Resignation Confessions

There is something that has always perplexed me about employees who resign.  No matter what the level or situation, a resigning employee rarely says where they are going.  Because of my personality (insert how you see me here – I’ll just say I’m unfiltered) I always ask – “Hey! That’s Great! Where are you going?” Always – and I mean always – I get – “Well…I would rather not say.”  Then the conversation boils down to this:

Me:“Really!?  You would rather not say. Why exactly, would you rather not say!?”

Employee who is dead to me now:  “Well, I don’t want to jeopardize my new position.”

Me:  “Well, that makes complete sense, since I actually do have the power to stop positions at every possible company you might go to – great call by you!”

Employee who is dead to me now:  “I’ll tell you once I’ve started.”

Me:  “Oh, don’t do that!  Won’t matter – once I know, I’ll get you fired!”

Employee who is dead to me now:  “What!?”

Me:At this point nothing will stop me from ruining your entire life!” (I don’t really say this, it’s internal dialogue – but wouldn’t it be fun to say!)

It really doesn’t even matter how good of a relationship you have with that specific employee – it almost always goes down this path of the employee not wanting to tell you (HR) where they are going.  It’s really the only question anyone cares to know or ask when you say you’re leaving.  HR wants to know. Executives want to know. Your boss wants to know.  I think the resigning employee doesn’t want to tell because for the first time, for most employees, they have the power! They have something the employer wants, information, and they don’t have to give it up.  It becomes this big cat and mouse game of discovery.

The funny thing is, about 99% of the time by the last day the person is leaving – they come clean! Probably they feel like they power is lost once they walk out the door so they have one last card to play and that is to actually tell everyone in a glorious announcement – “I am leaving you for…” At which they come clean and tell us the information we already discovered by looking back at their email history, grilling their coworkers who where ‘friendly’ but not friends with said employee, staking out their home, interviewing their neighbors and tapping their phones.  We’re in HR – don’t tell us we can’t know!  We have ways – don’t forget that employees!

So, why do we ask?  Why do we play this game?  Curiosity.  Plain and simple.  Why would someone want to leave us? Who is taking our talent?  Who else is looking?  Resignations force a litany of questions to come pouring into our consciousness of HR that can drive you mad! It’s funny to watch HR Pros get completely crazed in trying to find out where someone is going.  Then once they find out – nothing.  Freaking Nothing!  They do nothing!  At least make a call over to your fellow HR competitor and tell them “Congrats you hired away our biggest problem! We were days away from firing him! Thank you!”  At the very least you now throw them into a similar craze that you’ve been on a 3 bender dealing with!

Confession Time:  HR Pros hate resignations, mostly, because we take it personally – we feel like you’re leaving ‘us’ – not the company.  What can you do about it? Nothing – it’s our neurosis – just leave it be – enjoy the greener grass – know we hate you, until you want to come back (if you’re good) then we’ll love you again.  What can I say – we have issues!

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Tim Sackett
Tim Sackett SPHR, is the ultimate Mama’s Boy!  After 15+ years of successfully leading HR and Talent Acquisition departments for Fortune 500s and smaller technical firms, Tim took over running the contingent staffing firm HRU Technical Resources in Lansing, MI. Serving as the Executive Vice President, Tim runs the company his mother started over 30 years ago, and don’t tell Mom, but he thinks he does a better job at it than she did!  Check out his blog at Because he's got A LOT to say, and FOT just isn't enough for him.


  1. Lance Haun says:

    I’ve never had an issue with an employee telling me where they are going. I’m curious if other people have the same issue or if it is one of these Sackett only issues.

  2. Not one mention of non-compete issues?

    In Washington State, non-competes have been proven to be enforceable, particularly in IT. So not telling where someone is going is completely expected, especially if its to a competitor. Not like people won’t find out, but it can be the difference between being able to leave with dignity (and your things packed) or being asked to leave the premises immediately.

  3. kd says:

    Non-competes and non-solicitations, in all their glory, would be the biggest issue.

    I think the hesitance to tell us where they are going at time of resignation is directly correlated to how much we care about their careers in the first place. So – the more you care when they are there and working for you, the more open they’ll be when they resign.

    I’m not saying Sackadamous doesn’t care. I’m speaking broadly…


  4. KD makes a good point. Trust ’em and be cool. If not, at least don’t be a d*%$. My take has been that if we can’t provide a great career and work environment then employees should manage their careers outside of the organization.

    As to the non-compete, I have seen companies pro-actively send an info letter to the future employer informing the company of the non-compete agreement. I think this kind of distrustful practice adds to vacating employees not wanting to tell where they are going.

    Most non-competes are unenforceable in court but no one wants to take it that far, especially the individual worker who is paycheck to paycheck anyway, which is 70% of Americans.

  5. Jen says:

    non-competes are the biggest reason why I’ve experienced most people don’t share. In IT a lot of people are going to competitors and they also signed a non-compete when they started. I think that’s where a lot of the “fear” stems from.

