Ask LH: How Can I Quit My Job On Short Notice Without Burning A Bridge?

Ask LH: How Can I Quit My Job On Short Notice Without Burning A Bridge?

Dear Lifehacker, I just got a great new job, but they want me to start yesterday. I don’t want to mess up my relationship with my current employer, however, so how can I leave my job immediately without causing a huge mess? Sincerely, Exiting Employee

Dear EE,

Quitting a job on short notice always comes as a little bit of a shock, but employers only care about how much it affects them and the company (for the most part). If you need to leave quickly, you should focus on making your departure as painless as possible. Pinpoint the problems you’ll cause and then figure out what you can do to eliminate them. If you succeed, leaving with little to no notice won’t hurt your reputation with your soon-to-be former employer.

Think Like You’re Going on Holidays

When you go on holidays, you essentially quit your job for a short period of time. Your work either piles up when you go, a temp comes in to take over your work, or that work gets delegated to other people in the meantime. By now you should know what happens at your company when you leave, so start putting that general plan into action:

  • If you need to delegate, ask friendly coworkers to help out with projects you can’t finish.
  • If a temp usually replaces you, discuss replacement options with your boss before you quit to make sure they have you covered.
  • If your work will just pile up, make good notes and find ways to leave those projects in a place where someone else can easily pick them up without too much effort on your part. That helps the next person who handles your job, keeps your boss happy, and prevents you from getting called with tons of questions.

These options cover the basics. We’ll get into more specific detail in subsequent sections.

Help Your Employer Find a Replacement

When leaving a job on short notice (or in general), you want to help find your replacement. If your departure doesn’t cause a hiccup at your soon-to-be former company, you’ll leave on good terms even when in a hurry.

You can’t magically become a recruiter, but you can put out a good word. Email your friends who need work and might have the experience necessary to do your work. Post on Facebook and other social networks where you might have a greater reach because people can share with others you may not otherwise have access to. Send messages to your alumni mailing address and to any other groups to which you belong. You may not always succeed in replacing yourself, but if you can tell your boss about your efforts she or he will know you at least attempted to help.

Wrap Up Any Active Projects (or Delegate as Needed)

When I started as a full-time writer at Lifehacker, I had to leave my other job almost immediately. I got lucky and happened to finish all the work on that same day. Unfortunately, that almost never happens. When you leave a job quickly, you probably have a few projects in flux and you can’t leave them that way. You have to find a way to take care of them, whether you finish the work or not.

Even though I’d wrapped everything up, I told my former employer to contact me with any questions about the work should they come up over the next two weeks. Essentially, I made myself a free consultant for that notice period I wasn’t able to give. You should do the same. Furthermore, if you have incomplete projects they’ll become someone else’s responsibility. If you can delegate, do it. If you can’t, talk to the person who receives the work and help them get acclimated. Provide as much assistance as you can for those two weeks to help the office run smoothly after you leave.

Ask What Else You Can Do to Help

While you can guess the possible problems your departure may cause and account for them, solving them only takes your former employer so far. The person you really need to please is your boss. Ask him or her what you can do to help after you leave to make the transition seamless. It helps to suggest the items previously discussed, but don’t assume you know everything. Allow them to give you options as well. You want to make your boss’ life easier to avoid conflict, so just ask how you can do that.

Remember: The Office Will Still Exist Without You

When you cut out early, you definitely risk burning a bridge if you don’t handle it well. That said, you can turn a common problem into an enormous one if you don’t realise that the office will still exist without you. It did before you started working there and it’ll continue to do so after you leave.

Even if you consistently worked harder and better than anyone else there, the success of the business didn’t hinge on you. You won’t cause a huge problem by leaving. Even if your boss thinks you will, and believes highly in your value, you still don’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things. The business will survive and the damage your departure may seem to cause will suddenly appear minor once you leave. So don’t consider it the end of the world. A quick departure requires a little more care, but not an excess amount.


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Images remixed from originals by Leremy (Shutterstock).


  • I disagree with the advice that it’ll be OK if you’re careful about it. It’s not OK. It’s unprofessional. Tell employer that you’d be glad to come in a few times over the next 2 weeks in order to be able to hit the ground running on day 1. Tell employer v.current that you’ve accepted a position elsewhere and your last day will be X, and ask how you can best assist with the transition. Sometimes the employer will say “GTFO at the end of the day,” and sometimes they’ll say, “OK, let’s get started briefing everyone on what you’ve been doing,” and that will go on for 2 weeks. An employer that insists on “yesterday” when someone presumably valuable (else they wouldn’t have hired you) still has a job to do elsewhere isn’t being very realistic toward their new employee.

  • @barb makes a good point. Any firm that is going to hire you knowing your currently employed elsewhere should respect that fact you’ll have loose ends to tie up on leaving. They will always ask how soon can you start and state the sooner the better.

    I’ve done this myself accepting a job offer a few days before a 3 week holiday I’d booked well in advance. They respected this and most of the leg work was done prior to leaving for a hand over anyway because of said holiday. The employer also put together a welcome kit with each team member explaining their role, and how it would interact with mine. Made transitioning much easier. I returned to the old employer for 3 days post holiday then switched to the new one. Was relatively seamless.

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