HOW TO QUIT YOUR JOB IN GERMANY: A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE
I talk a lot about finding a job in Germany on my website, to the point that it becomes easy to forget the opposite end of the spectrum and dive deeper into topics like quitting your job in Germany. To that end, I crafted this guide to help you out with the resignation process.
This Berlin Life guide will provide you with:
⭐ Step-by-step instructions that outline all of the things you’ll need to do when you quit your job in Germany.
⭐ A free resignation letter template.
⭐ Tips and tricks that ensure you maintain a positive and professional relationship with your employer, even after you’ve left the company.
⭐ Personal examples where I share my own resignation experiences.
QUIT YOUR JOB IN GERMANY
Unsurprisingly, quitting your job in Germany is probably going to be a lot more complicated than quitting a job in your home country. Deutschland loves bureaucracy and unfortunately, there is a lot of paperwork involved when you hand in your resignation.
So how does one go about quitting their job in Germany?
1) Find another job first
If you have the fortunate circumstances to quit your job without having another lined up, congratulations! This is the best-case scenario, as you’ll have so many options available to you. You can go on a sabbatical and travel the world. You can stay local and study German. Best of all, you can take your time to find your dream job in Berlin (or elsewhere in Germany).
For the average person, such opportunities don’t often exist and they need to secure employment elsewhere before moving on from their current company. That’s what I did this past spring when I resigned, as there wasn’t any way I’d have been able to manage financially.
Searching for a new job while you’re already employed allows you ample time to seek out a company and role that feels right for you. It also enables you to resign with the comfort of knowing you already have a job waiting for you on the other side.
2) Figure out your notice period
Once you’ve decided to quit your job in Germany, you then need to determine on which date to hand in your notice.
Notice periods in Germany are long, as there’s no concept of “two weeks’ notice” here. At a minimum, notice periods are typically one month long, with average notice periods being around three months. Some executives can even have notice periods of up to six months. While these long notice periods are mind-boggling to those of us from abroad, I’ve already written a lot about notice periods in Germany and why they’re so beneficial to you as an employee. I recommend reading our guide, What You Need To Know About Notice Periods In Germany.
To find out what your notice period is, check your employment contract to find out the exact terms and conditions. Be sure that you clearly understand any special requirements, like “three months’ notice before the end of a calendar month”. If your contract does not specify an exact notice period, the default notice period (according to German law) is to provide 30 days’ notice, starting on the 15th or the last day of the month. During probation periods, usually lasting the first six months of employment, you can resign with only two weeks’ notice.
Take my current employment contract for example, which stipulates: “After the probation period, the employment relationship can be terminated by both parties at the earliest with a notice period of 3 months to the end of a calendar month, if not according to the statutory provisions, a longer period of notice applies.” So when I resigned in May 2023, I gave notice before the month’s end so I could start my new job on September 1, 2023.
If you already have another job lined up, be sure to clarify the start date with your new employer before you hand in your official notice. This will help ensure any unwanted gaps between your employment at both companies.
3) Think about how you want to communicate the news
While some people leave a company on good terms, many more depart for other reasons like a toxic work environment, an overbearing manager, limited growth opportunities, and more.
Recommended reading: Top 10 Reasons for Leaving a Job in 2023
Whatever your reason for moving on, whether positive or negative, there’s no reason to get into too much detail when you first inform your employer of the news. Keep your reasons factual, your messaging professional, and most of all, brief.
When I’ve resigned in the past, I’ve said things like:
⭐ “I’m moving on because I found my dream job at a well-known NGO which is dedicated to lifting people out of poverty.”
⭐“I decided to quit due to the company’s poor financial performance and I’m worried about getting laid off.”
⭐ “I found another organization where I’ve been given an exciting opportunity to advance further in my career and continue my professional development.”
⭐ “I found a job in Berlin and I’m going to be moving back to Germany!”
While I may add more context during our conversation, I keep things short and to the point. None of the above statements are absurd – they’re all common, completely understandable, and aren’t likely to be questioned much further. The great thing about communicating in such a fashion is that it allows you to maintain a positive relationship with the organization, throughout the remainder of your notice period and even after you leave.
Note, I’m not encouraging you to hold back or lie to your manager or your HR contact. The purpose of this first conversation is to give the news and make an action plan about how your remaining time at the company will go. You can get into more details at a later date, like in a one-on-one meeting with your manager or in the exit interview with HR. Your announcement may come as a shock to your manager and in this case, it’s not yet the time to get into what could be painful details or into other things that could turn the session into something confrontational.
