The door is closed to you now! Managing resignation conversations

For many years I have assisted thousands of employees prepare for their resignation. Even when an employee is moving to a new role which represents a great opportunity, the process of resignation from their current employer can be quite daunting. It is for this reason I encourage a resigning employee to focus on what they think will be said, what the reactions of their employer will be, and how they are going to react to the situation. Ensuring that an exiting employee is prepared for the resignation discussion also ensures that the person really wants to resign.

How many hiring managers are prepared for a resignation discussion? The process of resignation usually comes as a surprise. It would be unusual for an exiting employee to issue an Outlook Calendar invite requesting their manager’s availability at 4pm on Friday with a subject line titled “My resignation”. So how do you ensure that your organisation is equipped with the language to manage the resignation process in a professional manner?

Recently I was asked for advice from one of my closest friends who was weighing up the benefits of a career opportunity that had been offered to her. From now on I will refer to my friend as Anne. For many years Anne had enjoyed great success as a sales person within a highly competitive industry. She is well known within this industry and would often be contacted to see if she would be interested in considering a career change. As well as being a successful sales person, she had also completed studies in Marketing. She had previously worked in a marketing role and had made her employer aware that she had a real interest in brand management. In the meantime she continued to succeed as a sales person.

Anne was contacted by a competitor asking if she might be interested in considering a brand management opportunity on what would initially be a 12 month contract. The type of work that was on offer was exactly what Anne was looking for. However she was nervous about leaving a full-time position to take up a contract role. In the end she decided it was a risk worth taking and so the decision was made to resign.

There is no doubt that Anne’s hiring manager would have been disappointed with her resignation. He was losing one of his top sales people. Anne always exceeded her sales quota and was always happy to work weekends when required and long hours day after day. For three years Anne had demonstrated her worth as a high performing employee.

It is important to highlight that Anne wasn’t leaving to take up another sales role. She was leaving because she wanted to utilise her marketing skills and apply these within an industry that she knows. She also wasn’t accepting a permanent role with a competitor but instead was completing a contract that was available due to maternity leave. Unfortunately there was no marketing role available for Anne at her current employer but who knows, there just might be in 12 months’ time when her contract is due to conclude and she has gained 12 months of solid brand management experience.

It can sometimes be hard to think rationally when someone is resigning. Often your first thought might be “how will this resignation impact my own performance”? For example “if they leave can I achieve my sales targets”? So did Anne’s leader react in a manner that would encourage her to return to this organisation?

There may have been many kind words spoken about how important she was to the team and to the business and how much her contribution was admired. However unfortunately Anne only remembered the following:

“Anne you do realise that if you resign the door will be closed to you.”

In subsequent conversations this statement was not repeated. But it didn’t need to be. The damage was already done. Anne would have welcomed the opportunity to return to this company in the future but by being told that the door would be closed to her, she instantly felt disconnected from the organisation.

What has an organisation lost when it fails to part with employees on good terms?

  • Loss of referrals and recommendations of new talent for your company

  • Loss of intellectual property. It is harder to phone a person to ask for their assistance if the relationship is no longer positive

  • Loss of a customer. Your organisation may produce a product and they may be a current or potential customer.

  • Loss of a mentor for one of your current employees.

  • Loss of a goodwill ambassador both within the broader market and also within an organisation that is a potential client for your company.

  • Loss of the opportunity to rehire this person in the future, including their newly developed skills and market insight.

In summary it is important to take the time as a hiring organisation to consider the conversations you will have with exiting employees. Ensure that all members of your team involved in these types of conversations are prepared with the language they need to use and the message they should be conveying.

Keep it positive and remember to think about the value of exiting employees after they have left your organisation.

About the Author:

Geraldine Ellis-Maguire is a corporate alumni strategist who with her company Engaged works with organisations to develop programs that result in organisations realising the ROI of engaging with former employees.

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