers spent long periods away from home. These letters, written affectionately, were either sent by mail or received when the soldier came home to an emptied house.

In the workforce, the equivalent is when a business owner or supervisor gets a demonstrative email from a direct report announcing their prompt resignation. It is sent with no prior conversation or indication that their tenure with the company will be ending. Often the resignation note is accompanied by a statement about a critical personal situation or that someone else needs them right away.

COVID-19 forced, out of precaution, anyone with symptoms to stay home, get tested, and if found positive, quarantine for a period of up to 5 days. Employers, supervisors, and teammates covered for one another, as everyone was in it together. None of us knew who would be next or how each person would fare through the incubation and recovery period. What we could count on was that they were coming back, and adjusting the company in someone’s absence for a few days was much different than hiring and onboarding a new teammate to replace someone who departed prematurely.

If you are leaving a company for any reason for a week, a month, or a resignation, a face-to-face conversation is always the way to go. The only exception is if you are contagious or incapacitated. A written follow-up is always recommended to have in hand at the same time or in immediate follow-up but never preceding a resignation. Why?

1. You chose to work there, and they chose you as an employee. Taking accountability for our choices and attitudes allow us to end the working relationship while preserving the personal rapport. Often, people prefer to blame other people or circumstances for their choices rather than take ownership of the choice they made at the time. With jobs, a person may take the best available job at the time of needing a paycheck, or an employer may hire a person knowing it may not be the long-term solution, only to forget the initial benefit for them when it is ending.

2. It is six degrees of separation. Unless you are taking a job outside the industry or outside the United States, I assure you that at some point in your career, you will run into that supervisor, employer, or someone you interacted with at a company you have worked for. If you handled the breakup correctly, you leave the door open for future interaction with the aforementioned, industry connections, under more favorable circumstances. Employment is timing and circumstances combined with attitude and behavior. Recognizing timing and circumstances should not affect your ability to put closure to the situation with professionalism.

3. Your actions could be a sign of EI challenge. Emotional intelligence (EI) refers to the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. Conduct your own exit interview. Ask yourself what you don’t want to discuss by doing an in-person resignation. When an individual leaves their job without a dialog with their boss to at least offer the minimum acceptable notice (usually between two and four weeks if you have been dedicated to your job despite wanting to leave), then typically they are avoiding their own emotions or the emotions of others, such as the person they need to have that discussion with. The ability to identify and manage your own emotions, as well as the emotions of others, is a key contributor to advancing your career over time. Those lacking EI tend to repeat the same patterns, stagnating their careers.

There is nothing wrong with making a change of employment if it is being done for the right reasons at the right time. When it is the right reasons, despite emotions your supervisor and employer might display when first told, resigning by conversation demonstrates your maturity, appreciation, and respect.

An employment resignation by email might now be as wrenching as the Dear John letters from WWII, stinging all parties personally involved.

Face-to-face eliminates disgrace.

If you resign, will it be done with dignity?

Suzanne Breistol


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