5 Reasons Not to Act Like a Jerk When an Employee Resigns

5 Reasons Not to Be a Jerk When an Employee Resigns

How you treat your employees on the way out the door may have more impact than you think.

What do you do when an employee resigns?

I’m not sure exactly why this is a thing, or if it’s getting worse in a tight economy. But lately, my phone has been lighting up with stories of managers acting like jerks when an employee resigns.

Here’s what I heard from Joe, just yesterday.

I’ve been working here for almost two decades.  I just got my MBA (which I paid for, not the company). When I gave my notice, my boss was so ticked off he wouldn’t accept my resignation (I’d have to go tell his boss). I told him it had nothing to do with him or the company, and that I’ve loved working here. I’m not leaving for a competitor (I would never do that), I gave them a months notice so I could train my replacement. I really care deeply about everything I’ve built here. I’m just ready for something bigger that they can’t offer.

So I had to go to his boss to resign, and he was a jerk about it too. Now no one is talking to me, and treating me like I’m invisible. It’s devastating to me after all I’ve done for this company. I know one thing for sure, I made the right decision. No one really cares about me here.

And, this one really broke my heart, because he didn’t quit, he was RIFed.

I’ve been here ten years, and am consistently the top ranked sales manager. My boss and I got called into headquarters for back-to-back meetings with his boss to tell us we had no jobs. My bosses boss told us,  “I’m taking the department in a new direction, but I haven’t quite figured it out exactly. We just don’t need you.”

Not one ounce of recognition of my contributions, including the last huge sale I had just landed.  No “Thank you for all you’ve done.”  No, “We will miss you. It’s been awesome working with you.” No “Let me know how I can help.” Nothing.

Just “Give me your ID and we’ve already locked you out of our systems.”

I can understand the need for a change, that’s not the issue. But after all the long hours, the sacrifices my family has made for all the travel, not to mention the extraodinary revenue I’ve brought in, why don’t they see me as a human being with feelings?

Why Do Some Managers Act Like Jerks When an Employee Resigns (or is let go)?

Here’s what I’m finding as I dig deeper. Some managers feel personally hurt and betrayed, so they turn the tables right back and inflict some hurt of their own. Or they’re feeling overwhelmed by the thought of the extra work of having to backfill the position. Or panicking about all the work that will pile up while they’re looking.

In the case of the RIF, they might feel bad and just move as fast as they can to avoid guilt or conflict. Some managers worry if they say “Thank you” for the contribution they’ll open themselves up for a lawsuit.

Or, let’s face it, it could be they are just a jerk.

5 Reasons Being a Jerk to An Exiting Employee is Bad For Business

1. Karma

Seriously. Life is hard enough. Do you want more trust and connection in your life? Treat people with respect and compassion.

2. Their Co-Workers are Watching

“Did you see the way they treated him? If it could happen to her it could happen to me.”  “No one really cares about us. They’re ruthless.”  Trust me, every time there is a restructure at my former employer my phone rings off the hook, with people saying those exact words. The fastest way to trash employee engagement is to forget you are dealing with feeling human beings.

3. Your Brand (for Prospective Employees AND Customers)

When people feel hurt and betrayed, they don’t just tell their therapist. They tell anyone who will listen. On Facebook and LinkedIn. On Glassdoor. At their son’s baseball game. At church during coffee hour and on the prayer tree. Before you know it you’ve done more damage to your company’s brand than any cheerful recruiter or zippy advertising campaign can overcome.

With just a little effort to say think you, and connect at a human level, your departing employee remains a brand ambassador and is more likely to share all the fond memories of working there with their family and friends—”I’m going to miss that place.”

4. Rocky Transitions

In the first example, Joe is in the process of training his replacement. Do you think his heart is in it? Once an employee resigns, all you’ve got left to hope for is a discretionary effort for a smooth transition. If you want your employee to care about the transition after he resigns, show him you care about him.

5. They’ll Never Consider Coming Back

Most companies have ditched their outdated “loyalty” policies of never rehiring someone who quits. In a high-turnover, gig economy, that high-performer you just kicked in the butt on the way out the door, may have exactly the skills you need in a future project.

The sage employment advice to not burn bridges goes both ways.

If you make people feel like they’re dispensable, the damage runs far and deep. A little gratitude, empathy and celebration can go a long way.

Your turn.

What would you add?

