There is no longer an expectation of a job for life with the average Briton having six different employers during their career. It can be an upheaval in the largest of organisations, but for an SME, when an employee leaves, it can leave you feeling overwhelmed and concerned with the future of your organisation.

It can be difficult to process and initial reactions often include wondering if you have done something wrong, and can encourage you to doubt your own management style or even business plan.

Our advice for responding to a resignation letter and guiding you through this event:

Accepting a letter of resignation

If your employee decides to leave, you should ensure that their decision is confirmed in writing by preparing an acceptance letter. Once received, you will need to reply to acknowledge and accept the resignation in writing. Our HR Toolkit has a letter of acceptance of resignation that can be used to accept a resignation.

If someone has told their boss they are handing in their notice and leaving, it can be tempting to try and convince them to stay. However, in our experience, once they have made up their mind, it is likely they will still leave and your decision to offer more pay or a promotion will just delay their departure.

Mentally they have left the organisation, and you need to accept that.

Can an employer refuse a resignation?

As an employer, you cannot refuse to accept a resignation and this position is confirmed on GOV.UK.

Responding to a retracted resignation

If an employee changes their mind after submitting their resignation, they may try to retract their resignation. There is no obligation on employers to accept a request to retract resignation, but it would be worthwhile having an honest conversation to gain a better understanding of the circumstances of the request. If the resignation was in haste or based on incorrect assumptions, you may wish to agree that the employee will stay.

Whatever, your decision it is key to ensure that all requests and responses are recorded in writing.

Staying calm and focused

You may be feeling knocked sideways and need to have a minor panic, talk it over with a mentor, or just breathe and take stock. The other person has prepared and is ready for the conversation, and you need to have this discussion equally prepared. Ask them to keep it confidential and arrange to see them once you have gathered your thoughts. This should be as soon as possible – certainly on the same day – but will give you time to prepare.

Be clear that they will be missed but that you wish them well and congratulate them on their new position. Stay professional, positive and encouraging.

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How to notify your team about a resignation

You want to be clear that it is your role to tell the wider team and to avoid gossip and speculation you need to do that as soon as possible. Ensure the senior team are told first, followed by communication through the hierarchy. Your communication plan needs to be relevant and appropriate to each group:

Senior Team – they will be concerned with the impact on the business, and what the contingency is for short term cover initially. There is time to discuss the long-term solution later.

Team – they will be concerned with the impact on their own workload, and maybe even their own job security and role which may need to change as a result. The communication needs to be positive. Involve them in the plan and ask for input.

It is important to take control of arranging a leaving card or whatever is the norm for the organisation to allow the team to see that this is not a disaster.

Notice Period

Ensure that your employment contract has a suitable notice period that meets Statutory requirements and protects you commercially and operationally. You can always agree a shorter period should the business needs allow it, but you need time to process and plan before the star performer departs. If your star performer resigns, is five working days enough time to communicate to the organisation, get work covered and produce a contingency plan?

You may need them there for handover or it may be appropriate to let the employer go on gardening leave to protect confidential information. Whatever your decision it must comply with their contract.

If your employee communicates that they are resigning with immediate effect, they could be in breach of their contract of employment which may bring some consequences. Make enquiries to assess for a risk of constructive dismissal and try to reach a solution that works for both parties. If the employer has breached the contract first, the employee could be entitled to leave without working the contractual amount of notice.

Exit Interview – The Time To Ask Questions

There is a difference between asking what you can offer for them to stay, and discussing what has encouraged them to make this decision. Arranging for an independent member of the human resources team or a manager to conduct exit interviews could gather pros and cons from the employee. Finding out their views on how the team works, how the company operates, what has attracted them to their new role, can all add value to your future plans. A carefully curated set of exit interview questions could help stop losing your next star performer!

Protecting your company’s reputation

Your leaver could continue to be an advocate of the organisation. Being generous and supportive of their new venture will leave them speaking fondly of the organisation. You never know when you will come across them again – they may become a client, or even come back to work for you again.

See The Positive

Now is a great time to review those job descriptions, bring in a short-term consultant, change policies or procedures, review your succession planning.

If you have just had “that” conversation with your star performer and would like support on managing the next steps, we would be happy to help. Our Online HR Toolkit has a wealth of support including recruitment support, exit interview structures and policies. We would love the opportunity to make a difference to your organisation and help you achieve the results you need. Call on 01473 360160 for a chat about how we can support you.