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Learning Lessons from Unexpected Resignations

29 September 2023

Staff resignations, particularly those that are unexpected, can be hard to deal with and leave you feeling angry, deflated, and frustrated. However, it is important to deal with them in a way that allows you to learn and improve your recruitment process and staff retention rate in the future. There are situations where employers may see a resignation coming and thereby understand the reasons behind it. However, this guide sets out the steps and tips for when that is not the case.  

First Reactions Are Important

When you are first told of the resignation, gather yourself, keep calm and don’t get too emotional or pass judgement. There is no harm in an initial response that shows some feeling but do not say something that you will regret later. Phrases that can be useful are: 

  • I wasn’t expecting that! 
  • I am saddened to hear that you are looking to move on as you are a vital part of our team.  
  • I am surprised to hear this news, but I appreciate your honesty. 

Or a good fallback question if words fail you, is just to ask what they plan to do next.  

Use this opportunity to try and find out why they are leaving. It will depend on each individual employee and their personality how much they will reveal here. But the aim of asking the question is to find out if the reason is related to the business or a colleague as it gives an opportunity to prevent it happening in the future.  

  • Remember and show appreciation or understanding of how long some employees will have been considering this choice before they bring it to your attention. It may well be a massive weight off their shoulders to have shared this so take time to discuss it with them. Not all resignations are final at this stage and should be seen more as a revaluation of options or a final call for support until you have more information available to suggest otherwise. Some suggested questions are below. Ensure that you give the employee time to respond even if that involves enduring some silence initially until they gather their thoughts. Can I ask for the main reason behind this decision? I would like to understand if there is anything I can do before you make your final choice. 
  • I appreciate that you will have given this some thought already but is there anything I could do to make you change your mind? 

Offer Support

While it can be difficult to hear that an employee wants to move on, it is important that you show them support and enthusiasm for their new opportunity and allow them to leave on a good note. Do not make the notice period difficult for an employee just because they have chosen to move on. The agricultural community is small in a lot of senses never underestimate the chances of somebody who is considering your vacant position to ask this employee for some thoughts on the role.

Consulant, Farmer and Cows Photo

You want to ensure you have done everything you can to guarantee that they will give the role and the farm a good recommendation.  

The type of support that you can offer departing employees includes giving them a written reference, asking more about their new job role in case there is any recommendations or expertise you could share with them or even asking what leaving date would work well for their new job so that you are working with them rather than against them to allow them to pursue this new opportunity.  

Make Use of Exit Interviews

Finally, invite the employee to an exit interview. This can be a useful way for you to understand why they are leaving, and it can help inform future recruitment and retention of staff. If the employee is not comfortable with an exit interview, you could ask if they would complete an exit survey sent to them via e-mail. While this is not likely to provide the same depth of feedback that an interview would, it could still give you some useful information.

Andrew Lacey and actor

For example, if one of the reasons the employee is leaving is that the job was not what they were expecting then it might be worth looking at the job adverts you release and ensure there is sufficient information about the role and responsibilities. If it becomes apparent that the reason for leaving is related to another staff member or a wider problem in the team, then check out resources on difficult conversations and other aspects of managing people. 


Suggested questions for the exit interview would be: 

  • What made you decide to leave? 
  • Was the job what you expected? 
  • Do you feel you received proper and complete training? 
  • Did you feel you were supported in your career goals? 
  • What was your criteria for choosing a new job? 
  • What could have been done for you to remain employed here? 


Often the reason for an employee leaving might relate to the desire for a complete change of career but in other situations there might be something that you can learn about your recruitment process, staff morale or management that can be useful in increasing staff retention rate in the future.  

 Following a staff resignation, there is often a need to advertise for a replacement and we have some great guides and advice on this. Check out the publications and webinar recordings on Advertising, Interviews and Job Packages.   

 Related FAS Materials

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