Hey, Bosses: When an Employee Resigns, Be Nice

The way you respond to a resignation can have lasting consequences on your professional life.

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Suzanne Lucas
I know that the number one reason people leave a job is because they have a problem with their manager. Managers know this too, and as a result some of them take a resignation personally. They shouldn't.

But, wait! Didn't I just say that people quit because of their managers? So, shouldn't managers take it personally?

[See why management is so hard.]

Even if an employee leaves because you're a world-class jerk, the way you respond to a resignation can have lasting consequences for your professional life.

First of all, we tell employees when they resign, "Don't burn bridges! Give adequate notice. Work up until the end. Keep up the terms of any non-compete agreement you may have." The same goes for managers. You may think, "Hey, this person worked for me, therefore I will never need him again. Plus, he's leaving me short-handed at a critical time. Therefore, I can trash his reputation."

[See what to do when a dream job isn't.]

You may not think so, but how you treat your resigning employees has a profound impact on your remaining employees. They see how you treated Jim, and if it's not nicely, that's another black mark against you.

I once got a call from a very upset manager. His anger was directed towards an employee who was leaving to work for a competitor: "He told me on Friday that that was his last day! He starts the new job on Monday." I'm still not sure what the guy wanted me to do about it, but sometimes it's just best to let people vent, so I let him vent. This employee was not considerate, he told me. Doesn't he know that responsible people give two weeks notice? He was ready to destroy this man's reputation, as quickly as possible.

[See why the dress code fight isn't worth it.]

Then I asked a question: "What's your normal procedure when someone gives two weeks notice?"

"Well, if they are going to a competitor, I terminate them immediately!" he said. "I can't have someone working for me who is going to a competitor, can I?"

I politely (I hope!) pointed out that by immediately terminating other employees as soon as they gave notice, this particular employee just decided to save himself from two weeks of unemployment. The manager still thought it was extremely rude of this employee not to give notice, but admitted he would have immediately terminated the employee if he had.

I can guarantee that bad management was a big factor in that particular employee's decision to seek new employment.

Gracious acceptance of a resignation is especially important if the departure is simply from your department—an internal transfer. If you're angry and you try to denigrate your former employee, it will come back to bite you. If your employee really is awful, the new manager will find out soon enough (and, by the way, will wonder why you didn't fix or fire the employee yourself—but that is another topic). If the employee is truly stellar, you'll be the one people don't trust. It will impede your ability to recruit new talent—internally and externally.

And, finally, don't think for a minute that just because you supervise someone today you won't find yourself on the other side of the desk in a job interview. Some people climb the corporate ladder pretty fast. And some people get laid off and have to take lower-level jobs. Even if your former underling isn't a future hiring manager, he once worked for you so he'll be asked what he knows about you. When he says, "He was an OK boss, but when I resigned he went nutso on me," it will pretty much guarantee your resume's trip to the trash.

So, when someone resigns, accept it graciously. It'll be better for you in the long run.

Suzanne Lucas has nine years of human resources experience, most of which have been in a Fortune 500-company setting. She holds a Professional in Human Resources Certificate from the Society for Human Resource Management. She blogs at Evil HR Lady.