Don’t follow the leader: How to handle multiple resignations

We might have been talking about “the great resignation” for more than a year, but it was recent events in Westminster that brought the subject of mass resignations home for many businesses across the UK. As ministers, aides and hangers-on resigned as a bid to force the Prime Minister to stand down, many business-leaders found themselves questioning how their business would survive, should the same happen to them.


The background: What is ‘multiple resignation’?

Since the Covid-19 pandemic forced a change to everyone’s lives, employees have been leaving their jobs in droves. As the London Business School reported in June 2022, “…data released by the UK’s Labour Force Survey in November 2021 showed that, of the 1.02 million people who moved jobs between July and September 2021, 391,000 of them had resigned – the highest spike ever recorded by the LFS.”

Recruiting and retaining the best people has always been an important part of running a successful business. As businesses recover from repeated Covid-related lockdowns and absences, they are now seeking to hire again and it is this rush of jobs that is strengthening the market, presenting opportunities for employees elsewhere. But the problem doesn’t stop here.

On top of this buoyant employment market we’ve also seen a shift in personal values as a result of the pandemic. Professor Dan Cable, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at LBS said, “…people are asking themselves what their real values are. Why, when our time is so finite, would anyone want to spend their days doing something that doesn’t align with those values?”

This new outlook is causing many to reconsider their jobs and whether their working lives measure up to their values. With many families now living off two incomes, the risk of one party taking the plunge to follow their dreams, take a break, or simply step off the corporate ladder to see what else is out there, is significantly lower than once it was.

These two factors, coupled together, have caused one of the most significant economic and societal shifts in generations. The “great resignation” or mass resignation is now a very real problem for businesses across the globe.


What’s the risk to businesses of mass resignation?

The knock-on effect of multiple resignations can be devastating for those left behind. Not only are businesses struggling to keep the doors open with fewer people, managers need to support those that have stayed in terms of both workload and wellbeing.

While some businesses have taken the opportunity to review their ways of working – perhaps also the cause of these resignations – so as to make improvements and efficiencies, juggling all of this alongside recruitment and ‘business-as-usual’ has forced many to breaking point.


How should businesses manage resignations?

 Whilst this is a highly disruptive period for any business, it’s important you take a consistent approach to handling resignation. It doesn’t matter whether you’re handling one resignation or multiple cases, the approach should be the same:

  • Step one: consistency is key: Agree what your approach should be and make sure it’s communicated clearly to all of your managers.
  • Step two: check your contracts: Your employees should all have contracts and clearly stated notice periods. You should always ensure your employees give you the notice period set out in their contracts. You can bring breach of contract proceedings against an employee, should you wish, if they fail to work out their contractual notice period.
  • Step three: consider the risks: At the same time, consider any restrictive covenants in the contract and whether you do want them to work their notice, or want to remove them from the work environment through garden leave or even pay them in lieu of notice.
  • Step four: keep your paperwork up to date: Although there’s no legal requirement for employees to put their resignation in writing, it’s always good to encourage this. Once a letter has been received, write a response setting out when their last working day will be.
  • Step five: learn from this: Exit interviews can be invaluable in preventing this from happening again (or a problem continuing). Be aware that it may be prudent to involve some other people if management issues prompted the resignation.
  • And one more thing… If an employee does resign in a fit of anger or frustration, give them time to cool off and then ask them if they want to reconsider things, rather than treating it as a resignation straight away.


Can you refuse a resignation?

Unfortunately for you, a resignation is the employee’s decision alone. Whilst you might like to refuse to accept a resignation – particularly if they’re facing disciplinary action – we’re afraid you can’t. However, if they do resign with immediate effect, pending disciplinary proceedings, you can make it clear that any reference provided will include reference to this disciplinary action.


How can you prevent further resignations?

If people are leaving, the very first thing you need to do is to look in the mirror. Employees need to have faith in their leaders and managers, so ask yourself whether leadership or management is part of the problem or whether there is anything across the wider business that needs to change.

Compare your salaries to industry standards to understand whether there is work to do here to prevent further resignations. Similarly, look at workloads as well as how work is managed and feedback given. Do you need to make changes to team structures, communication or resourcing? How about work-life balance and values? Consider whether your way of working respects that your employees have lives outside of work. And most importantly, check how often you ask your employees what they need and want from their working life and you, as their employer.

And finally, remember, contagious dissatisfaction is a very real threat. If one person feels there is a problem then that can soon spread to others. Similarly, if one person leaves it can prompt others to consider or to do the same. Consider how you’re handling this and whether your remaining employees need you to step up.


How we can help you manage resignations

At Arbor Law, our experienced, senior team of lawyers work with small businesses and legal teams as outsourced general counsel. Not only can we support you through resignations and wider, associated employment matters, we’re perfectly placed to provide advice on business structures and other management issues. If you would like to discuss how this could work for you, contact