This is an open letter to all bosses, particularly mine, regarding how to accept an employees resignations with grace and diplomacy.
I'm very sorry to hear your employee has resigned. That's not good. It's always a rough thing when that happens, particularly when it comes as rather a surprise.
However, just as a note, these things should never really come as a surprise. It might seem out of the blue when you find yourself confronted, on a Monday morning, with a resignation letter. It may blindside you temporarily because you had no idea it was coming. Yet, when you stop and look back, unless you have a very, very bad memory, chances are...there were a lot of signs that this might have been coming.
If you do have a bad memory, that's rather a nuisance, isn't it? Especially as you're in charge of people and are expected to manage them. In that case, I suggest you keep something like a journal to keep track of issues that have arisen with an employee.
For example, say an employee has been to see you four times over the past 18 months to tell you she's underutilised and feeling like she could be doing more. Wouldn't you, as a manager, find that a delight? Here is someone willing to do the work and she's not even asking for more pay! Yet, I suppose, it is a bit of a nuisance to come up with more work for this employee when you're already supervising quite a few other people and they're able to keep themselves occupied, even when it's by spending hours and hours in their coworker/friends' offices, feet up, eating candy and chatting away about family trees and the like. So, maybe you don't do anything about it and you hope that the employee finds more work to do on her own. She says she has initiative, right? Then let her prove it! I mean, just because you're a manager or even a Vice President of the company, what power do you have to find more work for an employee to do?
Then there's the issue of equipment. This same employee has had a broken chair. The back is literally disconnected from the rest of it. She complains. The chair is taken to be glued. The glue doesn't hold. The chair breaks. The employee has to sit on a crappy chair for three weeks because hers has been sent away for repair. Isn't there some logical part of you that thinks, 'well, it's just a chair. Maybe we should get her a new one!"
Oh, but why bother! It's just a chair! Just as it's just a computer when you buy brand new Mac's that cost over $1000 each for every other employee in the department but you make her keep her old Windows machine. So what if it means the people this employee works with most have to have a special version of Windows to work with her because she doesn't have the same operating system. Phooey on that!
And when the rest of the department can pick up their shiny new Macs and go work outside on a beautiful Spring/Summer/Fall day, this employee is trapped inside on her desktop PC. No big deal. She'll probably get more work done anyway while her coworker is lounging outside on the grass, not even looking at her laptop.
Another thing you probably forgot to write in your little journal because your memory is so bad, this same employee asked to go to a conference last year with her coworker. They were rejected because it cost too much. This year, the same conference was local. So you let her coworker sign up and also approve another person to go who doesn't even work for you when this other employee doesn't even know about it yet. Never mind that the two people who are going don't really both need to be going and it would actually be more beneficial to send your neglected employee.
So, when this employee who you have been treating as thought she's invisible resigns, it really shouldn't come as a surprise to you, should it? When she does resign, you should be able to look back over your memories (or your journal since your memory is horrible), and at least have some semblance of an idea that maybe there is a reason. There's probably a whole lot of reasons, only a few of which you catch as you scan through this journal you've been keeping since your memory is so bad.
Thus, when she resigns, you should say, "Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that. You've done a great job here. Congratulations."
THAT is how to accept a resignation gracefully. Since she's been gracious enough to give you two weeks notice even though it's an 'at-will' company that could fire her without any notice, you should be a little disappointed but accept her decision.
What you should not do is this:
a) Act like a boyfriend who's been dumped and ask her what you've done wrong and turn it into something personal.
b) When she tries to be professional and tell you that she 'just wanted a change', don't push and bully her into telling you more. She's trying to be diplomatic so she can leave on good terms. Then when you finally bully her and she cracks and tells you some of what's wrong, do NOT defend yourself and contradict her.
c) Ask her what you can do to change her mind. Resigning from a job with two weeks notice generally means a person has thought it over and made up her mind. If she wanted a counteroffer, she would have said, "I have another job offer. What can you do to make me want to stay here."
d) Even when she says her decision is final, scramble around and invent a position for her that you've composed from pulling various job descriptions off the internet.
e) If you do invent this position, you SHOULD offer her a raise. Chances are she won't take it but when you involve a salary, it means you're serious. What reason would she have to stay based on a quickly thrown together email of a made up job?
f) Keep calling her into your office, making her close the door and bullying her into telling you why she's leaving. She's told you.
g) When you tell her to compose an announcement to the staff, take out everything she says other than, "I'm leaving this job to take another position." When you do, do not be annoyed when she politely asks you to compose and send the email yourself.
h) Make her have to talk to 1) The outgoing president, 2) The incoming president 3) The HR manager and 4) yourself (again) within a 24 hour period in order to explain why she's leaving.
i) Ask her to postpone her start date at the new job because you've suddenly decided that her coworker is going to have to take over her work and needs to be trained. This isn't an unreasonable request but if you're asking her to postpone because said coworker is going to be at the conference you didn't even ask if the resigning employee wanted to attend for three days during the outgoing employees last week at work, it IS unreasonable.
j) Call her into your office again and make her feel guilty for leaving her job. When she breaks down and starts crying because she's just had enough and is stressed out from the way you and the upper management have been treating her, do NOT act like she's an alien from outer space. She is a human being who is embarrassed about crying. Chances are she's crying for a reason.
In conclusion, when an employee wants to resign and she's said her decision is final, for the love of all things that are good and wonderful, LET HER BLOODY WELL RESIGN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! JUST LET HER GO!
This is how to accept a resignation graciously.
Captain Monkeypants, an employee whose resignation was not accepted graciously.