“Could I have a word?”

It’s amazing the connotations that such a short and innocuous phrase can have, but many managers will know all too well that when an employee asks to have a word, trouble could be brewing. Among the more serious outcomes of the ‘chat’ that follows is being told that you’re losing a team member imminently.

Employee resignations happen... a lot.

You may have dealt with dozens of resignations in the past or you might be at a small start-up where no one has yet left. Either way, you need to be prepared to handle it in the best way possible. After all, 31% of employees voluntarily leave a job within their first six months there. If you’ve passed that half-year milestone without anyone jumping ship, don’t assume you’ve bucked the trend just yet, because one in two employees are planning on staying with their current company for less than two years.

Employee turnover is a fact of business - whatever industry you’re in, you will have to face it at some point. While retail and wholesale traditionally have the highest resignation rates, churn is inevitable in every sector, as the reasons behind resignations are numerous and varied. So how do you deal with a situation that can have so many factors behind it? We’ve broken down our failsafe method to handle resignations, and even take positives from them - you can’t go far wrong with these tips for every situation.

Offer what you can, but no more

If you want to try and keep the employee and that's a possibility (i.e. they're not moving away or changing roles) then think carefully about what you can offer them as an incentive to stay. If you need to take time to confirm this, make sure you do because an employee is relying on you to make an offer you can honour. Making promises you can't keep and stopping them from taking another opportunity will almost certainly result in bad feelings and poor productivity from the employee. Should making a counter offer not be an option, that's fine, and both you and the employee will have to accept that this is the end of the road for your working relationship.

Accept their decision and remain positive

The first point is a behavioural one, and it relies on your having the presence of mind to remain calm and composed when you hear of someone’s intent to leave. The majority of the time, they will already have another job in place, or in mind, and if their head has been turned, there usually isn’t much that can persuade them to stay.

Whatever the circumstances of their departure, remain positive about them throughout the process. Avoid berating them for leaving or telling them ‘good riddance’—you never know who might return as a customer or partner in the future. Don’t argue that they ‘can’t leave’ or ‘are better here’, but instead confirm you’re taking them seriously and move the discussion onto what needs to be done.

Know where you both stand

There are certain procedures to follow when an employee resigns. The better prepared you are to deal with and sort out these essentials, the smoother the process will be. While there are plenty of good checklists for all the admin required for resignations, the key things to determine, as soon as an employee tells you of their intention to leave, are when they intend to leave the company, whether you want them to work their notice period, and how the two of you will announce their leaving.

Decide on a plan

While sudden resignations, especially of valued employees, can take managers by surprise, in most cases you will have time to work through a handover period and minimise the impact of their departure. Your thoughts may jump to ‘how will we cover their work?’ and ‘I have no time to find a replacement’ but be sure to stay calm and get the basics right knowing there’s time to put a transition plan in place.

Learn lessons, and improve

While it’s easy to jump to conclusions and assume an employee is leaving because they think you’re a horrible boss, that’s rarely the case. Arrange for an exit interview and aim to gain as much insight as possible into why they’re leaving. Are you not offering a competitive enough deal compared to your competitors? Are opportunities for growth limited by your structure? Find out as much as you can so you can make improvements, big and small.

While there are a host of reasons that your company can look to work on, there are also plenty that may be out of your control. If someone needs to move closer to their family, or is pursuing a different passion in their life, it’s unlikely to be your fault, and all you can do is wish them the best.

A resignation is an opportunity

Consider their resignation an opportunity. This could be a chance to restructure, or promote promising talent into a higher role. Every cloud has a silver lining and, by following these tips, you can ensure you handle resignations as smoothly as possible and take positives from every situation.

About the author

Jake Waller is a wordsmith who plies his trade here at Findmyshift. He uses his background in engineering to simplify complex topics for a variety of tech firms. When not writing for Findmyshift he blogs under a pseudonym at My Name is Skylance and has a passion for creative writing and editing, about which he's always talking on Twitter.