It can be a conversation you knew was coming—or it can be a total shock seemingly appearing from out of nowhere. When an employee announces their resignation, or mentions they are considering quitting, employers and business leaders might feel an onslaught of emotions, from disappointment to anger to, potentially, some self-doubt about the future direction of the company.
In the age of social media, employees quitting may also cause concern regarding how much company information, or misinformation, might be spread as a result of a disgruntled exiting employee. One example of this: the #quittok trend that has taken hold on TikTok, in which employees record their classy and not-so-classy resignation announcements. Some have also recorded their boss’ or colleagues’ reactions to their resignation—with or without their knowledge.
Some videos are more flattering than others, and the behavior on display may impact future candidates interested in applying to that company. For example, in one fast food position resignation #quittok with the description “I quit my job of four years today,” an employee quietly records her boss bad-mouthing her to another employee in the background. On the flipside, another employee is met with grace and understanding when she (without ever actually saying she’s quitting) quits her job, filming her side of the virtual call and posting it on #quittok.
The Great Resignation turned all eyes toward reasons employees might want to quit their jobs. As many as 31% of workers actively planned to quit their jobs in 2022, alongside 28% of workers who were undecided on the matter, according to a survey by the Conference Board. Early 2023 has shown few signs of this trend slowing—according to the “Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary” by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 3.8 million people quit in April 2023 alone.
How to handle employees’ resignations
If frequent resignations are here to stay, it’s time to figure out the best ways to deal with them. Bosses can turn their attention to signs an employee might be ready to quit, how to react when they announce they want to and what steps to take afterward to improve future retention, as needed.
Level up your payment structure through incentives and salary matching
CEO of Big Blue Marble Academy, Jeff Wahl, says a teacher at one of their 57 locations was ready to quit and move to warehouse work for $1 more per hour. Instead, the company counter-offered in an effort to retain the teacher. “Our business runs Mondays through Fridays, and there is no late shift work. Therefore, we do use that as a motivating factor if teachers are looking for work in other environments such as retail, warehouse, restaurants, etc.,” he says.
They also try to retain teachers by predicting pain points and offering incentives to counteract those from the beginning. “Do we have staff who have to commute? We offer a travel stipend. Do we have teachers who are looking to continue their education? We have CDA and college scholarships available. We consider employees our internal customers… we continually ensure we listen to the voice of the customer, and get far ahead of resignations before they become an issue,” he says.
Host weekly meetings for frequent feedback to prevent employee resignations
There’s nothing like preventing a resignation issue before it starts by listening to employees well before they’re ready to quit. “We regularly host weekly meetings with our schools to hear their feedback in terms of teacher retention,” Wahl says.
There’s an opportunity to see every business decision through a lens of employee retention increase strategies, according to William Stonehouse III, president and co-founder of Crawford Thomas Recruiting. In particular, he encourages a focus on transparency behind all major decisions. “We make sure everyone understands how and why changes are made to processes and procedures and regularly evaluate total compensation so that we are competitively paying our best people,” he says.
Hold the line on your most important sticking points—but analyze common termination reasons too
Remember, a disgruntled employee who wants to quit doesn’t necessarily mean you or your company culture is off-base. “Sometimes employees quit because they do not wish to abide by [rules and regulations], such as keeping their cell phones stored away while caring for children. These are instances in which we must be firm,” Wahl says.
But, outside of that, they do a thorough analysis of the reasons and termination codes for why teachers are leaving, if or when they do. “For instance, one of our high-volume reasons teachers are currently leaving is for another job,” Wahl explains. “If we can learn about pay discrepancies and areas where we can improve, we can prevent those teachers from submitting notice in the first place.”
Accept the employee’s resignation, in most cases
Though you can seek to understand the employee’s reasoning, the classiest next step is to accept the resignation without additional back and forth, negotiating or interrogating.
“Accepting the resignation is the most professional route to go unless it’s the rare case where a total misunderstanding has taken place,” Stonehouse III says. “An employer making a counteroffer to keep the unhappy employee is ultimately just delaying the inevitable and more damage could be done in the short run versus taking the loss now, unexpectedly.”
And, in the age of #quittok, speak to the employee in a calm way, as you would if you knew you were being recorded.
Prevent bad-mouthing much earlier
If you are worried a resigning employee might bad-mouth your company in public, on social media or within your industry, it might be too late to prevent it.
“If someone is going to bad-mouth the company, the time to have prevented it was the entire tenure the person worked there. So while a kind and professional exit interview can help contain those worries, it’s hard to undo perceived trauma experienced by a disgruntled employee,” Stonehouse III explains. “The best way to mitigate the concern of negative reviews or bad-mouthing is to manage in a way to ensure fairness and an open door to allow team members to voice concerns before it gets to an emotional breaking point.”
This may come in the form of an exit interview, which Karen Roelandts, executive vice president of human resources at Elior North America, says is a must.
“We want to know whether there is an area of concern we should address or whether they are pursuing an area of interest or other industry that they couldn’t pursue internally,” she says. “We periodically review the feedback we have received during exit interviews to identify areas for opportunity so we can keep improving.”
Turn your focus to other employees’ satisfaction
The potential for growth is a key indicator of job satisfaction, according to a 2023 study by the Conference Board. Stonehouse III also prioritizes this in his company, noting that sometimes employees aren’t resigning because they are unsatisfied, but rather because they want to expand, learn and explore.
“Upward mobility is another area that can be overlooked as a retention tool, as many don’t switch jobs purely for pay, but opportunity or personal growth. Companies that maintain a very flat organizational structure tend to suffer the most from irrationally high turnover because no one can see where they go from their current role,” he says.
So, giving employees opportunities to expand and grow is key for retention. After all, an employee may have handed in their resignation, but there are many others excited and ready to progress in your company—they’re just waiting for your time, attention and future opportunities.
“The potential risks involved with departing employees will always be there, so the focus must be on ensuring that all other team members have the support and tools to continue to deliver on our clients’ expectations, despite any team member departures,” Roelandts adds. She says the country’s labor market won’t change anytime soon, so employers have to step up to ensure happy employees and satisfied clients.
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