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‘The great resignation’ – How to respond if one of your top performing employees wants to leave

By Shandel McAuliffe | |7 minute read
‘The great resignation’ – How to respond if one of your top performing employees wants to leave

It’s the scenario every manager dreads. Your best performing employee comes to you and says they want to leave. Perhaps they’ve been offered a better job elsewhere or they’re considering ‘taking time off’. Either way, you’re about to lose a much-needed asset to the business.

So, what do you do? How do you keep them? Can you convince them to stay?

Firstly, it’s important to do everything to avoid finding yourself in this position in the first place. By keeping a close eye on your staff, often it’s possible to pinpoint unhappiness before an employee decides to call it quits.


Early warning signs to look out for include:

  • Not being engaged with their work
  • Late for meetings
  • More sick days
  • Lack of focus
  • Obvious signs of frustration

If you notice these signs in your staff, the best way to respond is to sit down and talk!

In the conversation, try to find out what is causing their thoughts about wanting to leave. Is it about their role? Is it the responsibilities they have? Are they doing tasks they were not hired to do? Are they feeling overwhelmed?

By pinpointing the root cause of the problem, you can help work with them to hopefully find a solution.

Here are some of the top reasons why people leave and what you can do about it.

1. Financial reasons
With the escalating cost of living and the average Australian family under mounting financial pressure, for many the lure of a greater salary will be hard to resist. It’s important to have an honest conversation about what offer is on the table and whether you can counter it. Consider non-financial benefits that could sweeten the deal too, like an early finish time on a Friday or an extra day of leave.

2. Work/home life balance
This is a big one, especially post COVID-19 lockdowns when the lines became blurred between professional and personal lives. Flexibility is now a must-have requirement for many employees. If you find a staff member is struggling with this, discuss their time management with them – is there a way of adjusting start times or managing their time better to allow for more balance? Can you make allowances for them to be able to take time off for family commitments?

3. Lack of inspiration
People want to feel motivated and inspired at work. Are they feeling engaged with the company and with the role? If not, what support can be provided to them? Perhaps you could give them more responsibilities or offer them access to a leadership or training course to further develop their skills.

Put the question back onto them – ask them ‘what is missing here that would make you feel happy to stay?’ Be prepared to listen to their answer and think about how you could make changes to their work environment to engage them and make them invested in the future of the business.


After you’ve had this initial conversation with your potential leaver, it could be the right time to give consideration to getting professional help. Coaching is a valuable tool for unpacking any potential stress points which may be driving their desire to leave. Sometimes it can be easier for a staff member to be honest with a stranger than with their own boss.

We’ve found most people who’ve come to us unhappy with their jobs were actually dissatisfied with their personal lives. By making changes to themselves they’ve been able to thrive in their careers. One-on-one coaching is a valuable tool to help identify the real issues at play.

Hopefully by having these meaningful conversations with your staff you can encourage them to stay. The worst case is despite all your best efforts you do lose that cherished staff member. But by unpacking all the issues surrounding their resignation you’ll be able to onboard their replacement with a clearer definition of their role, the expectations that come with it and you’ll be on the front foot when it comes to their wellbeing and getting the best out of them.

Your staff are not robots. They are people with complexities, flaws and differing needs. But they’re also your best asset and there’s nothing more rewarding than investing in them.

Victoria Mills is the CEO of Hello Coach



Coaching differs from training in that it frequently focuses on a narrower range of abilities or jobs. This might be done as a part of personnel upskilling or performance management. Both internal trainers and outside coaches may carry out this task. Coaching occasionally includes assessments and performance feedback.


Resignation is the employee-initiated termination of employment. In other words, the employee willingly decides to leave their job and informs the company of their choice.

Shandel McAuliffe

Shandel McAuliffe

Shandel has recently returned to Australia after working in the UK for eight years. Shandel's experience in the UK included over three years at the CIPD in their marketing, marcomms and events teams, followed by two plus years with The Adecco Group UK&I in marketing, PR, internal comms and project management. Cementing Shandel's experience in the HR industry, she was the head of content for Cezanne HR, a full-lifecycle HR software solution, for the two years prior to her return to Australia.

Shandel has previous experience as a copy writer, proofreader and copy editor, and a keen interest in HR, leadership and psychology. She's excited to be at the helm of HR Leader as its editor, bringing new and innovative ideas to the publication's audience, drawing on her time overseas and learning from experts closer to home in Australia.

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