Figuring out your messaging beforehand is also beneficial for you. If you’re anything like me, I’m usually a nervous wreck before handing in my resignation. Even when departing on good terms, I always find myself bursting into tears. Quitting can be really hard for some people! So I’ve found that thinking about what I want to say ahead of time, even writing down my main points, helps me to have a more coherent and smooth conversation.
4) Setup a meeting with your manager or people team
Now that you’ve established the conditions for your notice period and figured out how you’ll communicate your resignation, it’s time to make your announcement. I advise always doing this before sending in your resignation letter, as it’s the most polite and professional thing to do, even if your manager isn’t your favorite person. Make sure that you also arrange your meeting in the appropriate timeframe (i.e. before the end of the month) if you don’t want to delay your departure longer than necessary.
Generally, you need to provide notice to your immediate manager, but if they’re not available due to vacation or sickness, opt for the next person above them or chat with your people team to figure out who exactly needs to be notified.
Go into the meeting prepared, share the news you’re leaving, allow your manager time to process the information, ask questions, and discuss the next steps. For example, your manager may need time to talk with others or figure out how they want to communicate the information to your team. As such, I highly recommend scheduling a follow-up meeting with them as soon as possible.
I once resigned by chatting with my manager, giving him my resignation letter, and heading home for the night. We hadn’t yet discussed the next steps, but without my knowledge, he shared my departure with other managers, one who got particularly upset I hadn’t communicated the news to her personally (we’d been friends outside of work at the time). It wasn’t my intention for her to find out that way but her reaction was really unprofessional. While her response certainly confirmed it was a really good idea to leave that place, had my direct manager and I agreed on the next steps before I went home that night, I could’ve avoided that whole situation.
5) Hand in your official resignation letter
The next step in the process is to hand in your resignation letter. Unfortunately for something unfathomable reason, you’re no longer able to provide your resignation letter by email as in past years. You must print it, sign it in ink, and either mail it by post or hand to your manager directly. According to Section 623 of the German Civil Code, you need to do this in order for your exit to be considered official. See what I mean about bureaucracy in this country?
Thankfully, the letter itself is not that complicated. There are numerous details that need to be included in your resignation letter, like your contact information, the company’s address, the date, and a subject like Kundigung/Auflösung – a text which indicates your intention to resign and cancel your work contract with your employer.
It’s not required, but it’s also ideal to ask for a reference letter (Arbeitszeugnis), as getting a reference letter now is easier than getting it after you left the company and is something you can keep on file should you ever need it.
To help make things even easier for you, we offer a FREE downloadable German resignation letter template that you can copy and use for yourself.
6) Ask your employer to confirm your resignation
In addition to asking for a reference when you resign, you can also request to get written confirmation that they’ve received your documents. By having the company confirm they’ve gotten your official and legally binding resignation, as well as acknowledgment of your last day of employment, you can be rest assured there will be no confusion at a later date.
When I resigned this summer, I got an official letter back from the company (in English and German) with the subject “Confirmation of the termination of your employment relationship” and further text that said “We hereby confirm that we have received your letter of resignation. The employment relationship ends as requested on August 31, 2023.”
Not all companies will provide an official letter like this, but at least get something in writing, even if it’s only an email.
7) Negotiate your last day
Your last day of employment will conclude the day your contract expires, but quite often you can end your tenure much earlier. Many people use up their remaining vacation days before going to their new job. For example, I had four weeks of vacation left and arranged to have all of August off of work!
Sometimes, they’ll run out of work for you to do and will let you leave earlier. In severe cases where things aren’t good between you and the employer, they can let you go before the end of your notice period as well. Many people also leave before the end of their notice period for mental health reasons by presenting a doctor’s note.
Don’t be afraid to take your well-deserved vacation and be open when you talk with your manager. Through discussions, you should be able to come up with a suitable last day that will be good for both parties.
8) Meet with your boss again
You’ve provided notice, handed in your resignation, and figured out what your last day will be. However, there are still many other items to consider, such as how you communicate the news to your team and the greater organization, as well as any needed handover and training activities. Schedule another session with your boss so you can talk things through.
Generally, your boss will agree to you telling your direct team as soon as possible. Discuss what you both want to say to the team, come to an agreement, and decide when you’ll tell them. Start brainstorming about how you plan to do the handover work and anything else that needs to be addressed before your exit. Make sure you document everything, so the next steps are clear to both of you. Be sure to set working agreements with one another as well, such as who will share the news about you leaving and or if you want to communicate where you’re going next.
9) Decide if you want to reveal what you’re doing next
There will be times when you don’t hesitate to let your colleagues know what’s on the horizon for you. Maybe you’re heading back to school, taking a break for parenting, or you’ve landed a job at a company like Facebook or Google. When you share this news with them, most individuals will offer their congratulations, extend good wishes, and genuinely celebrate your accomplishments.
