The answer is not: “Wait with the celebration until she leaves the building.” I assume here that you have actually wanted her to stay.
The answer is also not: “NEVER! I am always unhappy and always let them know that!” Employees leaving is part of the regular state of business. Lets be frank: do you plan to retire from your current company? All the 60+ guys please put your hand down. If you don’t plan to retire, do you only expect your employees not to quit the job before you leave?
Your employee is resigning. Should you ever be happy about it? Sure! Here are real examples from my experience:
- She is coming and explaining that her husband/son/mother is getting a job abroad/moving to/terminally ill abroad. In other words, she has to move to another country overseas. She is really bummed about it and she wants you to find a way for her to continue working remotely. Both of you consider it for a while, but then decide that it will not work out. You have to say good buy.
As sad as it sounds you should be happy in this situation. True, you have just lost a great employee, BUT she wanted to make it work, she wanted to continue working for the company. She has left as your friend.
- There is this guy, who has come to your office saying that there is a startup company that offered him a dream job. He wants to stay here, but this is a one in a lifetime offer. He might even has come to you before asking for promotion, but there are no opportunities in the company yet. You talk about it and it does sound like a dream job, so you end up convincing him to take the offer.
- There is this developer that wants to do something else. Not something that the company is doing. He wants to be a Web developer, but you run an embedded project. You have tried a couple of different projects, areas, modules, but nothing is working out. There is just no such thing as a web development in your company. You talk with the developer for months about it and in the end both of you decide that take different paths. Bummer? Sure! Did you depart like friends? Absolutely!
All those cases mean that you will have to hire another developer/QA/etc. You will train her, guide her and help her a lot. Until she will be an equal member of the team. Bummer? Yes. Should you be happy about the old employee leaving? YES! You should be happy!
Your job as a manager is to develop your people (well, this is one of your many jobs). Sometimes, you have to let them go to develop them further. In all those cases there is a common theme. You have been a part of the process. Moreover, you have build relationships with her. Good relationships that she would come and open up with her problem. She felt close enough to discuss a very sensitive issue with you. You had a decency to look for the best solution for her. Not for you. People notice that and appreciate that. You just earned a friend.
So, when you should not be happy when your employee is leaving?
When it surprises you!
This is the worst thing that can happen to you as a manager: your employee surprises you with resignation!!! Oh, they will have a good reason, they always do. Don’t believe them! Happy people don’t leave jobs they love! Especially, when the group/product is new. People don’t cheat on their honey moon. You did not see it coming? You should have! It is your fault as a manager!
It means that the employee was unhappy for a while, but you did not notice. She felt insecure or far enough not to mention it to you. Did you have a one-on-one meetings? Do you talk about personal stuff on those meetings? How do you make sure that nobody else is slipping between the cracks? Are others happy? You acn take it as granted: people don’t leave just because. They leave because they don’t like it here. If they like it here, they will go a long way to stay. Not the short walk to leave.
Surprised? You should not be happy…