Dealing With The Ex: Tips To Managing Employees Who Resign


It really pains when an employee puts in the papers; more so if that employee has been a high performer. For startups, such employee exits could be devastating as it is challenging enough to hire good people in the first place. In lean startup teams, backups are rare and succession planning, a luxury. Key exits could also de-motivate the rest of the team. And heaven help you if the employee was working on some critical project...

The sad part is that in most cases, trying to retain an employee who resigns could actually be counter-productive. In her article – Should I Make a Counter-offer – EVIL HR LADY (Suzanne Lucas) explains, “When your employee starts looking for a new job, you've already lost her, and it's (usually) not about the money.” Here are some tips on how deal with employees who resign:

Find out the employee’s exit plan

The first reaction on receiving the resignation is to ask why. Hold on to it. First find out if the employee has another job in hand. Getting out the real reasons for an exit may be tricky. Finding out future plans may be simpler and likely to provide clues on the reasons. Moreover, if the employee does not have an immediate plan, the situation may even be manageable. There is a good chance that the employee is just upset and the resignation is a knee-jerk reaction. In such cases, you may be able to resolve the issue and retain the employee.

Probe for reasons but check your emotions

As an entrepreneur, exits could impact you emotionally. You may feel let down and even angry. But it is important for you manage your emotions and have a straight conversation. Find out why the employee is leaving. The exit could be a sign of larger issues in the company and that makes probing them even more important. As an entrepreneur, some of the reasons may hit you personally but you must listen calmly and reflect on them. By reading early warnings and addressing the issues, you could avoid further exits.

Don’t make a counter-offer

It is seldom that a majorly compelling opportunity lands itself on the employee and they decide to quit. There is almost always some push factor that led them to explore other options. That said, the new option is typically more lucrative for the employee, at least in the short term. After all, an employee will rarely move from a startup for a lesser pay package. While you may be tempted to make a counter-offer – don’t! A counter-offer will immediately make the focus of the employment relationship more transactional and that is the last thing you want for your startup.

Make the exit smooth and pleasant

Once you realize that you will not be able to retain the employee, you should ensure that the exit is handled well. Let the employee leave with pleasant last memories of your company. Disgruntled employees serving notice period can wreak havoc on the morale of the team. It is fairly common for employees to join a new company, only to realize that they were much happier in the last job. The opinion of most experts (though subject to circumstances), is that it is good to re-hire valuable employees. Moreover, you do not want the employee speaking negatively about your company to the outside world.

Maintain contact with ex-employees

Taking the previous point one step further, staying connected with ex-employees will improve the chances of them coming back, or at least speaking positively about your company. Large corporates see significant value in maintaining this connect and many have invested in alumni programs. Given that startup entrepreneurs typically know their employees at a far more personal level, the benefits of this outreach will be even greater. They may even give you valuable suggestions, having had the additional outside view to your products/ solutions. They could also be a good source of referrals for new employees that you are looking to hire.

Employee exits, no matter how well managed are always distressing. In fact, the best way to manage exits is to proactively ensure that they do not happen. This starts with proper hiring, about which several articles have already been published on In my next article, I will write about how to understand engagement levels of employees in order to address potential causes of exit.

Some recent articles on hiring tips:

Common Pitfalls to Avoid While Hiring

Tips & Tricks on How to Hire Right

Hiring Saga of an Early Stage Startup


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