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Protect your company’s reputation: How to avoid burning bridges with employees who quit


When employees quit, you may feel shocked, hurt, angry or relieved.

However, for the sake of your company’s good name, it’s not always appropriate to make them aware of these emotions.

Former employees are walking advertisements for your organization. They hold a valued insider’s perspective. If it ends sourly, they can write a negative online review about you company with the click of a button. And with the mobility of professional networks, like LinkedIn, word-of-mouth opinions about your company are easy for future employees, clients and business partners to access.

So, to preserve your organization’s reputation, you should avoid burning bridges with employees who quit – even when that means swallowing your pride and being more diplomatic than you feel is necessary.

Reasons employees leave

To keep things in perspective, it’s helpful to remember the top reasons employees leave jobs:

1. Insufficient salary and benefits
2. Limited growth opportunities
3. Unhappiness with management
4. Boredom
5. Burnout
6. Lack of recognition

Many times, an employee’s reasons are personal. Other times, you can view a resignation as an opportunity to learn what you could do differently next time. In either case, you should aim to end the working relationship on a positive note.

What to say when they quit

Your immediate reaction to employees who tell you they’re leaving is crucial to not destroying your relationship with them.

Here are some suggestions on how to respond to six common resignation scenarios.

1. You’re disappointed that they’re leaving

Say: “What could we have done to keep you?”

Keep your cool, and you’ll be able to find out why your employees are leaving. Be prepared for what you might hear. If it’s personal, you should respect employees’ judgment of what’s best for them. If the company is to blame, focus on what you can learn for the future.

2. You’re relieved

Say: “Thanks for your contributions – I wish you the best.”

It’s important to still wish employees well even when you’re happy to see them go. Ask the same questions you always would through the exit process.

3. It’s been rocky

Say: “Sorry things didn’t work out as you’d hoped.”

Don’t bring up the negativities of the past. Be courteous of your employees’ decision to move on, and wish them well. Congratulate them on their new opportunity, if applicable.

4. It’s an internal transfer

Say: “Congratulations. That team/department is lucky to have you.”

Even when it feels like a loss, be willing to let go of employees who choose to move to a new position within your company. Know that creating opportunities for advancement is one of the most important ways to keep good talent from leaving your organization. Expect a two to four-week changeover.

5. You get too little notice

Say: “I understand. Let’s expedite the transition.”

While it’s OK to ask employees for more time to transition, if they give less than a two-week notice, prolonging things can lead to difficulties. You don’t want relationships to become strained by trying to force them to work for longer than they’ve planned, even when it means you’ll have to scramble to cover their workload.

6. You saw it coming

Say: “Oh, that’s too bad. We’ll hate to see you go.”

Even when you expect a resignation, treat the person no differently. Give the same courtesy you would during any other type of resignation.

In all of these cases, never attempt to let employees go early or treat them as nonexistent once you know about their plans to leave. Those reactions guarantee burned bridges.

However, there is one situation in which it’s acceptable to ask them to quit sooner – if your employees are leaving you for a competitor. In this case, their continuing to work for you would be a conflict of interest, so it’s appropriate to let them go early. But even in this case, allowing them to use paid time off and “calling it even” on the last two weeks is best practice.

Before the last day

After you make an appropriate first response to a resignation, make sure you do your part in bringing proper closure to an outgoing employee’s time with your company. To end on peaceful terms with your departing employee:

  • Discuss and plan the transition period
  • Talk about how to announce his or her departure to colleagues
  • Arrange a good-bye lunch or event
  • Give an appreciation gift (especially common for retiring employees)
  • Conduct an exit interview

The beat goes on

Often we have a glorified vision of what happens when employees quit, like somehow business will cease to exist as we know it.

The fact is, business doesn’t stop, the sun comes up, the rest of your employees show up to work, and you find ways to carry on.

That’s life – you can move on, even when you lose employees. Don’t make getting a resignation a historic life event – it’s not. It’s part of the dance we do as employers of humans.

Be appreciative of the contributions you were given. Find out what you could have done differently. Don’t burn a bridge. Keep your company’s good reputation. It’s pretty simple.

Protecting your company’s reputation when an employee resigns is just one way that a strong company culture can make your business more productive and profitable.

Learn how to build a solid HR strategy that aligns your people with your company’s goals when you download our free guide: How to Develop a Top-notch Workforce That Will Accelerate Your Business.