5 things not to do when an employee resigns

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There is certainly a lot of chatter out there about The Great Resignation. In fact, a quick Google search will bring up 155 million results in under half a second!  

Having said that, resignations are certainly not a new phenomenon. People have been leaving jobs, teams, and organisations for centuries – including sports captains, CEOs, prime ministers, presidents, popes, and even monarchs! 

With employees exiting organisations at a record rate during the second half of 2021, and with estimates of up to 25% of the professional workforce globally set to seek new opportunities during 2022, unless you’re hiding under a rock, it’s impossible to avoid what is also now more colloquially known as The Big Quit

The reality of running any team or business is that at some point, people in your team will decide to leave and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Despite the fact that more often than not resignations are unpredictable, there are certain strategies employers should keep in mind in order to help prevent the repercussions of a sudden and unexpected change or loss in staff. 

Perhaps you’ve experienced the infamous “Do you have a minute?” moment. When an employee pings you, or approaches your desk and utters those words, you know that something is up. And often, it’s something along the lines of, “I’m giving notice. My last day will be…” 

Sometimes, this can be a relief. After all, it’s much nicer to have an employee quit than to have to go through all the steps it takes to let them go. Sometimes it’s not a surprise. Maybe you’re also mentoring the employee and have already had conversations about other potential future career paths. Sometimes, however, it’s like a kick in the guts. The employee giving notice may be the lynchpin of your biggest project or the one you were grooming to be your successor. 

Regardless of whether you’re hearing good news or bad, here are five things you should never do when an employee resigns. 

1. Take it personally 

Maybe the employee is leaving because they no longer like working for you as a manager, or maybe it’s something different. It could be family issues, salary, learning opportunities, or just needing a breath of fresh air. Whatever it is, you’ll hopefully find out in the exit interview. Becoming defensive or taking it personally when your employee is trying to get through an already nerve-wracking conversation will certainly leave a bad taste in the employee’s mouth. If you find yourself becoming defensive, remind yourself that employees come and go as part of life in business.  

2. Argue or berate 

Even if your employee has been open about their job search, giving notice is still nerve-wracking. If you immediately lash out or tell them you’re glad they’re leaving, you will make every “bad boss” nightmare a reality. If you’re prone to outbursts, coach yourself to take a deep breath when you’re confronted with the situation and make sure you have a positive response prepared (e.g., “I’m sorry to hear that. May I ask where you’re going?”). 

3. Express relief publicly 

Never tell another employee how relieved you are that someone in the team is leaving. Don’t do it in a one-on-one, or even if you have a friendship outside of work. It makes you look unprofessional and will make other employees wonder whether you’re harbouring similar thoughts about them and their performance. Even if you are positively bursting with glee that you’ve received a resignation, wait until you’re with a partner, family member, or a non-work colleague to revel in your delight. 

4. Play politics 

Telling the employee not to say anything to anyone until you can figure out how to spin the situation could come across as spineless. Chances are the employee has already told some of their colleagues, and, by playing politics, you’ll look unprofessional to them, too. If you do need to handle the situation sensitively, it’s better to say, “Let me think about the best way we should be handling this; I’ll get back to you ASAP,” and say nothing about explicitly keeping it quiet. 

5. Nothing 

Whatever you feel or whatever the next steps are, you should never just say, “Okay; thank you,” and go right back to work. Your employee likely has no idea what might happen next. Will you counteroffer? What exit interview process might follow? Will they be immediately walked off the premises because they’re going to a competitor? Take the time to talk through the next steps and questions, realising that you may have to admit to not having all the answers and needing time to figure things out. 

In case you hadn’t figured it out from the “don’ts” above, when an employee gives notice, make sure you: 

  1. Acknowledge it. 
  2. Politely ask where they are going (although they may choose to keep this information to themselves).
  3. Congratulate them on the new opportunity. 
  4. Gently express regret that you’re losing a valuable employee. 
  5. Inform them about what the next steps will be (e.g., potential counteroffer, exit interview, how to handle the news with the team, last day policies, etc.). If you don’t know the next steps, say that, find out, and get back to them ASAP. 

Reacting calmly and professionally when an employee resigns will smooth out their experience. If the employee has a positive experience with you on the way out, your other employees will know about it. This will add to your credibility as a leader, and you will hopefully have to have fewer conversations like this in the future! 

What reasons have people given you for choosing to leave in the past? Perhaps more importantly, have you thought about why someone might feel the need to look for something new? While turnover is certainly inevitable, what measures can you put in place to reduce employee attrition? 

Employee retention is a top priority for leaders, business owners, and HR experts alike. In the coming weeks we’ll be sharing best practices, tips and advice around how to successfully keep your employees engaged, inspired and motivated in a post-pandemic workforce despite The Great Resignation in our upcoming eBook The Leaders’ Guide to Employee Retention. Keep an eye out for it! 

In the meantime, hellomonday provides coaching and support to leaders at all levels; prioritising development initiatives that result in long-term sustained learning and change; and reinforcing habits through curated learning and impactful coaching. 

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