Unemployment has returned, in many places, to pre-pandemic levels. We’re in the midst of “The Great Resignation,” and employers in every industry are desperate to find talent and retain the workers they have. Many senior employees have opted to take early retirement. You’re aware of the trends, but it suddenly gets real when a trusted and valued employee turns in a resignation.
It’s never easy to lose a great employee. It feels like a personal loss, like a breakup, which, of course it is. But it doesn’t have to be the end of your relationship. In fact, if you handle it right, there’s a good chance you can win your employee back. A recent study by The Muse found that over 70% of millennial and Gen Z workers who started new jobs had buyer’s remorse. Most said they’d have no qualms about leaving within the first few months if the job or company turned out to be different than they were led to expect.
Historically, employers never considered rehiring workers who left. Quitting represented a rupture in the relationship, and once broken, the loyalty bond was considered unfixable. But times and expectations have changed, and companies are beginning to see the benefits in giving workers a second chance.
Here’s some advice on how to manage the process for the best outcome.
Let’s start by saying you should rarely, if ever, be surprised by a resignation. If you are regularly checking in with the people who work for you, and can stay open to their honest feedback, you’ll know in advance what they need and want from their job – and what they’re not getting enough of. Whether it’s meeting salary expectations, providing opportunities for growth, or figuring out how to manage burnout or achieve better work/life balance, you can learn what matters if you ask good questions and listen carefully to their responses.
But you can’t control events, and inevitably, some of your best employees will receive better offers. It’s probably never a good idea to match an offer, in my opinion, because if you had the ability to match pay, benefits, flexible hours or the ability to work remotely, the employee will wonder why you didn’t offer them in the first place. It can make them resentful, even if they decide to stay. The best you can do is wish them well and let them know the door will be open if they change their mind.
Job one is to understand exactly what pushed them into the arms of another company. You’ll need to understand if the reason(s) In an article for Entrepreneur online, writer Vasily Voropaev says your number one priority should be to part on good terms. “My firm conviction is that, no matter what, you need to part on good terms. Make this your complete priority. Do not burn any bridges.”
Be careful when you reassign their duties, Voropaev goes on to say. Be thoughtful and consultative when you redistribute the workload among your team. You can easily create a disgruntlement domino effect by overloading the workers who remain behind. If some of the issues that prompted your employee to quit can be fixed, let people know you’re working on them.
Keep in contact with your former employee, if at all possible. It’s your job to make them feel like their resignation didn’t end your relationship. If the new opportunity doesn’t work out, returning to your company should be a viable option. Voropaev writes that the old way of thinking is counterproductive. “More than once I’ve encountered an opinion that once an employee leaves your company, it is incredibly hard for them to return. They will be too ashamed, and moreover, you should not accept them (because they are a “traitor”, in a way). This is complete nonsense,” he writes.
If an employee is valuable, they’re worth fighting for – and worth forgiving. Remember, as John Leonard said, “It takes a long time to grow and old friend.”