So, your star employee has resigned. What happens next can be crucial for your brand.

The way a business responds to the resignation of a star employee is a touchstone of successful HR leadership. Employees, competitors, customers, and other key stakeholders (as well as your falling star) will be all eyes and ears about how you (HR) and senior management react to the news. HR 101 teaches us that recognising an employee’s decision to move on is part and parcel of business reality – but is there merit in leveraging the process further?

Leading organisations increasingly see value in accommodating and even advancing the choice of their employees to seek new ventures, particularly where there is no obvious path for career progression internally.

There is an element of long-term thinking here: the business community is a small world and today’s departing talent could well be next year’s customer. Being seen as an organisation that supports an employee’s decision to pursue outside opportunities, and values its alumni, may offer a better path in building employee engagement and your brand.

By contrast, taking a short-term view of the situation (and reacting badly) is not only negative for the relationship with the departing employee, but also risks knock-on effects for clients and key stakeholders more broadly. It can also have a detrimental effect on remaining employees’ health and wellbeing.

Obviously, any business must protect its immediate interests and commercial advantage. However, sometimes, managers dealing with these situations adopt just because you can-style retribution.

Examples of ‘just because you can’ include:

  • withholding discretionary benefits/payouts;
  • creating difficult arrangements for the transition period e.g. wiping company data from mobile phones;
  • distorting workflow (e.g. not giving the resigning employee any more or interesting work);
  • freezing out (e.g. directing others not to speak to their colleague, retracting invites to client and company events);
  • onerous handover requirements;
  • vigorous exit interviews and check-lists;
  • making adverse comments; and
  • interfering with external client relationships.

Stakeholders and the market quickly form a view about the career change and how it was dealt with. Engaging in “just because you can” will be seen for what it is – which is probably not how your organisation aspires to be perceived internally or externally.

Consider your process against our key takeaways for handling resignations:

  1. It’s not personal – take a long-term view of the situation. Respect the employee’s decision to seek new ventures and help them in advancing their next move.
  2. Show support – be the facilitator, not the inhibitor.
  3. Communicate carefully – how you communicate the news both internally and externally is a direct reflection of your organisation’s management style and brand.
  4. Industries talk – that old saying ‘(insert city) is a small place’ couldn’t ring truer. Think about how negative comments and rumours can reflect your businesses image.
  5. Consider the health and wellbeing of your remaining employees by communicating with clarity. Set a positive tone for how you want the ‘news’ to filter down internally.
  6. Protect legitimate interests – but do it respectfully and with a commercial eye, unless there is wrongdoing.

In the wise words of pop princess Taylor Swift, the haters will hate and the players will play. It’s how you respond and facilitate this often sensitive process that sets great HR leaders apart.

So go on, shake-it-off and lead the change.