How to retain key talent when they say, “I’m leaving.”

The “Be happy you have a job” era has ended. Yes, there are still many unemployed people out there, but ask any HR professional about finding quality talent and they’ll tell you it has become more challenging in the past year. It appears there’s even an increase in counter-offers. As an economic indicator that’s good. But if you’re recruiting, it’s getting tougher.

That’s why it’s so important to ensure that you keep your best talent. The number one reason employees leave is because of the relationship with their manager. There’s plenty of literature on how a boss should treat employees to increase retention, and some of the links below offer great advice. But at some point every will boss encounter a resignation. Sometimes it’s convenient (e.g. mediocre performer) but what if it’s someone you really don’t want to lose? Here are some tips on handling a resignation.

First, even though it’s likely to be your first feeling, do not take it personal and become defensive. That can kill any likelihood of changing the employee’s mindset. (Most people who resign have thought about how you will react, and whether they might stay if you say the right things.) Be graceful, understanding, and empathetic. If you’re not going to be able to keep the employee, you want to try to get as much notice as possible. Although most employees give two weeks, there’s a good chance you can get one or two more depending on the relationship.

Make sure you’re in a private area and won’t be interrupted. Say that you’re sorry to hear it and ask for the reasons. Listen carefully and don’t interrupt. Let the employee finish; there might be some venting. Consider what is said, and say that the employee is highly regarded and everyone will be sad to see him go. Then ask, “Is there anything we can do to keep you?”

My past experience has shown that longer tenured employees have a greater chance of changing their minds. If there is any waffling in the response to your question, you have a shot at retaining him. Try to get some specifics about what a counter offer looks like; often it’s more money, but can be many other issues. Don’t say no or commit to anything, and say that you’ll get back to him promptly. You will have to work through the options with your own boss.

If it’s a done deal, this is your opportunity to try to get another week or two notice. There’s nothing to lose in just asking. You can always go back and make it sooner. If you manage the resignation professionally, you may someday be able to rehire this employee.

But ultimately, the best retention strategy is to prevent resignations by treating your staff fairly, and being a good boss.

Why your employees are leaving. (Forbes)

Retaining employees, 5 things you need to know. (Huffington Post)

Handling employee resignations. (CBS Moneywatch)

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