Resignation for Leaders

A resignation is what happens when a person has made the decision to leave your business. This may be to pursue further career opportunities, for personal reasons or for reasons involving the workplace/culture/team.

As a minimum, when an employee resigns they are required to provide:

  • notice in writing of their intent to resign,
  • the period of notice outlined in their employment contract or enterprise agreement, and
  • confirmation of their last working day.

While a person resigning may be inconvenient or disruptive to the team, it is important this process is managed sensitively, fairly and in a way that maintains a positive relationship between the leader and employee, both at the time of departure and into the future.

© 2017 All rights reserved
mwah. making work absolutely human

While leaders spend time and effort seeking to retain their team members, from time to time employees may make the decision to resign from their role to pursue another opportunity. This can be a challenging experience for the employee, leader and the overall team and therefore it is important this experience is thoughtfully managed.

Accepting a resignation

A resignation from a team member could come in a variety of ways. Ideally, an employee would have an honest discussion with you about their decision to resign and provide context around their decision.  This can sometimes be a challenging discussion: however, it is important it is managed professionally and sensitively. Be sure to listen and seek to understand the reason/s why the person has resigned. There can be some really valuable feedback in this conversation. Work together to build a transition plan covering their final period with the business.

Note: If a team member advises of their resignation verbally, ensure this is captured in writing (either directly from the employee or by the leader in a confirmation email/document). Things can get quite messy when a person resigns informally, and then withdraws the resignation after you’ve already made plans to replace them. Formalising things keeps things clear.   

Understanding a resignation

Ideally, an employee’s decision to resign should not be a complete surprise to their leader. If it is, however, or the timing is unexpected, it is important to understand why they have made their decision. This will help you understand and, if possible, rectify issues impacting your team/business to aid future retention efforts.

In the initial discussion you may not always be able to get to the heart of the reason why an employee has made the decision to resign: this can often be an emotional or nervous discussion for the employee.  Put aside some time during the employee’s notice period (when they are more relaxed and open) to have another discussion/s about their decision, in order to try and truly understand it. Exit interviews are another way to capture this information, however a good face-to-face discussion can provide an opportunity to deeply explore and understand the key issues.

How to treat a resigned person

Remember that a person who has resigned is still part of the team, and if engaged effectively, can still be productive and add value to the team/business during their notice period.

Continue to include the resigned person in team/role-related activities and keep them involved in the projects that relate to their role. While it may seem more efficient to “cut out” a departing team member from such activities, this can have a negative impact on both their engagement during their final weeks  – and the quality of any transition work they do – and the overall team who have a relationship with this person.

Focus the departing team member’s efforts on transition activities, recording of key information and role/task handover to ensure business continuity post the person leaving the business.

Be sure to organise some sort of farewell and thank you for the departing employee to demonstrate to both them and the remaining team that their work and contribution to the business was valued and appreciated. How you behave towards the resigned person serves as an indicator for the rest of the team of your respect for them and also as a predictor of how you’ll treat others in the same circumstance.

Working out notice vs walking out post resignation

When an employee resigns, they will generally be required to provide notice. This notice can either be worked out, or the employee may be “walked” once they tell you they are leaving the business.

Most businesses allow their people to work out their notice period. This approach supports a planned handover of tasks and for transition plans to be made with the team. In some cases however, where an employee has access to commercially confidential or sensitive information or could negatively impact the team/business/customers during their notice period, they may be immediately “walked” from the business.

Both approaches have advantages and draw backs that businesses should consider before deciding on the right course of action for both the role and the person. Some pro’s and con’s to consider are:

“Walking” someone after resignation


  • Protects sensitive company information from competitors
  • Limits ability for clients, designs, strategies, commercially confidential material to be taken/shared
  • Exits problem employees quickly
  • Limits ability of departing employee to disparage the business to customers
  • Limits ability of departing employee to disrupt the team or business


  • No handover
  • Loss of corporate knowledge
  • Disruptive to team (no notice, handover plan, no positive farewell to team member)
  • May strain relationship between leader and person
  • Time lag in finding a replacement (as no notice provided)
  • The remainder of the team will be at best be distracted by the drama, or at worst, concerned about your respect for the team
  • The drama will break the bridge between the person and the business, and a future return will not be possible.

Working out notice


  • Allows for handover and transition
  • Time for employee to complete value-add work for the business
  • Limits disruption/negative impact to team
  • Assists to maintain a positive relationship
  • Buys time to provide a replacement before the person departs
  • Allows for corporate knowledge to be retained
  • Provides a nice, respectful exit from the team and the business, which – assuming all relationships are good – other team members will appreciate.
  • Enables the person to return to the business should circumstances change in the future (i.e., the grass may not be greener and they may want to come back)


  • Confidential information may be at risk
  • Opportunity for employee to take business IP, resources etc.
  • Employee may be negative/disruptive to the team
  • Employee may be negative to customers

Keeping great relationships after a person has resigned and why it’s important

Even if an employee resigns in challenging circumstances there are several reasons to maintain a positive relationship with the person throughout their notice period and beyond their employment, including:

Support during the notice period

Once a person resigns they will generally serve out a notice period of 2-4 weeks. This is an important time when a person can continue to add value to the business and support transition/handover plans. However, this can also be a destructive/non-value-add period for the employee if they feel disconnected from the business/their leader. By maintaining a great relationship with the departing employee, the business is well placed to receive their support and assistance as they transition out of the organisation.

