The Great Resignation Part III: What to Do When an Employee Quits 

By Sherry M. Adler


For employers, even though valuable resources may be departing, be sure to offer good tidings. Things change in the workplace. Mutual respect should not. 

Employer Alert: What to Do When an Employee Quits 

“I quit” may be the phrase of the year. At the time of this writing, it has been ricocheting at organizations across the country. Forbes calls this job exodus the “Great Resignation.” Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “More people quit their jobs in April 2021 than in any single month in nearly a century. After a challenging and disorienting year, many people are looking for a change.” In terms of numbers, more than 700,000 workers in professional and business services left. And in the hospitality and retail sector, for every 100 workers, about five of them left their job.  

Although this exodus en masse is highly disruptive, the Forbes piece says that “a certain amount of turnover works for companies and their employees.” At any time, one, several, or more employees are bound to leave. If it hasn’t happened already, it will. “For leaders, there are two ways to respond,” this post suggests. “You can become bitter and defensive — many will undoubtedly follow this path — or you can celebrate people holistically, knowing they are better off when they pursue their passions.”  

The first option, which amounts to “outrage,” is, in Forbes’ words, “old-fashioned.” Instead of viewing the situation sourly, reframe the perspective. Be upbeat. There’s a chance now to hire another person who presents a great fit. Gain from the experience and take the high road.  

How should an employer do this?  

  • Be open and receptive to the news. It’s a fait accompli, so accept the resignation calmly. As Yoh advises: “In the end, if you already lost them, there is no need to make a scene out of it. They will probably respect you less if you do that, and losing their respect is not something you want at this point.” Hear what the employee has to say. A friendly, yet measured approach will bolster the departing person’s cooperation. Information from this meeting should help with moving forward.  
  • Speak up and emphasize the positive. Make the discussion with the departing employee pleasant and productive. It doesn’t have to be uptight or devoid of emotion. Cite the person’s strong points and accomplishments. Congratulate. Express your regrets for losing this person and keep the door open to return. Agree to provide references, if asked to do so now or in the future. Then set guidelines. Ask for a formal resignation letter with key dates, if it has not been submitted. Set goals and expectations for the exit process with milestones and touchpoints.     
  • Start your engines. Time is of the essence. You have a lot to do in the days between the employee resigning and walking out the door permanently. Ask the person to put everything he or she does in order before leaving, e.g., meticulous notes about activities, immediate needs that will have to be met in the person’s absence, where critical things are, names and numbers of importance. Ask the said employee to create a binder for this. Contact HR pronto to discuss the plan going forward.  
  • Get the word out. Announce the employee’s departure in official communications. People in the department and those at the organization who come in business contact with that person should hear about it in a timely manner through proper channels. Hold a brief team meeting about this, including potential plans, handoffs, sendoffs, and critical issues to maintain the flow of work. Keep messaging consistent and to the point. Act swiftly before rumors set in. External stakeholders are part of this too; they need to know about this through formal channels.  
  • Celebrate and have a good time. This line from a Kool and the Gang tune is apropos. Plan a send-off for the departing employee. It doesn’t have to be elaborate; small and simple, if done right, accomplishes the purpose. And that is to provide a warm farewell as well as show those on the team this is a fine place to work with a caring culture. Say a few words in the context of the communications that have circulated. Invite participants to do the same and give the floor to the departing employee to say goodbye. This creates a favorable impression all around.  

Tip: Keep a safety plan in place. If you don’t have one already, create a what-if operational backup. This document covers the ramifications of an employee quitting and changes that may have to take place. Basically: How do you pick up the slack? Enumerate the ways. Develop this guide according to job descriptions or whatever way makes most sense. Update it periodically. Include all members of the team (that means you, too). It serves as a template for all sudden departures, no matter how/why they occur, to guard against being blindsided.     

For more information from the employer angle, see: Your Best Employees Will Quit. Here’s What to Do About It and Want a Good Measure of a Company? It’s How They Treat Employees Who Quit. 

For employers, even though valuable resources may be departing, be sure to offer good tidings. Things change in the workplace. Mutual respect should not. 

About the author. 
You name it, she covers it. That’s the can-do attitude Sherry M. Adler brings to the craft of writing. A polished marketing and communications professional, she has a passion for learning and the world at large. She uses it plus the power of words to inform and energize stakeholders of all kinds. And to show how all of this can make a difference, she calls her business WriteResults NY, LLC.