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How to Handle an Unexpected Resignation


How to Handle an Unexpected Resignation

Five things you need to do to when a valued member of your team decides they are leaving.

Imagine arriving at work to find one of your most valuable team members waiting to tell you that they’re leaving. It’s devastating news that you didn’t see coming, but they have a new opportunity and will be gone in less than a month.

Of course, as a good leader you should always be prepared, but if you do find yourself in this situation, these five steps should help you to make the best of it.

1. Be Cool

The true colours of a company – and a leader – are often defined during difficult situations and how you handle an unexpected resignation is definitely one of those.

No matter how you feel inside, remember that this isn’t personal so you must appear cool, calm and collected; even if you’re far from it.

The truth is that people no longer have just one job in their career. In fact, on average, they change employer every three or four years, so if you think someone is really good it’s important to keep a strong relationship with them, as they may decide to come back in the not so distant future.

2. Have an Exit Meeting

If someone is joining a competitor you may be tempted to escort them straight off the premises, but try to resist. Take a deep breath and schedule an exit meeting where you can have an open and honest conversation.

It’s really important that you understand why people want to move on, so you need to prepare for this exchange properly.

Think about who is best to conduct the meeting; this probably isn’t their boss! Make the setting informal and reduce confrontation by pre-planning hypothetical questions like: ‘If you were the managing director, what three things would you change about the company?”

3. Review Your Recruitment Plan

Take some time to reflect on whether your team could operate differently. No one is irreplaceable and resignations give you a rare moment to consider whether your human resources can be restructured in a smarter way.

Depending upon the level of impact a person has on your business, you may be tempted to make a counter-offer to keep them. If they’re the lynch-pin to everything then it might be worthwhile but, more often than not, this is counter-productive in the long-term.

Not only does it send a message to other staff that they can potentially get a better deal if they threaten to resign, usually money isn’t the reason someone is leaving so, unless you’re also willing to also address the real issue, there’s a high chance you’ll be in the same position again very soon.

4. Worry About the Others

Even if they’re not close friends, when a respected member of a team leaves it can be a pivotal moment for their colleagues. The team dynamics change and, even if they’re perfectly happy in their job, this will trigger uncertain thoughts about the future.

Will I be given more work? Is there an opportunity for extra responsibility, promotion or a pay rise? If the person leaving can get a great new job, what could I get? These are all questions that run through people’s minds and, if they’re not dealt with, have the potential to quickly turn a business with no staffing problems into a sinking ship.

5. Communicate Clearly

It’s important that you break the news to the whole team at the same time. If you fail to communicate clearly, or disclose information to people outside your company before your team, it’s an invitation for office gossip, rumours and confusion.

Bringing everyone together means no ambiguity. You can publically thank your employee for their contribution to the business and, at the same time, position the change as a positive opportunity for others.

Whilst a surprise resignation often feels like a disaster, when it’s managed well it’s amazing how many people look back and, with hindsight, see the moment as a catalyst to better things.


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