Team impact

When a person resigns, it can be sad, disruptive and even unsettling for their team members. Demonstrate through your words and actions that the departing team member is valued and appreciated. This will help to offset potential tensions that may otherwise occur if the relationship between the leader and the departing employee is strained.

Employer brand

Employees (both current and past) can either be very valuable or very destructive to your employer brand. Treat all employees, including departing employees, like brand advocates. By providing a positive experience post a person’s resignation, you will help to ensure departing team members speak well about the business, increasing the value of your employer brand.

Retention of a potentially valuable alumni

Often after people resign, they subsequently discover that their new employer is not as great as they were expecting. If you’ve retained a good relationship then they may well return to your business, or your team. Some of the best employees in business are people who loved the business, tried a competitor and came back more loyal and committed than ever.

© 2017 All rights reserved
mwah. making work absolutely human

Need some more information about managing resignations?

What if the person resigns in the heat of the moment?

There may be rare cases where an employee resigns “in the heat of the moment”. Examples of this could be resigning after a heated/emotional exchange or because of a negative experience or disagreement at work. Usually these resignations will be verbal and the decision to leave the business is made quite quickly by the person.

If your team member resigns in the heat of the moment, give them some time and space to reflect on their decision to leave. Meet with the person the day following their resignation advice to confirm if it is still their intention. If it is, confirm this in writing and continue with the standard resignation approach.

If a team member changes their decision to resign and swiftly advises you of this (and their resignation is not in writing) you may be required to let them continue with their employment. In such cases, it is recommended that coaching and/or feedback is provided to support the person to better manage difficult discussions in future.

As a leader, the most important thing to remember in these circumstances is to be the voice of calm. Don’t add more heat to an already dramatic situation.

I want to retain my employee who has resigned. Should I provide a counter offer?

People rarely make the decision to leave a business solely for more money. While some employees will receive more money when moving to a new role, this will generally be coupled with a different type of job/set of responsibilities, a different business culture and/or different challenges. 

Offering a person who has resigned a counter offer to seek to retain them may be critical in a small number of instances, however it is not an approach that should be taken lightly. Pro’s and con’s to consider include:


  • Retain critical/strategic business knowledge and skills
  • Makes the person who is receiving the counter offer feel valued and important


  • Unlikely to retain person in the long term unless you can fundamentally address all of their needs (new job, new opportunities, new culture etc.)
  • Sets a poor tone for remaining team members (i.e. demonstrates that resigning is a good way to get what they want)
  • May leave remaining team members feeling under/not valued (as a result of the inequity of the counter offer)
  • Takes away the chance to offer remaining team members opportunities (like promotions, development or stretch assignments)

Remember to take a broad, long term view when considering whether to make a counter offer or not and ensure that if you do, you thoughtfully manage impacts on the team.

My team member has resigned and has now changed their mind and wants to stay with the business. What do I do?

It is uncommon for an employee to take lightly the decision to leave a business and there are generally several reasons that contribute to the person’s ultimate decision to resign. If an employee resigns and then seeks to withdraw their resignation it is important to understand why they have done so and what has changed.

If the person wants to withdraw their resignation as an alternative job offer has fallen through you may not wish to support this as it is unlikely they are seeking to stay with the business for the medium to long term. In this instance, you may decide to let the resignation stand but negotiate a longer notice period with the person, allowing them additional time to find a new job and providing you additional time to find a replacement/complete the handover.

There may be other instances where an employee seeks to withdraw their resignation for personal reasons, such as a relationship breakdown. In such cases, you may wish to exercise discretion and accept the resignation withdrawal or (as above), negotiate a longer notice period to benefit the employee and business.

What if my team member is not performing? Can I ask them to resign?

No. If you ask a team member to resign or your conduct as a leader gives them no reasonable choice but to resign, this may be classed as Constructed Dismissal and could lead to an unfair dismissal claim being brought against the business.

What does this actually mean? It means that you cannot ask or suggest that a team member resigns, even if they are at risk of/or are about to be terminated.

It also means you cannot act in a way that leaves a team member no option but to leave the business, including actions like; threatening to terminate them, cutting them out of team meetings or projects, or ignoring them.

What you can do in circumstances where an employee is at risk of/is likely to be terminated, is to be sure the person understands the seriousness of the situation and the potential consequences/outcomes. This will ensure the team member is well informed about the matter and their options which will allow them to make their own choices about their preferred course of action.

Visit the Fair Work Ombudsman website for further details via

How do I best communicate with my team that their colleague has resigned?

As a leader, the best approach is to be honest and open with your team. It can be good to announce their decision to leave jointly with the departing team member themselves. Equally, you can do it alone. Irrespective of whether the person is there or not, the announcement is an opportunity to say thank you and appreciate their contribution.

Be as clear as you can be with the team about transition plans, impacts and plans to replace the team member, especially if the change may open opportunities for others.

© 2017 All rights reserved
mwah. making work absolutely human

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