Regrettably, there are instances when the announcement of your resignation triggers envy or jealousy among certain colleagues. They might seize the opportunity to gossip about you, pass judgments on your decisions, undermine your efforts, or even make your departure primarily about themselves, like complaining about their increased workload due to your leaving. I’ve seen this happen and sadly, have been on the receiving end as well. Because of these past experiences, when I resigned recently, I mostly chose to keep my next place of work private as I wanted a fresh start.
Whether or not you choose to share the information is entirely up to you. Don’t feel pressured to share the details of what you’re doing next with anyone and believe me, there will be pressure! You alone can decide what you wish to share.
10) Inform your team that you’re leaving the company
The next step is to inform your team that you’ve resigned and will be moving on. I understand that this phase of the quitting process might make you feel uneasy – I can relate, as I often do. The silver lining is that you’ve already laid the groundwork, making this meeting fairly straightforward. You’ll be well-prepared to address any queries they may have regarding your departure date, the transition process, your reasons for leaving, and more. As you share your news, keep in mind that it might unsettle certain colleagues who could be saddened by your departure or who might worry that your leaving reflects broader organizational issues that could affect them as well. Allow them the space to ask questions and voice their thoughts, even if their reactions or opinions aren’t entirely in line with your expectations. Delegate the task of handling difficult questions to your manager, as they can take on the responsibility of addressing the team’s concerns.
Aside from tackling the main logistical matters, sharing this announcement will also mark a significant personal milestone for you. It’s your opportunity to share your story, express your appreciation for the time you’ve spent working there, the enjoyable experiences you’ve had with your colleagues, the lessons you’ve learned, and anything else you might wish to convey.
11) Wind Down Your Work
As live out the remaining days of your notice period, all of the usual activities will happen. You’ll train and hand over responsibilities to others. You’ll clean up bookmarks, emails, and your Google Drive. You’ll write up documentation and status reports. You’ll have last lunches with your favorite people.
During this time, be sure to check in with your manager and team often, and be completely transparent about how you’re winding down your work. Be available to answer any last inquiries and if you have any downtime, pitch in and help your colleagues by assisting them with their work or taking on short-term assignments. This will be appreciated by your boss and teammates and will help ensure you get a good reference, show that you’re not going to leave them in the lurch, and allow you to leave on a very positive note.
12) Do the exit interview
When you announce your resignation, most companies will want to talk with you in a bid to understand your reasons for leaving. They’ll likely also ask for other general feedback about your time there, including suggestions for improvement. Typically this task is taken on by your organization’s people team, a person who is intended to be impartial and genuinely interested to hear what you have to say. Exit interviews are a time for you to voice your concerns and detail your experiences (whether good or bad) with someone who is not your manager.
Depending on the company culture, you can decide how much information you want to share with this person and how truthful you want to be. Good companies will be intentional in seeking out this feedback and will act on it to improve life for existing employees. Unfortunately, not all companies cultivate a favorable employee experience, and not all HR staff are impartial or to be trusted. They may use that information against you before or after you leave the company, or never take action on the feedback at all. It’s not uncommon for negative feedback to be completely disregarded, with the organization brushing it off as feedback from a “disgruntled” employee.
I advocate being as honest as possible while also being thoughtful about what you’re saying. Before the exit interview, write down what you want to say and get everything out. This exercise alone will be a tremendous help, perhaps reinforcing that it’s a good decision you’re on your way out or confirming that you really appreciated your time there. Then go back and read through what you wrote and do some self-reflection. Ask yourself some serious questions. What are your motivations for saying these things? Will this feedback cause more harm than good? Is the feedback valuable? Is it actionable? How will the feedback be received? By answering these questions, you can reframe your feedback if necessary, and adjust the things you want to say. There are moments when certain things are best left unsaid.
Know that I am not recommending you censor yourself too much, nor am I recommending you go into the meeting completely unhinged. I’m simply advising you to think about what you’re going to say before the meeting so that your feedback will be more powerful and have a long-lasting impact.
13) Whiz through your last day
Your last day of work may see you feeling overwhelmed, perhaps excited about your future, while sad to see another chapter of your life close. You’ll find that the day tends to fly by in a flurry of activity, as you hand in IT equipment, give back your keys, and say a final farewell. On my last days of work, I’ve had long lunches with colleagues, and even a big party out at a bar. Know that in some German workplaces, it’s common for the employee who’s leaving to bring cake and refreshments to the office. 🎂
Whatever you do, have fun and enjoy the day as best as you can, even if you’re rushing to get out of that company.
