my boss won’t accept my resignation

A reader writes:

I work in an office at a university, and came to the decision to finish my position at the end of this contract, rather than accepting the extension that had been offered to me. I wrote a letter of resignation and arranged a meeting with my direct supervisor to give it to him and to inform him of my intentions.

When I gave him the letter, his first question was if I had another job. I do not, and as I don’t believe in lying about things, I told him that I did not. I told him the reason I was planning on leaving was that I would rather focus on my academics for my last term as I am creating and facilitating a seminar on top of a full-time course load. While this is true, the real reason I do not want to continue my position is because the working environment is absolutely atrocious on so many levels, and as I cannot see myself having any future in this office (non-union staff are rarely promoted to union positions), nor do I want to pursue a career in this field, there isn’t much point in staying.

Instead of the reaction I was expecting, he told me that I don’t have to make this decision right now as they are “not in a hurry to hire anyone,” and he wouldn’t accept my letter. He then proceeded to tell me that the only reason I’m making this decision now is because I am “overwhelmed and anxious about an unknown future” and that once I see that facilitating a seminar won’t take a lot of effort, I’ll be okay to work. He then proceeded to list all of the pros to working here, citing that it’s nice to have pocket money, that no other job will give me the flexibility that this job can give me, and that if I’m going to be on campus anyway “10 hours a week really is nothing.” He also told me that because of this job I am closer to my cultural heritage and community, and it would be a shame for me to lose that. At no point did he tell me that I’m doing a good job, that I’m a valuable asset to the team, or anything else about my performance and why he would want me to stay. Considering I receive no feedback at all from him ever (I had to hear from another employee that he thinks I’m doing incredible work and he is pleased with my performance), I can’t think of a more appropriate time to give some, especially considering that it seems he is relatively desperate to keep me on. He ended the exchange by handing me my resignation letter back, telling me that we will set up a meeting with myself and my part-time supervisor (who I do not directly report to) to “work things out” and to not tell anyone I was thinking of leaving. I did not accept the return of the letter, and left it on his desk.

How can I best prepare for this meeting? I am fairly intent on quitting, but I would consider staying if a lot of things change — but I don’t feel as if I can voice the reasons why I am actually leaving without hurting people’s feelings. The majority of the problems in this workplace arise from the fact that my direct supervisor is an ineffective manager, and because of his ineffective leadership and his inability to be assertive, everything in our unit suffers. Finally, if they refuse to accept my resignation, am I obligated to keep working for them, even though it obvious I want to quit?

No, you’re not obligated to continue working for them. It doesn’t matter if they “accept” your resignation or not; all you have to say is “X will be my last day” and then stick to it.

Your boss was certainly overbearing in his response, but it sounds like your conversation allowed him to get the impression that you’re open to being convinced to stay. If you’re not, you need to clearly tell him that. As in: “I appreciate you offering to set up another meeting to discuss how to keep me on. However, I’ve given it a lot of thought and I’m sticking with my decision. August 15 will be my last day. Let’s talk about what I can do between now and then to make the transition as smooth as possible.”

If he pushes back, you just need to keep saying, “No, I’ve thought it over and my decision is final.” It’s very unlikely you’ll need to say that more than once or twice.

As for whether it’s worth mentioning the changes that would get you to consider staying: It sounds like you’d need your manager to become a whole different person, and that’s very unlikely to happen. Given that, I don’t see a lot of point in you getting into that with him.

Also, about that resignation letter: You don’t generally need a written letter unless your employer asks you for one. Resignation letters are a formality, and many people don’t use them at all. They’re really just there to document that you did in fact resign your job. In your case, though, I’d recommend following up this next conversation with an email reiterating the date that you’ve chosen for your last day — just to ensure that there’s no miscommunication over it later and that your boss can’t say there was any uncertainty about it.

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