Should You Talk an Employee Out of Quitting?

It’s an age-old dilemma that takes on greater significance in a tight labor market. When an employee resigns, should you try to talk him or her into staying?


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And if so, how should you approach the issue?

Understand Why

The first thing you need to do, regardless of your intent, is find out why the person has decided to leave. If, for example, he has decided to relocate to Tibet and pursue his dream of becoming a monk, there is nothing to do but wish him well.
On the other hand, if he says he is seeking something the company hasn’t been able to offer, there may be an opportunity for a conversation.
Among the top reasons employees leave, according to various surveys*, in no particular order, are:

  • Higher salary
  • Career development opportunities
  • Advancement opportunities / promotion
  • Greater work flexibility

*Note: Priorities often differ by survey population, and may reflect generational differences, industries, and family obligations, among other factors.
Other common reasons employees leave include:

  • Work no longer meaningful
  • Values don’t align with the company
  • Shorter commute
  • Better benefits package
  • Personality conflict with boss / coworker
  • Relocation due to partner’s job

Needless to say, reasons vary—which is why it’s critical that you not presume you know the reason Joe has decided to move on.

Countering a Job Offer

But suppose, after discussing the situation, you perceive an opening; that is, a chance to get him to stay?
Should you make Joe a counteroffer?
It depends on the reason he is leaving. If Joe will receive a significant bump in salary at the new job, can you meet it? Moreover, is it wise to even try?
Before you make a decision, research the salary for his position. Is your salary competitive? If not, perhaps an adjustment makes sense. Is Joe a stellar employee? If so, offering him a salary at the high-end of the scale may be justified.
What if he is seeking career development opportunities and/or advancement that you can’t offer? It’s important to assess your work environment realistically. If you value Joe as a person, you don’t want to hold him back.
However, when it comes to issues like work flexibility, you may be able to meet his requirement—or at least meet him halfway, with an offer, say, of working remotely two days per week.
Similarly, don’t rule out a seemingly insurmountable reason, like relocating for a partner’s job. Is it possible for Joe to work remotely on a full-time basis?
Likewise, look for issues related to management, particularly if there has been a pattern. If Joe says or implies that he has a problem with his manager, you may want to consider who is more valuable to the company, Joe or the difficult manager.

Looking Long Term

Management may be reluctant to try and talk an employee out of quitting. The thinking goes, if he has considered quitting, he eventually will. Yet, this isn’t always true. Your efforts at retention may make him feel more valued and increase the likelihood of him staying longer than he otherwise might have.
Sometimes concerns also arise about setting a precedent; if you accommodate Joe, other employees will threaten to quit to get what they want. With the occasional exception, this is unfounded. Joe didn’t threaten; he had another job offer and gave notice.
The bottom line is that you should approach each situation on a case-by-case basis, looking long term at what is in the mutual best interest of the company and the employee you value.

Paula Paula Santonocito, Contributing Editor for Recruiting Daily Advisor, is a business journalist specializing in employment issues. She is the author of more than 1,000 articles on a wide range of human resource and career topics, with an emphasis on recruiting and hiring. Her articles have been featured in many global and domestic publications and information outlets, referenced in academic and legal publications as well as books, and translated into several languages.