See Also:

How To Build Great Culture in a High-Turnover World

How to Take Your Retention Strategy to the Next Level (Training Magazine)

how to create great culture in a high turnover world

How to Build a Great Culture in a High Turnover World

What’s the true cost of high turnover? How do you stop the exodus of great talent? What if you can’t?

Just a few of the questions that keep coming up with almost every senior leader I speak with.

It’s tricky. You can’t control the choices. And, there are more choices than ever.

Low unemployment always makes it hard. But now the war for talent includes the gig economy and rising entrepreneurial opportunities.

What if High Turnover is the New Normal?

I spoke with Bill Ravenscroft, SVP at Adecco, one of the world’s largest staffing companies about some of the patterns he’s seeing, and what advice he has for employers.

Bill shared:

The world of work is changing rapidly.  With the convergence of the job market tipping in favor of the candidates, the millennial generation being ushered into the #1 spot as a percentage of our workforce, and the overall unemployment number reaching 50 year lows – companies have the ultimate challenge ahead in attracting the right talent. Going forward, forget about retention, focus on culture.

What we know is that the millennial and Gen z workforce will work for numerous employers over their professional career.  Gone are the days of 30 years with one company.  They value quality experiences that provide new skills and are not afraid of change.  What does this do to your team environment when your planned and unplanned attrition reaches 50% or more in a calendar year?  How do you keep your culture intact?  Do you have a re-skilling/up-skilling plan to attract and keep this demographic engaged?

So how do you build a great culture when high turnover is the new normal?

Recruit For Culture

I love Seth Godin’s definition of culture,”  People like us do things like this.

What are the “things like this,” that are most critical to your culture? And where do you find people with the capacity to behave like that?

In a high turnover world, it’s much easier to execute if you bring in people who are already aligned with your core values, with the capacity to flex and grow. When you’re interviewing, look for candidates with a track record of behaviors that align best with “your things like this,” balanced with a diversity of perspective and experiences.

Onboard Enthusiastically

Ensure your employees know what matters most from the first day. Expose them to the “why” behind your whats. 

Give them the scaffolding they need to feel included and valued. Consider pre-onboarding techniques to get them excited and grounded before day 1. Find ways to tap into their experiences and their best practices so they contribute immediately. The best way to build a great culture is one person at a time. Do everything you can to ensure your new hires feel seen and valued from day one.

Build Teams of Micro-Innovators and Problem Solvers

Your most courageous and creative prospective employees have no desire to sit in a cube and be told what to do. They want to connect, collaborate, and work on bigger problems. They want a voice. They want to think like an entrepreneur and to learn skills that prepare them to compete in that world.

Let them.

Many employers wait until an employee has been around a while before giving them opportunities to contribute at a more strategic level. Or, they give the employee just enough information to do their job, for fear that they’ll take information with them when they leave. So employees feel disconnected, and just keep their heads down and do what they’re told. The fear of high-turnover prevents transparency, which ironically drives turnover.


When you have high turn-over it’s easy to lose organizational memory. Build culture by encouraging storytelling. Communicate your strategic priorities and values more than you think is necessary. If it’s important, it’s worth communicating five times, five different ways.

Keep the Door Open

In a high turnover world, it might be time to revisit your approach to re-hires. You don’t want to rehire the troublemaker or the low performer. But if your rock star leaves for a better opportunity and wants to return a year later, chances are they’re even stronger now with new skills and perspective. Consider expanding your definition of loyalty and allow your best talent to continue to grow. Let them know you have their best interest at heart and that they’re welcome to return when the time is right.

Culture as a Competitive Advantage

I asked Bill about the pattern he’s seeing in what candidates want. He shared:

It is critical to do four things better than your competition:

  • Be known as a talent magnet.  Create a culture that attracts the best and brightest talent in the market;
  • Be known for using their skills on innovative projects and giving them new skills;
  • Be known for giving them the opportunity to move on quickly (inside or outside the company);
  • Be known for creating a lifelong conversation with this population so you can benefit from their experiences again and again.

Culture and innovation will be the currency the best talent will trade on.  Know how your culture & company will identify to the market and adjust accordingly.

Your turn: What advice do you have for building a great culture in a high turnover world?

See Also:

How Your Leadership Style Could Be Stifling Innovation and Problem-Solving at Your Company (Entrepreneur)

How to Take Your Retention Strategy to the Next Level (Training Industry Magazine)