Quitters Always Win

How to Quit Your High-Profile Job Like a Champion

In the wake of two high-profile resignations, it’s time we all prepped for a third. Herewith, some tips for him or her.

06.01.14 9:45 AM ET

It’s always better to fire people on a Friday. Studies have statistically shown that there’s less chance of an incident if you do it at the end of the week.

That’s not me talking. That’s the wisdom of corporate restructuring expert Bob Slydell in the movie Office Space, telling our hero Peter Gibbons why (or rather, when) two of Peter’s low-level coworkers were going to get the axe:  Friday, because trust us, Friday is for firing. Fewer “incidents.”

But today’s topic is resignations, and high-profile ones, of the kind we’ve seen this week, the kind that might actually be firings but nobody involved wants to admit it. Like when a president accepts the resignation of an embattled cabinet member (who really may have been fired). Or the resignation of an emblonded press secretary (who, yeah, probably really resigned).

There are certain understood rules to these, too, and one of them is a repeat: do it on a Friday. Friday is the end of the week, and the end of the news cycle: you don’t have to go home but you can’t work here.

So it came to pass that on this past Friday, the president was in an odd position: one of his cabinet members resigned, and so too did the guy assigned to explain things like cabinet members resigning. In the morning, Veterans Affairs Secretary Erik Shinseki made an appointment to see President Obama, and received his own dose of Obamacare:  take two of these and don't bother calling me in the morning. And just a couple hours later, White House press secretary Jay Carney turned over the podium to the president so that the president could turn it over to someone else.

If we’re being honest, both resignations were served with a side order of awkward.  Shinseki dragged his heels longer than perhaps he should have; there’s no dignity in keeping sick veterans waiting.  Carney had always spun well for the president, yet nothing could put a dignified spin on their mishandled manhug. (Don’t pretend you didn’t notice it too, Jay.) 

But let’s put those behind us. Assuming that high-profile resignations, like high-profile deaths, come in threes (that’s another rule, right?) it's only a matter of time before a third person takes this job and shoves it.  And to that person, I’d like to offer a few helpful tips about how to avoid the indignity and resign with integrity, honesty, and just enough screw-this attitude that you can sleep well at night. (Or during the day. I mean, it’s not as if you’ll have a job to go to.) 

First off, don’t resign. Are you crazy? How are you going to pay for stuff? Bitcoin?

But okay, if you’ve still resigned yourself to resigning, don’t say you’re resigning because you’ve “become a distraction.” Hangnails are a distraction. You were more of a well-meaning flaw.

Don't say you're resigning to spend more time with your family. No one buys that, especially those who have families. We're far more likely to believe you're resigning to spend more time with someone else's family. 

Don't "offer your resignation." Just resign already. I recognize that making such an “offer” is just your half of the kabuki that gives the appearance your boss has the final say in what happens.  I hate to break it to you, but your boss could have had that final say at any time. (That's what getting fired is.) So as your last act, don’t cede that power. If you mean it, say it. If you want out, don't wuss out. Lean in. I mean, lean out. I mean, well, you know what I mean.

On second thought, don’t resign on a Friday. Heck, don’t resign on a weekday. Resign on a weekend. But of course, have the decency to do it in person. That’s right, show up at your boss’s door while he or she is watching the game or minding the kids and demand back some of that time you gave him or her over the past decade. It’s only fair. You probably worked on a few weekends. The least you can do it stop working on one.

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Don’t insist they’ll regret the day they fired you. When Nixon said, bitterly, “you won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore,” there weren’t too many people who had been kicking Nixon saying, “Gosh, I hope I get to keep kicking Nixon.” For them, it was more of a good riddance thing.

Just do it. When Peter Gibbons talked of resigning from Office Space’s Initech, he didn’t make a big show of it. He just made the gallant, grand decision to free up his day to spend more time with Jennifer Aniston. I have the transcript:

Peter Gibbons: I, uh, don’t like my job, and, uh, I don’t think I’m gonna go anymore.

Jennifer Aniston: You’re just not gonna go?

Peter Gibbons: Yeah.

Jennifer Aniston: So you’re gonna quit?

Peter Gibbons: Nuh-uh. Not really. Uh … I’m just gonna … stop going.

Just gonna stop going. You have to respect the simplicity of his bold proclamation—although I wouldn’t suggest nominating him as Secretary of Labor.