What to Say When an Employee Resigns: 12 Appropriate Responses

Published October 29, 2021
Woman having meeting with male colleague on office

When an employee notifies you that they are resigning, it can be difficult to know what to say. Managers are often taken by surprise when an employee quits, so it's important for them to be prepared to respond appropriately when an employee turns in a letter of resignation or states that they are leaving their job.

What to Say When an Employee Resigns

There isn't just one right way to respond when someone quits their job. In many ways, what you should say will vary based on the specifics of the situation and your company's policies and procedures. No matter what, it's important to respond in a civil and professional manner.

Initial Response Options

When an employee tells you that they are resigning, be prepared to reply to their statement immediately, in a calm, cool manner. Examples of appropriate initial responses are:

  • I am sorry to hear that.
  • Thank you for letting me know.
  • I am surprised to learn that you're leaving.

Don't say anything that could be interpreted as negative, judgmental, or derogatory. Refrain from reacting in a way that would indicate you are taking the person's decision to quit personally.

Request Written Notice

Most companies require a written letter of resignation. If the employee doesn't have a letter, request one after your initial statement. It's best to get written notice at the time the employee tells you they're leaving. It can be handwritten, emailed to you, or quickly typed and printed. A letter of resignation simply needs to have the date, a statement that the employee is choosing to resign, and what the individual expects their last day of work to be.

To request a written letter of resignation you can say:

  • I'm glad you told me, though company policy requires a written letter of resignation. Do you have one prepared?
  • If you don't have a letter of resignation, let's draft one now. Here's a notepad you can use.
  • HR will ask for a copy of your letter of resignation. I see you have your phone with you. Will you pull up your email and just type up a quick note confirming our conversation and send it to me?

Be prepared to reply to questions, including how much notice the company expects when an employee resigns. Consult the company's employee handbook for a definitive answer if you're uncertain.

Accept the Resignation

Unless there is a contract in place that would prohibit the employee from being able to resign, let them know that you are accepting their resignation. Tell them that you or an HR representative will be in touch to finalize the details of their exit from the organization once you have gone through the proper channels.

Follow-Up Questions

You may want to ask a few questions to try to understand why the individual has decided to leave. Examples of questions that would be appropriate include:

  • Would you be willing to share what led you to resign?
  • Did something specific happen that caused you to decide to leave?
  • Would you mind sharing what you plan to do next after your time here has ended?

Don't push the employee for answers. An employee is not obligated to tell an employer why they are quitting or what they plan to do next. Don't ask too many questions, either. If an employee seems reluctant to share, leave it alone. Chances are that someone on the HR team will ask similar questions during the individual's exit interview.

Wish Them Well

Close the conversation politely by expressing appreciation and wishing them well. For example:

  • Thanks for your hard work during the time you've been here. Best wishes for continued success.
  • Thank you for letting me know personally. I appreciate your consideration and wish you well.
  • You will be missed. Best wishes for great success in whatever career path you pursue.

Moving Forward Beyond an Employee Resignation

Once an employee's resignation has been accepted, it will be time to focus on the transition. Get the proper personnel involved to handle the termination paperwork and procedures, including HR and the information technology team. The search for a replacement will need to commence, and other employees will need to be notified. Dealing with the resignation of a good employee isn't something any manager wants to face. Being prepared to handle this eventuality will equip you to process an employee's resignation with professionalism and grace.

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What to Say When an Employee Resigns: 12 Appropriate Responses