What is a resignation letter?


A resignation letter is sent by an employee to their employer to explain that they have decided to quit their job.

A resignation letter is a formal process that takes place when an employee wants to inform their employer that they are leaving their job. The main aim of the letter, which may be sent physically or via email, is to state their intention to leave their current position. The resignation letter needs to be written in a professional manner, and should follow the traditional business letter format with the appropriate addresses, dates and use of formal language. Depending on the employment contract, the resignation will take immediate effect or trigger a notice period – which could be a set number of weeks or months. 

Resignation letters typically include: 

  • Your intention to resign 
  • Your date of departure 
  • Your reasons for departure, such as a new role or other personal reasons 
  • A thank you to your managers and team members for their support and guidance 
  • An offer to help with the transition, which may involve helping to interview or train your replacement 

History of resignation letters 

Resignation letters have been used throughout history. One of the most famous resignation letters is President George Washington’s ‘Farewell Address’ in 1796 – a public letter announcing his decision not to stand for a third term. In the letter, he explained his choice – stating that his leadership was no longer needed, and that the new Republic was in safe hands. He ended the letter by hoping that people would view his past "with indulgence". Other famous resignation letters include Apple’s Steve Jobs who, while suffering from cancer in 2011, recommended Tim Cook as his successor. “I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come,” he wrote. 

Recent trends in resignation letters 

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, many people have revaluated their work life, which has resulted in an increase in resignations – and by association, resignation letters. According to a report in HR News in 2022, Google searches for ‘resignation letter template UK’ were up 22% year-on-year. Searches for ‘resignation email example’ were up by 51% with ‘how to write a resignation email’ up by 170%.  

At the same time, however, there has been a rise in ‘job ghosting’. Job ghosting occurs when new employees don’t show up to work or existing employees don’t return with no explanation as to why and with immediate effect. According to iHire’s 2022 State of Online Recruiting Report, 52.1% of employers said ghosting was a recruitment challenge.  

Both potential candidates and employees should steer clear of ghosting, as it may negatively impact their reputation and follow them from job to job. Instead, candidates and employees can send an ‘online goodbye’, as it has become perfectly acceptable to send a resignation letter by email in today’s increasingly online work environment.  

Today, over a quarter of new hires are boomerang employees – which are people who return to a former company after working elsewhere. As such, there has been an increased focus on ensuring that one’s resignation letter does not close any doors or burn any bridges by airing too much criticism. Instead, employees should end their time with the company warmly – as they may need to maintain connections for future references or if they intend to ‘boomerang’ back.  

Advantages of resignation letters 

  • Resignation letters formalise the leaving process and make it abundantly clear when the employee intends to have their last day.  
  • Resignation letters are courteous to the employer, as it gives them the time to find a replacement and train that individual up to the necessary skill level. 
  • Giving a reason for departure can provide employers with valuable data that could help them implement changes to improve retention.  
  • Writing a resignation letter ends your relationship with the company in a positive, professional way. 

Disadvantages of resignation letters 

  • Resignation letters can be emotional and uncomfortable to write, especially if you are close with your colleagues. 
  • Some people may send in their resignation letter too soon in a fit of anger or frustration, so it’s important to truly consider why you are resigning before you send the letter. 
  • If you talk poorly about the company in your resignation letter, it may harm your chances of getting positive references from that company in the future.   

Use case  

SThree brand Computer Futures has put together a handy guide for employees in Japan who want to resign from their job. Despite being intended for Japanese workers, this advice is generally applicable for employees everywhere – not just for those in the land of the rising sun. 

In the guide, it is explained that, by law, employees are expected to hand in their resignation two weeks before their desired last day. Be that as it may, Computer Futures recommends handing it in one month in advance for a proper handover process. This helps the employer find a new candidate as well as delegate the employee’s tasks. While the letter should include the employee’s reason for resigning, it is not necessary to give details if it is for personal reasons.  

According to Computer Futures, there are a few things employees should not include when writing a Japanese resignation letter. For example, the resignation letter should not be a ‘platform for you to complain or critique your employers or co-workers. Keep it simple, stick to the facts and don’t sound negative. It is important to leave a positive impression’. While this last point is specific to Japan, the underlying principle – that the letter should be polite and respectful – is one that employees should keep in mind regardless of where they live.