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Nailing Your Response To A Resignation Letter

Thanks to The Great Resignation, there is a lot of movement in the workforce. The likelihood of a leader receiving a resignation letter is higher than most prefer.

How you respond to an employees decision to leave not only determines the relationship between you and the individual, but can also build or damage the remaining team dynamic.

While there are many ways to respond to a resignation letter, the worst response is no response at all. Almost as bad is a tepid or lackluster response.

Some leaders seem to think once a resignation letter is submitted it is in HR’s court - forward email and done.  Even if the employee has been abysmal, this behavior of proverbially washing one’s hands will get around, and star employees will see the disengagement, lose respect, and wonder if they are in the right place.

Here’s a fact: the person on the other end is a live human being with feelings, real-life situations, and ideas on what makes a good working environment for their skill set.

Authentic leaders are engaged throughout an employee’s full tenure - right through to the resignation letter. How do they do that? They have an off-boarding process.

We spend a lot of time getting things going at the beginning through the on-boarding process, but the tail end is often squishy and nebulous.

Authentic leaders construct a clear pathway for an employee’s entire tenure - on-boarding to daily expectations to off-boarding.

If that isn’t your skill set, no worries, because as an authentic leader you have created a team of people whose skills complement your flat sides.

At a minimum, a productive off-boarding plan includes:

  • Your response - Sometimes a resignation letter is something you want and other times it comes unexpectedly out of left field from your star employee. Planning a generic response that you can embellish for each situation takes pressure off of you to not say something you’ll regret in the moment. General phrases like, “I am grateful for your time. Let’s set up a conversation to discuss this decision after I have had time to process it.” Or “It means a lot you for you to share this with me directly. I’d like to talk more on this after I can gather my thoughts.”

  • Next steps - Without clear intentions to create an off-boarding process, it is very easy for the end to go badly. Questions that should be answered include: Who submits what to HR? How is the final check processed? What is being announced to the team? What needs to be collected from the separating employee? What meetings need to occur and with whom to ensure process and responsibility coverage exists? What does the final day look like?

  • Recommendation for replacement - The employee knows their job best. Asking if they have an idea of someone who could successfully step into their role gives valuable insight. It doesn’t mean you’re held to hiring that specific individual, it means you have more input to make a balanced decision.

  • Exit interview - Knowing whether the decision to leave is based on a positive reason (advancement, aligning with career goals, etc.) or negative reason (leaving a toxic environment, not feeling respected, etc.) is gold. The exit interview asks pointed questions that people are more willing to honestly answer when they no longer have skin in the game. Set this up as soon as possible and make a personal commitment to learn and grow from their feedback.

  • Farewell - Saying goodbye to someone who has given of their time and resources is paramount. Never underestimate this. How you publicly say goodbye not only acknowledges the human being who is leaving, but also shows the remaining team members that everyone matters all the time. Even if the relationship between you was strained, the lack of consistency in farewells - for example, going all out for a liked employee and doing less for a disliked employee - demonstrates to your entire team that only favorites are valued. Favoritism never brings positive outcomes. As such, have a standard farewell event that can be flexible to speak to the preferences of the departing employee. Something along the lines of an office potluck that can be given a theme or time of day according to what the employee likes. Oh, and make sure you attend the event. Carving out time for your people at any stage of their tenure cannot be repaid in value.


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