10 tips on how to handle employee resignations

Last updated:
December 14, 2020
December 22, 2021
min read
Sim Samra
Table of contents

There are two parts to handling employee resignations. The first is the efficient management of the legal paperwork and payments, and of course, transitioning one member of staff out and bringing a suitable replacement into the company.

The second side to handling a resignation is the way you manage those actions. For the sake of your company’s reputation and from what may happen further down the line, it’s an absolute must to keep your head and behave in the most human way possible.

In this article, we’re going to debate why it’s so important to part company with your staff in the most amicable and friendly manner possible.

The practical parts of your HR checklist

We’ve already covered each of the practical stages in our ‘Employee resignation checklist’.

  • Initial discussion
  • Acquiring a formal resignation
  • Working notice
  • Informing other employees
  • Informing clients
  • Collecting company property
  • Withdrawing employee access
  • Administering the paperwork
  • Updating records
  • The exit interview
  • Final pay and payslips

They are the essential stages of parting a company on a practical level. The following are the undertakings you need to manage to make sure you part company on good terms. If you can take care of these, you’ll retain mutual respect and friendship that could benefit you both further down the line.

The healthy handling of an employee resignation

Maintaining healthy relationships is a crucial part of running a business. When it comes to your employees—whether they’re new acquisitions, existing team players, or those leaving the fold—those relationships are some of the most important you’ll have.

Unless the separation has been brought on under duress, or after a disagreement or dispute, then you should do your best to keep things cordial and friendly during the resignation period.

Here’s how:

1. Gather yourself

The first thing to do is to gather your thoughts and feelings.

Emotional hijacking occurs when we act on instinct, and, more often than not, our responses aren’t those we wished we’d made in hindsight. Our emotional brain is far quicker to respond than our problem-solving brain, and we often live to regret those initial reactions.

Take a deep breath, remember how valuable parting on the best terms is, and act accordingly. A few harsh words or ill-thought-through responses can cause way more damage than you need.

2. Don’t pass judgment

It might sting a little to think that you’ve offered an employee a valuable opportunity, and they’ve taken what they want and need, and are moving on without a care for how it affects you.

We’d bet you’re probably wrong about that, though. It’s rarely personal when an employee decides to leave. It could be for a host of reasons: better prospects, a forced move, change in personal circumstances, or your employee needs a new challenge.

Don’t be too quick to judge. And whatever the reason, try and see it from your employee’s point of view. It’ll make it much easier to rationalize your feelings.

3. Turn a negative into a positive

If you can, find out why they’re leaving. It might not be too late to change their mind if that's a possibility.

If you can’t keep them, congratulate them on their new role; show some genuine interest in why they’re excited to be moving on.

If it was something the company or another staff member brought about, this is an opportunity to make sure it doesn’t happen again. You can’t find out if you don’t have that conversation, but remember—it’s a conversation, not an argument. Listen. Don’t judge.

4. You’re human, so you’re allowed to act like one

It’s fine to show a little emotion. Obviously, you’ll start rumors if you break down in tears and beg, but it is okay to let an employee know that you’ll miss them and show them gratitude for everything they’ve done during their time with you.

Honesty and respect are great tools to earn trust and develop bonds. Not only will it make your time left together much easier, ensuring they’ll fulfill their obligations, but they may think of you when opportunities arise in the future.

5. Cut out the gossip

Gossip is ugly, and rumors are dangerous. Make sure you have one set of information and stick to only that. You need to keep your remaining employees informed; be sure to handle all matters professionally and with respect. Keep everyone on the same page without passing judgment or suggestions.

6. Consider how you’re going to tell your team and manage the change

You can set an example to your staff by sharing the news with an appreciation of what the parting member achieved with you and wishing them well. Leading by example sets the manner you expect them to follow.

However, it’s also an opportunity to welcome suggestions on how to improve the role that’s opening up, and who might be the most suitable replacement. Can you find other ways to use this situation to re-evaluate and make improvements?

7. Say goodbye properly

Put some time aside, either at work or in an alternative social setting, to say a proper goodbye and deliver well wishes. Your employee will appreciate the opportunity to have a real chance to say farewell to their colleagues.

This will also become their parting memory. If you make them feel appreciated, respected, and valued, they should return the compliment down the line. You’ll receive respectful reviews, recommendations, and praise for how you treated them.

8. Give them the reference they deserve

When it comes to writing references, it can be easy to let emotions guide our words. You might not openly attack your employee, but even a passive-aggressive reference shows poor form. If they’ve worked hard for you, this is another opportunity to show how grateful you are.

9. Keep the door open

If you haven’t parted on ill terms—if the move was circumstantial rather than emotional—then you shouldn’t write off the idea of them never coming back.

Nobody knows what will happen in the future, and if your employee was a valued member of your team, it doesn’t mean they can’t be again.

10. Have a plan for transitioning employees in and out

You don’t want to suffer the same level of panic each time you lose an employee. If you can organize a system that includes every aspect of transitioning staff into new roles, or in and out of the company, you’ll be better prepared to manage those situations when they arise.

Failing to plan is planning to fail, after all.

Parting doesn’t have to be ‘such sweet sorrow’

A well-constructed and amicable separation can build better future relationships instead of knocking down existing ones. It could open doors that would remain ever closed without maintaining a healthy relationship with your ex-employee.

A little well thought-through human handling will cost you nothing, but the rewards and respect it will bring could prove to be incredibly valuable.

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