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


DATE: 27 August, 2019

A while ago I wrote what proved to be a popular blog post about how to resign with graceBut what about the manager who gets a resignation? How should they behave?

Sad to say, the commercial world is rife with mind-blowing tales of how badly bosses react when an employee resigns.

I wrote before that the way you exit a company defines you in some way and can hurt or help you in the future. The same goes for the receiver of the resignation.

I appreciate better than most that the emotions that flood you when an employee resigns can unexpectedly cloud your judgment. You are angry, feel betrayed, scared of the repercussions perhaps.

But retaining your dignity and acting with grace is the best way.

  1. Keep calm: This is hardest thing to do sometimes, I know. Retain your cool. Avoid saying threatening things. “I will get you for this”. Avoid saying emotive things. “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 face losing a key person. You throw more money at them. There and then. Never a good look. Often regretted. First explore the reasons. Dig and discuss. 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. 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 cool. Be smart. Suppress the emotion and the impulse. Play to the commercial imperative.
  5. Don't be petty: “Well, you can stop using the company car park from today then!” You look like a jerk. Be bigger than that.
  6. Thank them: Yes, I know you are hugely pissed off. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. One door closes, another opens: If I only had a dollar for the times I have felt, and others have told me “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?
  9. Keep the door open: My attitude to this is simple. If the person leaves on a sour note — lies, is destructive, does not stick to their notice obligations, or coasts through that period – they are history to me 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 I 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”. I probably re-hired 25 people over the years. And they just about all worked out, because now they know the grass is not greener on the other side.

The way you handle stressful and challenging situations defines you as a leader. It adds to, or detracts from, your internal credibility too.

I know it's easy for me to give this advice, and in truth, there are many times I have not behaved like this myself. But I learned. I got better. I handled things differently over time.

And I was much happier, and more effective as a leader.