The biggest mistake leaders make when someone resigns—and what to do instead

By Mita Mallick

“You’re resigning?” My former manager had bellowed into the phone. “After everything I have done for you! How can you resign and do this to me?” He continued to shout at me for a few more minutes. Until I finally was able to interrupt him and squeeze in a, “Have a good weekend,” and ended the call. It was one of the worst resignation conversations I have had to have in my career.

While my former boss shouting at me was the worst resignation conversation I have ever endured, it’s an important reminder for leaders: Always show up with kindness and respect when someone resigns to you. Because despite recession fears, employees will still be looking to make a move in 2023, so it’s likely that you may have someone resign on your team this year. According to a recent LinkedIn report, more than half of U.S. employees, 61%, are considering leaving their jobs in 2023. 

Resigning is tough enough. Don’t repeat the biggest mistakes that so many leaders make when someone resigns: Don’t make this conversation about you. Here are three ways to show up with kindness and respect when someone resigns to you.

1. Say congratulations

Say congratulations. Wish them well and be happy for them. Unfortunately, too many managers miss this simple and important step and let their emotions take over the resignation conversation. 

I once had a former manager dissolve into tears, bawling for several minutes, refusing to physically accept my resignation letter. But moments like these are not the time to respond with anger as my former manager did and they are not the time to respond with extreme sadness. Despite what you are feeling, this conversation is not about you, it’s about them.

The moment someone resigns to you is not the time to manipulate, interogate, or make someone feel guilty about the choice they have made. 

There will likely be time to have an additional conversation on why they are leaving, and an opportunity for human resources to conduct an exit interview. Be sure to use those insights to fix whatever may be broken in your company and on your team, to prevent more talent from leaving your organization.

2. Share the news

Next, share the news that your team member has resigned. Don’t put off letting your organization know. You either want to be the one to share the news, or allow the employee to share the news. Don’t let LinkedIn be the place everyone learns that they are leaving the organization. I have watched too many leaders live in denial of someone’s resignation, not allowing enough time for everyone to process the news that their colleagues are leaving. 

Not sharing resignation news also delays the transition process on what projects will continue and what projects will stop once a given worker moves on. Plus, be considerate of what you ask them to do in their last few weeks. This is not an opportunity to ask them to build next year’s budget, to start a new initiative, or to write their job description and help find their replacement. This is a time for them to transition their current work, and anything additional they would like to offer to do, is completely up to them.

The biggest mistake leaders make when someone resigns—and what to do instead

3. Celebrate them

Finally, celebrate them. Whether they have been at the company for one year or for 20 years, honor the contributions they have made. Whether you hold an in person or virtual gathering, invite team members to share what they will miss about their former coworker and take a moment to highlight their accomplishments. Send them a small gift as a token of your appreciation. Ask team members to wish them well on a digital or handwritten card. Whatever you chose to do, the goal is to remind them that their contributions on your team and your organization mattered.

By celebrating a worker who is leaving, you also leave the door open. Maybe someday they will return to your organization. Maybe someday you will want to apply for a job at their organization. Remember, how they are treated during the last few weeks on your team matters a lot. By congratulating them, sharing their news and transitioning the work, and finally celebrating them, you show up with kindness and respect. We have the power to make resignations a positive experience and ultimately reflect positively on our organizations. Resignations are a powerful reminder on how we as leaders must show up in the careers-defining moments that matter.

Mita Mallick is a diversity and inclusion leader. Currently, she is the head of inclusion, equity, and impact at Carta.

Fast Company