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How You Should Treat Resigning Employees

I am passionate about helping business leaders be successful and we all know that people are the biggest factor in making that happen. For that reason, our team often talks about the best-case scenarios regarding employee engagement and retention. Those topics are incredibly important, but I also want to offer that I have learned that retention is not the end-all, be-all of success.

What Could Be More Important than Retention?

Could there be something more important than retaining your top employees? You may question why I don’t put a paramount value on something I promote as being so critical as retention. What I have found over my years as an employer and talent advisor is what you ultimately want is what is best for your employees and that may not always be found in your organization.

I remember vividly, a conversation I had with a client, James, 3 years ago.  He and I did a little dreaming about what companies would look like if they put as much emphasis on helping their employees be ambassadors as they do on retention. James and I firmly believe that creating brand ambassadors is an even greater marker of success than purely talent retention. Having people who love your brand and want to promote it, is a success that pays significant dividends. Building brand ambassadors is what employers should focus on.

Care is the Critical Ingredient

For the first decade of my career, I got to see how my father led and supported the employees who reported to him. I saw first-hand how he supported them to the nth degree. Then in the 2nd decade of my career, I have had the opportunity to put that same care into practice, whether an employee stays long-term or decides they need to move on. The key to managing all departing employees – whether it was their choice or yours, is to be there for them.

During any transition out of your company, it should be clear that you want the best for that individual; help them and care for them through the transition. It is my belief that the level of importance that you put on retaining your employees should equal your support of your employees in their professional and personal growth, which may take them to a new organization.

The Sense of Failure at Receiving a Resignation

As a business leader, I can take it very personally when someone is either 1) not succeeding in their role or 2) has notified me that they are leaving.  I feel like I’ve failed.  I want to know what I did to cause this.  During these times it is good to remember that there are times in everyone’s life where change is good. And that change may come in the form of a job change.

Employers who care deeply about their employees must understand that growth happens, and new opportunities come calling – sometimes quite literally.

When an employee is leaving, you choose how you respond.  From my personal experience, when an employee has come to me and said, “I believe it is time for me to take the next step in my career,” I have found it to be very healthy to start asking questions.  This approach helps me see the good in what I initially perceive as bad, sometimes hurtful, news.

Questions to Ask a Resigning Employee

Here are some questions I ask to better understand why a person thinks they would be more successful somewhere other than their current company.

  • What led you to this decision?
  • What has changed in your life?
  • Is there anything we could do to have you change your mind?
  • Is there anything I could have done differently to make this company a better long-term choice for you?

Driving Factor for Resignations During the Great Resignation (Great Realization)

What we’ve found, with our own company and the clients we serve, especially during the Great Resignation, is that employees are making professional decisions to support their personal lives.  It is very possible that employees are making decisions based strictly on their personal lives and it isn’t a reflection of their experience at work. After I receive a resignation and after having a moment to process (or a few days!), I recognize that I’ve developed the environment I had hoped, where my employees are doing what is best for them and their families.

Also, as a helpful best practice, you need to develop a communication plan so that the news is rolled out in a healthy way.  Sometimes that communication plan should include a time for the departing employee to share their future plans with their peers and provide the personal reasons for this move.

How About You?

It’s never easy to accept the exit of a key employee. There are times you feel like a failure when this happens. Has this happened to you? How did you respond?

Has your response to a resignation notice changed at any point in time during your career?

It is also essential to remember that your employee’s exit experience is critical to the likelihood of them continuing to be a brand ambassador. Your response could determine the next chapter of your company’s success. The parting of ways does not mean the relationship ends.

I’ve been privileged to have ongoing relationships with practically all departing employees of my companies. In some instances, we’ve brought past employees into a project on a short-term basis because they had the capacity, and we were in need of their skills.  Those mutually beneficial relationships are built on a foundation of care and looking out for one another’s best interest. It’s what the best corporate cultures are made of and what success looks like.

So, when a key employee lets you know that they are resigning, and you’ve asked the necessary questions to find out why, do everything you can to send them off with a great parting experience.  Reiterate your desire to see them succeed professionally and personally and support them in their journey towards that end.  Even though you haven’t retained them, you have continued to develop a brand ambassador who will boost your brand in the marketplace. Not only that, you have maintained a valuable, personal relationship.