14) Go on a well-deserved vacation
If you have any unused vacation days, be sure to take advantage. It’s the perfect way to recharge before starting your next adventure, whether you decide on a staycation or traveling abroad.
15) Obtain your reference letter
While it’s not mandatory to get a formal reference letter (Arbeitszeugnis), you have a right to request one under German law, and your employer is legally obligated to provide one. It’s always a good idea to get this letter before you leave a company and keep it on file, just in case an employer asks for one in the future. While I’ve personally never been asked to provide references, a more traditional German company may ask, and not having them available could be perceived negatively on their part.
The letter needs to be signed by your boss and provided to you via hard copy. To be considered official, it also needs to be in German. If your language skills aren’t up to par, use a translation tool (I’m a big fan of DeepL) or ask your HR department to provide a translated copy.
It would be an understatement to say that German reference letters are complicated and packed full of loaded coded language, that informs your future employer of certain things about your time with a company. By law, German companies aren’t permitted to say anything negative about you, including your performance, ability, personality, and more. You could have been the worst employee ever and they’re not allowed to say it outright. As such, companies employ some shady methods and use specific language that clues people into your reasons for leaving, your quality of work, etc.
As a foreigner to Germany, you will no doubt find this confusing. Decoding German letters is almost an art and one day, we’ll create a detailed guide about these reference letters to give you some insight into the whole thing. In the meantime, you can ask for a German lawyer to review your reference letter and do the decoding for you. You can get this review done for as little as €20! Depending on the company policy, you can also ask your boss to write you a recommendation on LinkedIn. For legal reasons, some employers may not allow this, but you can always check to see if this is possible.
RESIGNING IN GERMANY FAQ
1) What if my employer presents me with an attractive counteroffer?
If your company truly values you and relies on your contributions, they might go to great lengths to retain you by presenting a counteroffer that includes a promotion, salary increase, or other incentives. If you’re uncertain about departing, it’s always worthwhile to allow the company the opportunity to extend a counteroffer. This way, you can make an informed decision.
Accepting a counter offer comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages, and ultimately, the choice rests with you. As you evaluate their offer, remember to consider the reasons you initially considered leaving. There’s a possibility that despite the potential new benefits, some things may remain unchanged. That’s why we recommend reading this article on Indeed for further insights, Pros and Cons of Accepting a Counteroffer (With Tips).
2) What if I change my mind after resigning?
3) If I quit my job in Germany, can I get unemployment benefits?
Sometimes you just need to leave a company, even when you don’t have a new job lined up. You can get unemployment benefits but the Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit) will require you to wait for three months after your notice period ends. During this blocking period (Sperrzeit), you’re not entitled to any money, but they’ll usually cover your health insurance costs.
Make sure that you register as unemployed as soon as your employment contract ends. You can also register up to three months before you become unemployed. There are also cases where the blocking period can be waived – if you’re able to prove that your new employment contract was canceled by your new employer, you resigned without notice for reasons like your employer not paying you, you’re moving in with someone so you can both care for your children, or you can demonstrate that your job was taking a toll on your medical health and you have a supporting doctor’s note.
Note, if you decide to apply for unemployment benefits, the employment agency will ask for a copy of your resignation letter, so be sure to keep it on file.
4) What if my job is tied to my residence permit?
If your employment is linked to your residence permit, obtaining approval from the Foreigner’s Office (Ausländerbehörde) becomes necessary, as they might need to issue a new visa or update their records. Since the procedure differs according to visa type, consider seeking aid from your HR department. Alternatively, it’s even more advisable to engage a relocation company or an immigration lawyer to assist you throughout this process.
Use our guide on how to quit your job in Germany to make your resignation experience as smooth and pain-free as possible. Drop any of your questions or leave feedback in the comments down below.
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Cheryl Howard, Founder @ The Berlin Life
Hi, I’m Cheryl. My mission is to help you move to Berlin and find work.
A Canadian in Berlin for 10+ years, I have the unique experience of moving to Berlin – not once, but twice. During my time in Berlin, I’ve had five different visas and worked as both a freelancer and a permanent employee for numerous Berlin companies. I even managed to find a new job during the pandemic and again in 2023, during Germany’s recession and massive layoffs in tech.
My day job has involved work as a hiring manager, overseeing the recruitment of countless people, as well as a team coach helping teams and individuals work better and find happiness in their careers. Through my side projects, I’ve also shared my personal experiences by publishing a series of helpful blog posts, creating a thriving community of job seekers, and hosting events to help people find work in Berlin. In 2021, I decided to put my coaching and recruiting talents to use by creating The Berlin Life, bringing my existing content and community together in one spot.
The combination of my personal and professional experience means I know exactly what it takes to move to Berlin and find work.