As a manager, employee resignation is something you’ll inevitably face. There are loads of reasons why someone might leave their position, but whatever the situation, it’s essential to handle their resignation in the right way.

When someone resigns unexpectedly, the first thing you need to do is accept it.

You can’t legally refuse a resignation, although you can request that they follow certain procedures, which we’ll go through below.

We’ll cover the admin steps you should take when an employee quits. After that, we’ll look at the human angle – how should you deal with it on an emotional level? – and offer some tips on how you can keep calm and carry on.

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.

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 with a resignation letter and properly filed in accordance with their employment contract.

(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).

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 enjoy some time off. So have a chat and agree with them when the employee’s 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) Work out the details

There are other things to consider for exiting employees, too. You’ll have to calculate their final pay, which can vary depending on a range of factors.

They’ll have to hand over equipment like laptops and other company property, so make sure you’ve got a proper inventory of everything they’ve been using.

If you like, you can go over these things in an exit interview, which also gives you the chance to collect valuable feedback. Ask for honest opinions on the company, the work environment, and what you could improve on.

4) Share the news

Now it’s time to consider how to tell their co-workers. 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 departing employee how they’d prefer to do it, too.

5) 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 and tie up loose ends.

6) Inform clients and customers

If your resigning employee has specific clients or customers, you should ask them to politely inform each one about their move, and point them towards a new point of contact.

7) Find a replacement

When someone resigns, have a think about whether you need an immediate 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 new employees – and remember, hiring good employees can take longer than you might think.

The challenge of unexpected resignations

For you as a manager, an employee’s departure can be challenging. Especially if you didn’t expect it, or they give less than a two-week notice.

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 weren'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. You might struggle to make it a smooth transition when you bring in someone new or figure out a new process.

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. If you’re prepared for this happening, it’ll be much easier to accept.

Consider 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 and letting them move on to their new job instead.

Don't panic

From a professional standpoint, it’s important not to take resignations personally.

Do your best to maintain professional relationships with former employees (on LinkedIn, for example) and to keep calm, even when you’ve got a temporarily increased workload. Burning bridges will do nobody any good, and you never know when you might need help from them in future – so keep things on good terms when your employee leaves.

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