Handling an Employee Resignation

resignation, employee retention, turnover

As the founder of Proven, a small business job board, I’ve fortunately not had to deal with too many employee resignations and none of them have been particularly sour departures, but it is an inevitable consequence of being a manager and business owner.

It’s easy to have an emotional reaction and feelings of rejection when someone tells you they no longer want to work for you.

How should you react? How do you inform your team about the departure and what steps should you take to make sure things transition as smoothly as possible?

These are all questions that you as a manager should know the answer to.

In this article, I am going to cover the answers to these questions and more so you will be prepared the next time someone hands in their letter of resignation.

Know the Protocol

If you are a manager for a large company with a dedicated HR department, you likely have a protocol for handling these situations already in place.

Some companies, it’s simple, the resigning employee is paid for two weeks but asked to leave immediately. Others, there could be more of a transition period required.

Whatever the case, you should know what the expectation is.

Take the High Road

Regardless of what you are feeling, avoid an emotional reaction. You need to handle this like a professional.

In our modern world, employees come and go, sometimes they just get a better opportunity, something that’s a better fit, or maybe they have something personal going on. It’s important to understand this and do not take this as a personal attack.

Even if your relationship with this particular employee has been strained at times, take the high road, listen to them, and thank them for their time.

Understand the Situation

It’s important to take some time to gauge and understand the situation. Try to find out why the employee is resigning and how they feel about the transition period. You need to understand this so you can come up with a proper transition plan.

You don’t want the employee leaving with knowledge that they only have access to. You also don’t want them hanging around for several weeks if they are completely unengaged and just taking up space.

My personal philosophy has always been to transition the employee as quickly as possible. I know that I am going to either replace them or reassign their duties, so it’s better to bite the bullet now and move that along as quickly as possible rather than drag out a broken relationship.

Communicate to the Team

You will need to let other members of your team know that someone is leaving. I prefer to do this one-on-one and have it come from me, but some people may like to give the departing employee a chance to tell everyone.

Be open and honest, do not speak ill of the person departing, and communicate how you are thinking about replacing or redistributing their responsibilities.

Transfer Knowledge

This is probably the most critical step in the process.

You do not want your employee leaving without knowing what they know. Do they have access to certain software logins that only they know? Are they the point person for certain clients? Are they the only person at your business that understands a certain critical product or feature?

You need to know this or figure it out.

If possible, work with the departing employee to come up with a to-do list for transferring their knowledge. Talk to your other team members about what critical responsibilities the resigning employee has.

This will help you make sure everything gets covered.

Hiring Plan or Duty Distribution

At this point, you need to figure out whether you need to replace the departing employee or redistribute their responsibilities.

If it’s critical to replace them, you need to update that job description and head over to your favorite job board and start interviewing as quickly as possible. You can get the help of your existing employees with coming up with a list of requirements for the job.

Another option is to redistribute their responsibilities to your team. You may need to cut back on some of the things they were doing. It’s important to work with your existing team members and get their buy in here. If they are on board, you might be able to get away with not hiring a replacement.

Wish Them Well

A departing employee is just an unfortunate part of doing business. Regardless of the nature of the departure, try to have them leave on good terms. If appropriate, offer to be a reference.  

You never know when you might cross paths again, it’s not worth burning a bridge, even if the transition period for their departure was a little rocky.


Losing a great employee can be really tough, but it is inevitable with any business. Have some kind of plan in place so you know what steps to take. Try to be happy for the departing employee, and always take the high road.

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Sean Falconer

Sean Falconer is Founder and CTO of Proven. He is a proud Canadian and reformed academic. He is passionate about making hiring for small businesses simple, streamline and frictionless.

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