How to respond when a great employee says they’re leaving

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When a talented employee announces their resignation, it’s a dreadful moment. As with most difficult situations as a manager, how you handle the resignation will affect more than just you. How you respond will influence whether the person’s departure becomes a typical bump in the road or the inflection point to a downward trend for your team.

The first thing you should do is take some time to process any negative emotions you feel, such as frustration or disappointment. These kinds of feelings are normal, but they won’t help you address the situation productively. Once you’ve reflected on your own reaction, you can work through minimising the damage of a well-liked team member resigning.

greatempleaving | Teamrecruit

Once you’ve reflected, focus on celebrating the employee’s accomplishments and gathering their honest feedback about the team. Set an example by expressing genuine support for their decision to leave; you may want to throw a goodbye party or a similar event to wish them well. And then make sure you conduct an exit interview, even if HR will do one too. Ask the person to be honest with you as part of the legacy they can leave in making you and the team better in the future. Prepare your questions carefully and get ready to take the lumps.

Ask for the person’s advice on retaining other employees and improving the experience of working for you. By being willing to hear uncomfortable truths, you’ll show the person that you respect the experience and knowledge they gained during their time there.

After the discussion, your head will be full of powerful, sometimes conflicting thoughts and feelings. Give yourself a night to sleep on it and then start the process of putting your insights into action. As you listen to your team’s responses, go beneath the facts and information they’re sharing with you and watch and listen for what they are feeling and what they value.

Through all these conversations, try to discern whether one great person resigning was a single point or the start of a pattern. Be open about what you can do differently and advocate for the changes from other stakeholders that will make your team a better one to work with.

The insights you glean from conducting your own exit interview and testing your hypotheses will be valuable, but don’t lose sight of the most important ways that you contribute to the morale of your team — by positioning them to do meaningful work. Pay more attention to the feedback, coaching, and celebrations that will motivate them and keep them engaged.

Losing one team member might end up being a relatively low price to pay if it leads to better morale all around.

(Adapted from:, “How to Manage Morale When a Well-Liked Employee Leaves”)

Teamrecruit is Australia’s most established recruitment agency specialising in truck, earthmoving and agricultural machinery dealerships in Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific and Southeast Asia. Find out more about Teamrecruit and how we support employers and candidates in the dealership industry.

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