  6. Arthur Lee, Singapore says:

    I resigned from the Housing and Development Board (HDB) at 43 years of age, exactly 10 years ago to this coming 30-June-2013 anniversary. The HDB paid all employees volunteering to leave an ex-gratia payment of a half month’s salary for every year of their years of service, tax free, as an incentive to leave. That offer never came around to HDB employees again. It was a special resignation scheme (SRS) put out to the whole statutory board (ie.HDB) in order to downsize the HDB by a third. Nobody asked “Where were you going?” back then as thousands who were leaving HDB would be on the hunt for a new job.
    The ironic twist here was when my Section Head from HQ, Mr Tan BC himself made a trip down to my branch office to personally persuade me not to leave HDB, only for me to later discover that he himself had taken up the SRS offer for himself. That’s a twist that you would probably never had thought of nor encountered.
    The point we must all realize is that resignations or retrenchments in themselves present unique and unusual opportunities to outgoing employes. It’s also about the benefits and sometimes kickbacks to be directly realized in resignations or retrenchments. CEOs have been known to quietly and shrewdly welcome the opportunity to be allowed to use their golden parachute then take a long long holiday in the Bahamas.
    It’s also about recognizing that it’s just a part of working life, of growing up and one should not cast a shadow on people who have to go through that “dark tunnel ” of uncertainty when facing the crossroads of resignations or retrenchment in their working life. As they say, “there’s light at the end of the tunnel”. Hope that’ offers some encouragement to those at their own crossroad.

  7. James Levin says:

    When do you know when to say good-bye? When do you say farewell, hit the road, look for the door, split, leave, resign – WHEN DO YOU QUIT?

    Is there an appropriate time to throw in the towel? The corner man in a fight will wait until his boxer is getting the crap kicked out of him without retaliation. I think it’s much wiser not to get smacked around too much before one realizes things aren’t working out as we might have planned or hoped.

    We deal with many things in life. Some cause pain and some give joy. Either way – we live with the process and take it as it is delivered. There are some circumstances where we feel we don’t have a choice or an alternative. Personally, I believe there are always choices. That’s what life offers – options.

    It’s our responsibility to recognize what they are and when is the best time to take advantage of them. They are not always obvious. Often they require a great deal of effort and we work at creating some of these options. That in of itself is hard work. However, if you are in need of a change – you take measurements, develop a plan and you act on it. We generate ideas, by authoring and constructing that plan. We take whats in front of us, give it a big hug, we show confidence and we go for it!

    Everybody has a breaking point. We don’t need someone to tell us or advise us – now is the time. You will know it. When you can’t be pushed any further – you will organize your thoughts and resources and get the hell out.

    Quitting, if done with the right intentions should be a new beginning – not the end. Embrace the changes.
    James Levin – Job Search Therapy

  8. ToddR says:

    There’s also a notion (considered radical by many) that a resigning employee prefers to enjoy a sense of privacy with his or her affairs.

  9. Jim Durbin says:

    Quite simply, because you never know if the HR person, your manager, or the CEO are psychotic. Catch one on a bad day, and they’ll explode at you for leaving, even the ones you have a good relationship. In leaving, you’re costing the company money (to find a replacement), and you’re putting more stress on the manager. About to be former employees are supposed to believe there won’t be any consequences for that?

    Some companies will try to talk them out of it – others will smile and then call the lawyers. Still others will nod, gossip behind their back, and that gossip gets to the new company.

    Are you really curious why? It’s because Human Resources is not, and has never been your friend. They are there to protect the company. Which is why so many exit interviews include questions that claim there was no sexual harassment, fraud, or other discrimination while you were employed. Shouldn’t that kind of thing be addressed before you leave the company? Why ask for my signature when I’m going out the door, knowing that if I sign, I may be putting myself in legal jeopardy if i’m ever called to testify against you?

    It’s none of your business where they are going – you should be trying to find out why they left. If they volunteer the information, it’s because they like you and the company well enough to throw caution to the winds. If they don’t, it’s because they don’t trust you.

  10. HR Man says:

    You speak for yourself, not for HR people in general. And you don’t speak well for yourself at that. You want to threaten and ruin employees who are nice enough to give you any notice at all? You take it personally? I’m disturbed that you think this is normal thinking for an HR professional. If you are currently employed in HR, I would consider your position at risk over these admissions.

  11. Rory Trotter says:

    I also agree with the thoughts concerning non-compete agreements here. If someone doesn’t choose to share their final destination, it’s typically because they’re concerned about legal repercussions (or else as stated above they want to leave with dignity and are concerned with how their manager will handle it).

    Personally? I only care where a resigning candidate is going if the manager would like to make a counter offer (in which case I want all the information I can get including salary, benefits, perks etc.).

    Thanks for sharing this. Good discussion and insights.



  12. CC says:

    I am the only HR Rep at my company and to be honest I don’t ever prod people for information. It has been my experience that if you have a good relationship with your employees you don’t have to ask them, they will tell you. But even if they don’t who cares? I am always happy for people to move on and do something they love. And I don’t take people leaving personally, but I know our CEO does, which I find immature in a way. But at least his taking it personally makes sense, because they are leaving him and his company. People at my company know they can come to me for anything and that I will my best to help them. So I know I am not the issue, it is management, always…

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