Receiving a resignation letter can often feel like a break-up. Consider this hypothetical scenario: You gave the person leaving a chance in your company, despite the fact that he had little experience. Endless coaching and professional development sessions later, and he’s become a groomed leader. You’ve gone through years of high and lows, successes and setbacks, and now he’s leaving you for someone else. Does it sting? Absolutely.
It may sound a tad dramatic, but for any manager who has had their key employees quit, it’s an accurate depiction just how emotional it can be. Shock, anger and hurt can take over your ability to stay calm, causing you to react in a manner you’ll come to regret later. After so many years together, how can you not take it personally?
Considering that 65% of Canadians want to leave their current employer, every manager should know that resignations are inevitable. So before you fly off the handle in a fit of rage, here are a few dos and don’ts that will help you handle it right.
1. Don’t terminate on the spot
The knee-jerk reaction of many bosses when employees give their notice is to order them off the premises immediately. This has everything to do with pride and ego, and little to do with what’s right for the company. Yes, your emotions may be running high, but do everything you can to overcome any initial anger. An immediate termination will upset the work flow, and a sudden reassigning of the departing staffer’s duties to other employees could possibly jeopardize projects or client relationships.
2. Don’t counter-offer
In my experience, if an employee has sat you down and told you they’re leaving, their mind is made up. They are, effectively, already out the door, and it’s very difficult to re-engage people who feel that way. So while it can be tempting to counter-offer in an effort to get them to stay—especially if you learn they’re going to work for a competitor—I find you need to let them go.
3. Don’t initiate silent treatment
Your emotional side may want steer clear of the exiting employee in the lunchroom or look at your phone when you pass them in the hallway. But as a leader, your job is to treat people with respect, no matter what the position or situation. After all, they’ve contributed work to your company—maybe years of it—so be grateful. Make eye contact, say hello and wish them well (even if you don’t quite mean it—yet).
4. Do hold an exit interview
Treat this employee’s departure as a learning opportunity. Hold an exit interview to find out the real reason why they are leaving, ask how you think the company could improve and find out what motivated them to want to quit. Departing employees have nothing to lose in giving very honest feedback, and they might arm you with invaluable information that you can use to prevent other employees from following suit.
5. Do say thank you
When a key colleague leaves, you and your team need closure. Whether it’s a simple cake at the departing employee’s desk or card signed by everyone wishing them well, a public thank-you will only help with office morale. Don’t tarnish your reputation by acting bitter or ignoring the employee’s last day. This sends a bad message to the rest of your team.
6. Do look for a replacement immediately
Whether you hire a recruiting agency or post on a job board, start getting the word out ASAP that you’re looking. Can you promote from within to replace the person? If not, ask your colleagues and staff to circulate the position available. Explore all of your options, and tap into your network to find a replacement.
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If you handle resignations poorly, you’ll always be remembered in that light by the departing individual—and people they share their experiences with. So stay calm, collected,and composed. Employees will always come and go, but that doesn’t mean you should look at them as disposable. Use this time to reflect on what may have happened and how to improve as both a boss and as a company. Then, move on.
Mandy Gilbert is the Founder of the recruitment firm Creative Niche, and Co-Founder of RED Academy, a technology and design school that specializes in preparing professionals for Canada’s in-demand technology roles.
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