The Etiquette of Managing a Resignation

Resignations come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.
They can be planned or unplanned, civil or fiery, single or en masse, totally expected or head-shaking incomprehensible.

When a staff member resigns, tensions can sometimes run high. As the employer, you need to manage it well, in the best interests of your business, your departing staff member and your clients.

This is when it’s helpful to have some rules or guidelines around how to behave. I call it “Resignation Etiquette” because it provides some guidelines for the employer and employee during the resignation process.

  1. Putting it in writing:
    – If you have only a verbal resignation from your employee, ask them to confirm it in writing.
    – It’s best practice for you, as the employer, to acknowledge the resignation in writing. In doing so, outline key points like the employee’s last day of work and the date of their final pay. And don’t forget to wish them well for the future.

    Many people think the notice period is the same as the pay frequency. This is a myth – the notice period is what the employment agreement specifies. This is another good reason for acknowledging the resignation in writing – it means this notice period is spelt out and there’s no room for confusion.

  2. Handling a resignation made in the heat of the moment:
    – Don’t accept the resignation on the spot (even if inside you’re really glad they’ve resigned!). Ask the employee to think about it overnight and ask them to let you know what they decide in the morning. This opportunity to rethink it could be the difference between a personal grievance and an amicable ending.
    – If the employee still wants to resign the following day, accept the resignation.
    – Respond in writing if the final answer is still a resignation. In this response, refer to accepting the resignation “in good faith”.
  3. Handling a resignation when the employee is going to work for a competitor:
    – Consider whether you should pay them in lieu of notice (if you don’t wish to have the employee remain in your business).
    – Manage how you restrict the employee’s access to files, databases, etc. This needs to be handled carefully because you don’t want to “lock” them out of work.
    – Consider whether to exercise the Garden Leave clause, if you have one in the employment agreement. A general Garden Leave clause gives the employer the ability to direct an employee not to report to work or do work-related duties at any time and for any reason (but the employee will receive their full pay for this time). For more information about Garden Leave read www.employment.govt.nz/leave-and-holidays/other-types-of-leave/garden-leave
  4. Keeping the employee productive at work during the notice period (because many people who resign “check out” early when it comes to being productive at work):
    – Use this time as a handover time. The employee may not be handing over to their replacement, but someone will be covering for them in the meantime.
    – Use this time to also get some of the “housekeeping” matters out of the way, or give the employee other projects e.g. writing up procedures.
    – Engage them in helping train other staff if appropriate.
  5. Keeping on good terms, during and after:
    – Where appropriate, agree with the employee how the rest of the team will be advised – who will advise the team and what will they be told?
    – Consider a communication plan to your clients who the departing employee works with. This is a good PR step and helps to retain clients.
    – Farewell the employee appropriately.

If there’s any time in HR when it’s beneficial to keep it civil it’s when an employee resigns. Take the time to follow these etiquette guidelines and, if you need a hand with managing a resignation, give our team a call.