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Exactly what to do when a team member quits

It’s inevitable, so here’s how to handle a resignation with grace and support.

Exactly what to do when a team member quits
[Photo:Paweł Czerwiński/unsplash]

It’s every manager’s nightmare. The day someone you’ve been investing in, mentoring, and coaching decides to fly the coop for greener pastures.

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We know it is inevitable. As our team members grow in their careers, they may branch out beyond what is available to them in their current role or company. Sometimes, what they are looking for next isn’t something we can offer. Such moves are also part of a larger trend: people switch jobs more frequently than ever now.

So when someone shares news of their resignation, here’s how to handle it with grace and support so they leave with a great lasting impression of you and the organization.

Be supportive

Congratulate them on their new gig and new opportunity. They’ve worked hard to reach this point. Even if you wish they were staying, honor that they’ve accomplished something great in their career, with you by their side. Now it’s time to let the bird fly.

Thank them

Remember all the things they’ve contributed to your company. Highlight the qualities you admire in them. Thank them for their time on your team, and if it’s true, let them know you’ve enjoyed working with them.

Be curious

Now that you have made clear that you are supportive and grateful, it’s safe to get curious about what they’re excited about taking on next. This is also a good time to ask for input on what wasn’t working well in their current role.

Keep in mind that they may not be ready to share any feedback with you at the moment, but opening the door to get their opinion before they leave can help both you and your team in the long run. Ideally, they are open to sharing with you, but don’t be surprised if nothing concrete comes out of it. Many departing employees are reluctant to share any negative feedback on their way out for fear of burning bridges. If that’s the case, look for what drew them to their new role, so you can assess whether that’s something you could have offered but failed to, or not.

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Gauge their interest in staying

Sometimes an employee is dissatisfied but not actually ready to leave. They may want to stay but fear the opportunities they are looking for don’t exist on your team. Other times they are hoping for a salary increase and see a job offer as a negotiation tactic. Make sure you understand if they truly want to leave, or if there’s room to explore changes in team, role, or pay that might change their mind. Are they open to staying? Is there more pay or a different opportunity within the team that might meet their’s and your needs? A change in geography? If they’re open to it, continue the conversation.

Honor their ultimate decision

Whether they renege on the offer they’d taken or stay committed to leaving the company, honor their decision and assume it’s the right path for them. If they’re going, plan a farewell gathering to thank this person for their hard work.

Remain available to them for the remainder of their time at the company

Don’t cancel one-on-one meetings just because they’re leaving. You want to remain supportive for as long as they are part of your team. This is a sign of respect and the right thing to do. In our increasingly networked professional circles, it’s also the smart thing to do. You never know: they could be your boss someday.

Don’t be hard on yourself

Remember that when someone leaves, it doesn’t always mean we’ve done a bad job (though definitely poke into what’s causing their departure). Sometimes it can mean we’ve done a great job in preparing them for what’s next, and they’re ready for bigger and better opportunities thanks to you that may not be available to them in your current company. If their needs could have been met on your team, take this as a learning opportunity. Think about how you can better support your existing team and how you’ll set the next person in this role up for success. And then, it’s time to move on.

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About the author

Ximena Vengoechea is a design researcher, writer, and illustrator whose work on personal and professional development has been published in Inc., Newsweek, and HuffPost. She currently manages a team of researchers at Pinterest, in addition to leading a company-wide mentorship program

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