What can you do when an employee hands their notice in?
Many years ago, I wanted to relocate from London to Manchester to be nearer my mum. I prepared to hand my notice in to my employer at the time in order to do so. But they didn’t want me to leave.
I’ve had a couple of conversations with people experiencing a similar situation recently. In both cases a valued employee handed their notice in – though for different reasons. In both situations the businesses involved responded quickly and thoughtfully. And in both cases the employee stayed.
That surprised me. It’s not the way these things normally go. So I was intrigued to find out how each case had been resolved.
In the first example, the employee was young, living at home and doing a fairly low paid admin job. When she handed her notice in, the director of the company knew he could replace her easily enough. But she was bright and reliable with lots of potential. He felt she was too valuable to lose.
In the second case, my contact was working in a high end consultancy role. Having been doing the same thing for over six years, she felt she needed a change. She secured another job and handed her notice in.
In both situations, and in mine, odds were that they would leave. So what did each business do to keep them?
Why people leave
Most people don’t hand their notice in on impulse.
Usually, they leave because something about their current employment pushes them away. It’s their dissatisfaction with their current workload/manager/development/salary/hours etc that will motivate them to consider moving elsewhere. When the right opportunity comes along – the pull factor – that’s when they’ll actually do something about it.
That means that by the time you find out they’re leaving, they’re already pretty disengaged. Psychologically at least, they’re already halfway out the door.
Getting them to stay at that point can be extremely difficult. Essentially it depends whether the psychological contract between employee and employer has been irretrievably damaged.
The psychological contract
Like a standard employment contract, the psychological contract details the expectations an employee and employer have of each other. The difference is the psychological contract is much more important and, usually, completely unspoken.
When starting a new job, an employee forms an impression of how they will be managed, how they will be treated, how they will be developed in this organisation and so on. When this is aligned with the reality they will be happy and engaged. If their expectations are not met in some way – they don’t get on with their manager for instance (the most common reason for people leaving a job) – they will become disengaged and the psychological contract they have with the business could break down completely. At that point they’ll be gone.
That’s why, so often, businesses just accept the resignation and don’t make any effort to try and keep the employee. They figure they’ve already lost them.
But not in the case of these two examples.
How have I failed you?
The company director, in the first example, didn’t give up straightaway. He sat down with the employee and simply said, “I want to know how I’ve failed you. You’ve shown lots of potential. Clearly something I’ve done means you’re leaving. Can you tell me why?”
It turned out she was moving to a job paying £3k more than her current role. Knowing that, with her potential, she could easily earn that in bonuses the director offered her a salary increase instead. She accepted.
A pretty simple solution which didn’t cost the business anything – in fact it will save money given they won’t need to recruit and train a new person. But it might not have been so easy had the director not stepped in quickly and decisively.
A win, win solution
In the second example, the employee was asked her reasons for leaving. She told the company she’d been doing the same job for some time and wanted development and new challenges. Their response? They promoted her. Unbeknownst to her, a senior role had become available at just the right time. A lucky chance, perhaps. But if the business hadn’t asked her why she’d resigned, she’d have left and they’d be looking to fill two roles, instead of one.
In both cases, the businesses responded to a resignation by listening, acting quickly and finding a mutually beneficial solution. They managed to catch things before the psychological contract had been irrevocably broken.
Of course, it’s even better if you can prevent things getting as far as a resignation in the first place. Regular 1-2-1s for instance can help you to identify and address any issues your employee has before it gets to that stage.
And in my case, my manager was willing to let me work remotely from another office in Manchester. This meant I didn’t have to leave my team, I just had to learn a different working style instead.
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