5 Steps to Take When an Employee Resigns

Jul 16, 2013
4 Min Read

A reader asks:

What are the things I should do or think about when an employee resigns? In the past, I’ve generally been caught off guard and I’ve not always handled it as smoothly as I suspect I should, and I haven’t always known how to make the best use of their remaining time. Is there a protocol for what to do when someone gives notice?

You’re not alone in not being prepared for employee resignations! Most managers are caught off guard by them, but there are a few simple principles to remember to make them go more smoothly.

1. Take the news well. You might be panicking inside about how you’re going to deal with the vacancy, as well as finding a replacement and getting that person up to speed, but you should not take this panic out on the employee. Getting angry or guilt-tripping her about their resignation isn’t appropriate or professional. Instead, congratulate her on her new position and tell her that she’ll be missed. And remember, your other employees will hear about how you treat people who resign, and will take their cues accordingly.

2. Don’t make a counter-offer. Managers often make countoffers in a moment of panic (“We can’t lose Jane right now! We have that big project coming up!”), but they rarely work out well in the long-term. Your employee has decided to leave. If you try to lure her back with more money, you’re generally just retaining a dissatisfied employee, and kicking the problem down the road. Resist the urge.

3. Discuss logistics right away. Find out when her last day will be, what she thinks she can accomplish between now and then, and when and how she’d like to announce her leaving to the staff. That last one is important. If your employee is handling her resignation professionally and pleasantly – as most people do – you should leave it up to her to tell her colleagues (although make sure that happens soon, so that you can move forward with transition planning). On the other hand, if she seems bitter or unhappy, you might choose to manage that announcement yourself so that you have some control over the tone.

4. Create a transition plan. Sit down with your employee and make a list of everything she’s currently working on, including key client relationships. From there, figure out (a) what she should finish up before she leaves and (b) how you will handle those responsibilities before a replacement is hired. For the former, make sure that your staff member has a clear and specific to-do list … which should also include plans for transferring key knowledge and contacts before she goes, as well as how to alert outside contacts of her departure so that they aren’t surprised when an email to her bounces back one day.

But don’t check out once that plan is created. You’ll want to check in on her progress during her remaining weeks – don’t just trust that everything on that plan is getting done or you risk finding out on her last day that things aren’t being left in the shape you’d assumed.

5. Think about what you need in a replacement, and begin recruiting. Don’t just automatically post the same job description that you used last time. Take this opportunity to think about what you really need in the role and how it might have changed over time. Make sure that you’re hiring for what you need today, not what you needed when that dusty job description was first written. Once you’re clear on that, swing into recruiting mode immediately – hiring well takes time, and generally the sooner you start, the better.

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