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The Humans First Approach to Handling Resignation

Updated: Aug 8, 2022

How to treat great employees when they give their notice

I know, I know. It can be a shock when a great employee gives their resignation. I remember my first time getting on a 1:1 with one of my direct reports just for them to hijack the meeting and drop the news. I think as humans, we immediately want to hear them out and then get them out to protect the organization. After all, there is a little bit of "defensive" angst that comes with this scenario.


Sadly, I was recently at an organization that did not handle resignations well. Actually, it is the reason for writing this blog. There were a few major issues:


First, they took it personally. When we take something like someone wanting to leave personally, we miss a lot of GREAT information. For starters, we can hear their reason for leaving, but we cannot comprehend. Therefore we have no action for change.


Next, leaders forgot about all the other people that still work there. How leadership takes action (every, single step) is closely watched by employees. Employee resiliency is linked to how resignations are handled and physiological safety is at risk. At the basic level - these are people watching how you, the leader, treat other people. And in the case of great people leaving, well, they will judge you for not treating them right and they will never forget it.


The last thing this company did is destroy the value of relationships. I mean, we all have seen those movies as kids where there is a cool kids group. A lot of times, when someone resigns, there is this innate reaction to ice out that person (a.k.a. you are immediately removed from the cool kids group). What does this do to the person resigning? Makes them lose respect for you and the organization. And I am positive there is a terrible Glassdoor review in store. It also makes the employee that was once "great" in your eyes feel like they did something wrong. To the others? Well, that is one way why employees move to the the disengaged side - why would they want to work hard for leaders that are treating people so poorly?


That got me thinking: This is not the first organization to do this to people. So here's the thing: Leaders - you need to change your mindset when folks resign.


putting personal behind you


An employee resignation will always causes some disruption in the workflow, however, if the employee resigning is valued, they can do a lot to make the transition successful. This assumes that you have assessed that the individual will remain a positive contributor until their final day. The majority of employees who leave a job want to leave you with a positive experience of their leaving for their future success.

"Remember, these are HUMANS that have done great work for your organization. Treat them with respect until their last minute with you.”

The most important thing that you can do is not take this personally. This is business. Be happy for them, share with everyone else how excited you are, and definitely partner with them for the best transition possible for both your business and your employees.


You have now several weeks to allow them to wrap up loose ends, provide details about ongoing projects, and email friends and coworkers about their leaving. Additionally, if the employee resigning has customer contact responsibilities, they can provide an introduction to the person who will pick up their responsibilities.


And make sure you take the time to create a company culture where leaving is ok, especially for new opportunities. Leadership should be reaching out, checking in and congratulating. A "going away" party or virtual call is always a fun way to show this employee that you valued their work with you.


stop, drop, and learn something


We can learn so much from resignations because a lot of times (9 out of 10 to be exact) these employees have both positive and negative feedback for you. It always shocks me how few organizations conduct an exit interview of any kind. It can be as simple as a survey. Regardless, it is really important to log feedback somewhere and for leadership to analyze for trends that they can improve on.


Think about it: You all LOVE customer feedback. Think of how many times customer feedback has lead to changing your product for the better? Well, same thing here. If you are not taking it personal then you will consider this feedback to be priceless.


steps for a great employee send-off


I mentioned this is my intro BUT, the way that you treat folks leaving has more of an impact on your current employees than anyone. They are watching closely.

It's time to change the way we treat people when they decide to take a different path that our organization is not a part of.

If you are looking for the cliff's notes version of this blog, here you go. Below summarizes my favorite approach to handling resignations:

  1. When your employee drops the resignation bomb, just listen. Now's the time to turn your ears on, and LISTEN. Likely you are taken back so this is not the time to ask for feedback.

  2. Respect their notice and use it to rally a great transition for the team. I would say it is 50/50 at this point, companies cutting an employee's notice short. This brings in so much pressure for your team - and can cause a shift to the "actively disengaged" side.

  3. Make a transition plan - and partner up your employee leaving with one that will be the "keeper of the knowledge transfer." One thing I do not love is seeing employees get treated like they are invisible just because they are embarking on another journey. Keeping the team engaged is key. So partnering them up with a buddy is a great way to stay connected and get all of the information needed to continue the journey without them.

  4. Collect feedback - yes, the exit interview. Ideally, an unbiased party like an HR rep should conduct a thorough exit interview to document feedback. I also say creating a survey and letting folks write down their responses is effective as well. Then their manager should definitely reach out to follow-up.

  5. Make their last week special. Add a team "sending off" meeting to the calendar, send them a card from the organization, remind them you are always here for a reference or LinkedIn recommendation - BE HUMAN! Thank them for all their contributions and make it a celebration vs a funeral.

So - the mission, if you choose to accept it, is to make your next resignation a great one for your company, the employee leaving but more importantly, all those wonderful people still working for you.


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