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Published: Sep 09, 2016 4 min read
A rectangular gold sign with black lettering says no exit,no way out.
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Q: I found a new job that offers a better opportunity for my family and career, and I'm preparing to submit my resignation next week. My current boss is stressed and overwhelmed, and I'm afraid he won't accept it. What if he refuses to let me go?

A: If you’ve signed a contract agreeing to stay on for a fixed term, you’ll face a costly, legal headache if you leave -- so chances are you'll have to sit tight.

If you’re an at-will employee, however -- most employees are -- you’re free to seek other opportunities at any time. (By the same token, you can also be fired.)

Even so, your boss might try to persuade you to stay -- particularly if you work on a small team or have specialized knowledge that will be tough to replace. Maybe it’s a particularly busy season, and he's concerned the team will flounder without you. Maybe he’s scared he won’t be able to find someone who can fill your shoes.

And while your boss can't prevent you from leaving, an unhappy departure can soil your ability to use him as a reference in the future.

If you're committed to moving on, then Mary Jeanne Vincent, a career strategist in Monterey, Calif., suggests you develop a list of ideas to help ease the transition. Can you be flexible with your timing, or stay on as an interim consultant? Can you be “on call” for questions during the lunch hour at your new gig? Can you help train your new hire? At the same time you resign, present those options to your manager -- ideally, in person.

“You want to make it as easy for your boss as possible,” Vincent says. “Show him you’re committed to the company by showing exactly how you’re prepared to help.”

If you agree to provide any continued help, get the negotiated terms in writing, Vincent suggests. It’s vital that you both you and your boss know exactly how many hours you’re agreeing to, the length of the commitment, and whether you'll be compensated. For any ongoing consulting work, you should be paid at a higher rate than what you're currently making, she says. After all, it's going to cut into your free time right as you're trying to ramp up for another job.

If things get heated, she says, table the conversation -- although not your effective resignation date -- for a day or so, scheduling a separate meeting to discuss your exit and a plan for handing off your work to a successor.

From an etiquette standpoint, follow up the conversation with a cordial letter of resignation. Explain that you enjoyed working with him, and that you're excited for the next step in your career.