When an employee resigns, accepting their resignation and conducting an exit interview are two important steps in the voluntary termination process. With proper care, these steps can help ensure a smooth departure and transition, and provide employers with valuable information. However, mistakes can lead to headaches and/or additional costs later. To help, here are some guidelines for a smooth transition.
If an employee informs you that they are resigning:
- If they haven't already done so, ask them to provide a signed resignation letter with an effective date to document that they are leaving voluntarily.
- Send a written response to the employee, accepting their resignation, confirming their last day, addressing final pay, and thanking them for their service to your organization. Make sure you sign and date it.
- Keep the resignation letter and a copy of the resignation confirmation letter in the employee's personnel file.
If you can't obtain a resignation letter, document the date and the reasons for the separation and keep that record in the employee's personnel file.
In some cases, you may want to retain the employee who has given notice of their resignation, especially a high-performing individual and/or a critical/difficult-to-fill position. You may ask them whether there is anything you could offer to get them to stay, but you shouldn't pressure the employee. If they identify pay as the reason they are leaving, you can generally ask how much of a pay raise it would take to keep them. Even if you cannot meet the employee's request fully, you may be able to offer additional benefits to help sway them. For instance, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees are seeking jobs that allow them to work remotely.
Note: Some states and local jurisdictions prohibit or restrict an employer from inquiring about an individual's compensation and benefits with another employer. These laws typically cover applicants and employees seeking promotions/transfers only, but some could be interpreted to have broader coverage. As such, employers in jurisdictions with this type of law should read the law carefully and consult legal counsel about its scope before asking an employee for details on what a prospective employer offered in terms of compensation and benefits.
Conducting exit interviews
Turnover can be costly, and exit interviews are one way to find out why employees are leaving so you can, if possible, make changes to help prevent other employees from departing for the same reasons. Conducting exit interviews also creates an opportunity to transfer knowledge and experience from the departing employee to a successor or replacement. Try to conduct exit interviews with each employee who leaves the company voluntarily (those who resign or retire). Use the same core set of questions, so you can identify trends and develop plans for improvement. Here are some additional guidelines:
- Use pre-exit interview questionnaires. Ask employees to complete a pre-exit interview questionnaire to help identify areas for discussion during the actual exit interview meeting. Look for the reasons the employee is leaving, how long they considered leaving, how satisfied they were with their job, and any suggestions for improvement.
- Assign a neutral interviewer. Have a neutral party conduct the interview, rather than the employee's direct supervisor. This can lead to a more open and honest interview. Train interviewers on the types of questions to ask, as well as how to build rapport. Ask open-ended questions, and probe for more detailed responses.
- Encourage candor. Some employees may be reluctant to share information because they fear it will affect their eligibility for rehire, or that it will result in a negative reference to a prospective employer. While not every employee will be candid during an exit interview, there are some things you can do to encourage employees to be more forthcoming. For example, inform departing employees of the purpose of the interview and remind them that their honest feedback will contribute to workplace improvements. Stress that while exit interview reports will be provided to management, the reports are anonymous. During the exit interview, pose open-ended questions and allow the individual to speak freely.
- Probe reasons for leaving. An employee's reasons for leaving are often complex. In some cases, the individual may initially cite reasons they believe are more acceptable (such as, "better pay") than their true motivations (such as, "this job didn't challenge me"). Ask questions that delve fully into the reason for leaving and don't be afraid to probe for specific examples. Focus on how the employee was treated and ask follow-up questions (such as "what other factors led to your decision to leave?" or "what could have been done differently?"), even if the individual initially indicates a reason that is out of the company's control. Also, be sure to read the note in the Counter Offers section above, which addresses laws restricting/prohibiting inquiries about pay from another employer.
- Discuss final pay and tie up loose ends. The exit interview is also a time to collect company property and discuss final pay and benefits, such as retirement accounts and health insurance continuation. At the end of the meeting, wish the employee well and thank them for working for your company.
- Track, report and act. Following the interview, log the data, look for patterns or areas of concern, and create an action plan for improvement. For example, if poor communication is a consistent factor in losing top talent, consider making regular communication a priority and training managers on effective communication skills.
Seeing a good employee leave is hard, but being prepared to handle resignations and exit interviews can help make the transition easier.