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letter of resignation

Your employee resigns – What you say and do next is important


LAST UPDATED: June 22, 2023

The way you exit a company can hurt or help you in the future, but the same goes for the receiver of the resignation.

When an employee unexpectedly resigns it is very easy to react emotionally. But staying calm will help you deal with it professionally, leaving the employee with a positive impression of both the company and you as a manager.

Here is our advice on how to manage that process:

  1. Keep calm: This is sometime the hardest thing to do, but retain your cool. Avoid saying threatening or emotive things such as “After all I have done for you, you repay me with this?” You look foolish at best, and you inevitably inflame the situation. Mostly, if you behave like this it gives the departing employee all the ammunition they need to neglect their remaining obligations to you and the company. So, you lose.
  2. Understand the reasons: This is hard. The employee has prepared their ‘spiel', they have finessed how they portray the reasons. Often it's designed to diffuse the situation, and is not the real reason at all. Sometimes it's an outright lie. You need to dig and explore, calmly and rationally, why this person wants to leave. Maybe the situation can be saved, if that is what you want. Maybe you can learn something about your own business that could save future resignations.
  3. Don't make an impulsive counter-offer: You throw more money at them, there and then. Never a good look and often regretted. It's best to first explore the reasons for them leaving. A restructured package or evolved role may be an answer. But that comes later, in another discussion, if at all.
  4. Don't boot them out the door: This happens all the time and it makes no sense. If the person is going to take data or secure relationships for their future job, trust me, they have done that already! The damage is already done, so now you need to act in your best interests. And your best interest may be to keep them right where they are while you put a few things in place to mitigate the damage. It might be just for a week, or a few days. But don't kick them out the door in a knee-jerk display of pique. Be smart and play to the commercial imperative.
  5. Thank them: You may be disappointed or angry, but this person worked for you. And if they are still there, we presume you valued their input. Thank them. It can do no harm, and usually helps a lot.
  6. Pay them what they are owed: Your choice, but shortchanging someone at this point inevitably leads to bitterness and often costly repercussions. And your remaining staff will hear of it and your reputation will be damaged.
  7. Look for opportunities: How many times have we heard “We were devastated when she resigned, but in fact it's been for the best. We never realised how destructive she was in the team, and things are much better now and other people have stepped up…” A resignation may be a negative, but it's also an opportunity. Look for that opportunity. Who can you promote? What team structure can you now change for the better?
  8. Keep the door open: If the person leaves on a sour note – lies, is destructive, does not stick to their notice obligations, or coasts through that period – then they are history as far as future employment goes. If, on the other hand they resign for sound reasons of their own, give appropriate notice, help with handover, maintain the right attitude, the last thing you could say to them is this. “I wish you well, and if the circumstances are right for both of us, the door may well be open here in the future”. Who knows, you could end up re-hiring them in a few years time, not only getting a great employee back, but also one who has picked up new skills in the meantime. 

If you're looking for more advice and tips on sourcing, building or retaining a strong team, download our free whitepaper