7 Ways to Respond When an Employee Quits

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Employers often must deal with turnover and resignations of their best people. When an employee quits, there are many right and wrong ways to respond. Here are 7 critical questions to ask to guide your responses and actions when an employee says “I quit.”

1. Do you value the employee?

When an employee approaches you about their transition, how you respond to the employee depends on how much you value them. If you value the employee, you have two options: do everything you can to keep them at your organization or accept the resignation and show gratitude for their contributions. The option you choose will likely depend on the reason for the resignation and your relationship with the employee.

As an employer, you have an obligation to help address any issue that is preventing you from retaining a top performer. Sometimes these issues are personal and beyond your ability to impact, but many other times there will be something you can adjust in the workplace. This, however, should ideally be done before the employee approaches you with their resignation, because by that time they have likely already made a firm decision.

If you don’t value the employee, accept the resignation without negative commentary, request it in writing, and quickly coordinate logistics for their transition (final paycheck, etc.). Keep your dialogue with the employee limited, professional, and operational in nature.

2. Do you want their feedback?

While most employers conduct exit interviews or surveys to gather feedback from exiting employees, not all organizations consider whether they actually want the feedback of these employees. In fact, it’s not uncommon for employers to mandate exit interviews. Let’s face it though, not all employees’ opinions should be counted equally, especially if they are poor performers. You could find yourself implementing changes to feedback that are simply unproductive complaints.

Be sure that the employees’ opinions and suggestions are worthwhile before you spend time and resources on gathering their feedback in the first place. Top performers, new-hires, and highly tenured employees are all those whom you will likely want to solicit feedback. Their ideas and opinions are often helpful in making changes to workplace and on-boarding programs.

3. Do you have a replacement?

Do you have a replacement who is currently employed at the organization? An employee can quit, leave, or get “hit by a truck” at any time. Knowing this, good managers always make sure that they have a replacement for themselves and for the members of their team, in the event of an emergency. They ensure that someone is cross-trained in the role and can step to the plate if needed. As employers and managers, you should always be asking yourselves: “What if xxxx leaves?” to better your business and minimize risk. Otherwise, you’ll be scrambling to figure out how to fill your or their shoes, and this lack of planning can potentially disrupt your business.

4. How will you retain their knowledge?

Many employees carry a great deal of knowledge, talent, and expertise that is sometimes difficult to train or hire, especially those with significant tenures or unique skills. Increasingly, organizations are focusing on knowledge-sharing practices to cope with this issue before they encounter significant talent losses. The bad news is that it might be too late to retain the knowledge of your key employee if you haven’t already implemented knowledge-sharing practices. These practices could include succession planning, mentoring, knowledge management systems, and procedural/workflow documents which capture their knowledge before it’s lost.

5. How will you notify others?

A best practice when notifying others about a resignation is to start the communication process intimately, with the employee’s managers/supervisors, then with the employee’s team or department, and finally the entire organization. Alert staff of the transition, the timeline until his/her departure, and plan for replacing the employee.

If you want the employee to leave immediately or don’t trust them to work productively until their last day, it’s best to send an immediate written notification to your employees and not use this tiered communication approach. Keep the communication general and let employees know that their coworker has moved on to other career opportunities.

6. How will you respond in their remaining days?

If the employee is going to continue to work through their last day, your organization will need to decide how to deal with their existing assignments and project load, and transition their customer relationships. You’ll need to determine which projects the employee will finish, and which ones will be directed to other employees or put on hold.

In addition to responding to work issues, you’ll also need to determine how you will respond to the departure. It’s best to remain positive about the employee’s new opportunity and wish them success, even though you may be upset with the decision.  Also, decide if or how your organization will wish the employee good luck in their new endeavors, perhaps through a social gathering. Oftentimes, coworkers appreciate a formal opportunity to “send off” the former employee. This, however, isn’t always appropriate.

7. Do you want to keep the door open for a future relationship?

When an employee leaves, you can choose to close the door on the relationship or maintain it. Increasingly, employers are keeping the door open and maintaining relationships with employees who have left their organizations. Social networking tools, in particular, provide an opportunity for them to do this easily. This helps organizations continue a positive relationship with their previous employees which can benefit their recruitment efforts. For example, previous employees can serve as excellent referral sources, and some employers use their “alumni” as a network to attract applicants. These organizations recognize that former employees will be asked about their past employment, potentially by their job candidates, and their honest responses can help (or hurt) their organization’s hiring efforts and reputation.

Another way that organizations keep the door open is by having re-hire policies, which allow the former employee to be considered for employment opportunities in the future. Oftentimes, the employee may end up being even more valuable once they have developed more industry experience and skills, which can benefit your organization.

Inevitably, a talented employee will choose to leave your organization at one time or another, and how you prepare for this departure ahead of time and respond as an employer and manager can make a difference during their transition. Streamlining your exit strategies, creating a good exit interview, developing standard communication practices, implementing knowledge sharing, preparing possible replacements, and maintaining positive relationships with your “alumni” are all ways that you can effectively respond to unavoidable resignations.

Additional Resources

Supervisory SeriesIn the series, participants will gain an understanding of their role as a supervisor as well as employment law as it relates to common supervisory issues. They will also learn how to apply basic managerial and interpersonal skills including dealing with the everyday challenges of being a supervisor, communicating effectively with others, resolving workplace conflict, managing performance, and coaching.

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