As a manager, employees quitting is something you’ll inevitably face from time to time. There are loads of reasons why people change or leave jobs, and whatever the situation, it’s essential to handle a resignation in the right manner.

When an employee resigns unexpectedly, as an employer you firstly need to accept it. You can’t legally refuse a resignation, although you can request that they follow certain procedures, which are outlined below.

It’s important for everything to be documented – both for your protection, and that of your team member. A verbal resignation - often given in the heat of the moment, during a stressful exchange of words - isn't sufficient to count as proof that they intend to leave.

In fact, a verbal resignation which leads to the termination of employment could leave you open to claims of unfair dismissal. So it’s crucial that all resignations are noted down and properly filed.

(This is the same outlook we have on sickness absence policy - it doesn’t matter how casual a company you are, everything needs to be documented).

The challenge of unexpected resignations

When someone quits unexpectedly, it can cause challenges for you as a manager. It can be frustrating, disappointing and could even impact you emotionally – particularly if you’re in charge of a small business which feels more like a family than a corporate organisation.

Much like any other relationship breakdown, you may be left wondering why they aren't enjoying their role in the company, or whether there was anything you could have done better. You might feel alone or a bit deserted.

You’re also left with a shortfall after losing an employee. If it's unfamiliar territory for you, you might struggle to cope with the workload during the transition period.

So it’s important at this point to relax, know that the vacant role can be filled, and take a moment to consider how their workload can be dealt with.

Considering a counteroffer

If you feel like your team member is indispensable, it might seem like a good idea to make a counteroffer, such as better working terms, benefits, or a pay increase.

While this could help avoid disruption in the short-term, counteroffers can sometimes be counter-productive: once someone has intentions of leaving, their heart might not be in it afterwards, and it might be a matter of time 'til they leave for real. At this point, it may be worth trusting your instinct.

Steps to follow when an employee resigns

Once you’ve accepted they’re definitely leaving, you should follow these steps to ensure things run as smoothly as possible:

1) Confirm things in writing

This should be the first step in any resignation process. In most cases, an email will do. But a signed, printed document is the most official option.

2) Agree on a notice period

In most cases, you’ll have agreed on a notice period when your team member started at the company. You’ll also have to decide whether they need to work the entirety of this period or not. So have a chat and agree with them when their last day of work will be.

It might be the case that they’ve got some unused holidays, which they may want to take as part of their notice period.  In this instance, check their personal calendar in your staff holiday planner software to work out how much unused leave remains on their file.

3) Share the news

Now it’s time to consider how to tell the rest of your team. A short, upbeat meeting can help to maintain staff morale; it also gives staff a chance to raise issues or ask questions. You might consider asking the employee how they’d prefer to do it, too.

4) Bring existing projects to a close

For practicality’s sake, ask your team member to wrap up any projects and note some handover information for any unfinished work. Try to get a system in place where other members of your team can cover any outstanding work.

5) Inform your clients

If your departing team member has specific clients, you should ask them to politely inform these clients about their move, and point them towards their new point of contact.

6) Find a replacement

When someone resigns, have a think about whether you need a replacement. Are there any temporary solutions in the meantime? Could you hire a contractor to fill in the gaps, or experiment with new systems or automation? If not, start looking for someone new - and remember, hiring is often harder than you might think.

Don't panic

So from a professional standpoint, it’s important not to take resignations personally. You should do your best to maintain professional relationships with former employees (on LinkedIn, for example) and to keep calm, even when temporarily faced with an increased workload. Burning bridges will do nobody any good, and you never know when you might need help from them in future.

Remember, resignations are a fact of working life. By preparing for such an eventuality, it shouldn’t be too much of an adjustment when the time comes, and you can steer calmly through challenging times.