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Last week, L.K. Advani resigned from three key positions in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). A day later, he took back his resignation after members of the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) persuaded him to reconsider.

In that concise resignation letter, Advani followed a classic three-paragraph format—the first recounting his association with the party, the second listing the reasons for his unhappiness with the state of affairs, and the final paragraph communicating his decision to resign from the three posts.

Are there lessons in this for professionals? We spoke to human resource (HR) experts for a clinical take on what he did right and what could be improved, and other things professionals need to include in their resignation communication.

How candid should you be?

People are often not candid. But from an organization’s point of view, we are looking for inputs on why an employee is leaving.

“People are often not candid," says P. Thiruvengadam, senior director, human capital advisory services, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India Pvt. Ltd. “But from an organization’s point of view, we are looking for inputs on why an employee is leaving."

Advani scored some points on this metric. The octogenarian politician’s letter gave his reasons—stating that he had been “finding it difficult to reconcile either with the current functioning of the party, or the direction in which it is going...." But the kudos here come with a caveat. The explanation was open to interpretation.

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Thiruvengadam says, “If the employee gives a fair assessment, without any grudges, then I as an HR would respect that honesty." For example, he says, it’s a “clean thing" to say that one’s compensation is not in line with expectations.

Debashish Sengupta, author of Human Resource Management—Biztantra, says: “Stating the real reason is a bad idea... burning bridges should always be avoided as it serves no advantage to the employee who is resigning."

Plus, the resignation letter goes into your employee file. It’s how the company remembers you for years after you leave. If you have constructive feedback, there’s a way to slip it in.

How you say it is just as important as what you say. And rule No.1 in this paradigm is to keep emotions in check.

How you say it

“Personal comments are best avoided in a resignation letter," says Adrian Williams, Thomas Cook India’s head of human resources. “You want the HR team to remember you as a positive, contributing employee."

Prasad Kaipa, the US-based CEO adviser and co-author of From Smart to Wise: Acting And Leading With Wisdom, has a formula for riding the twin boats of honesty and positivity in a resignation, and not rocking either vessel.

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“If you notice, I am not saying anything negative directly. But by focusing on what is in the other company and opportunity, I am saying that those elements are missing in the current company," he explains.

Staying on, for more

But what if you can get what you want in the same company?

Companies will sometimes sweeten the deal to keep star performers. It’s a useful tool in the modern-day HR kit when, say, a parent chooses to work from home to take care of a child.

HR executives and experts are divided, however, on how they feel about an employee deliberately using a resignation letter as a negotiating chip.

Amit Nandkeolyar, assistant professor, organizational behaviour, Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, thinks it’s best avoided because it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Plus, it affects the culture of the organization—a case of a bad apple spoiling others in the basket.

One thing a resignation letter should never become is a statement of grievance.

To be sure, there are HR managers who find that it’s never too late to change a key contributor’s mind. In much the same way that RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and BJP leaders were able to weigh in on Advani’s decision to stay with the party.

Milind Mutalik, senior director, global HR, at IT solutions company Synechron, says: “People, including the current millennial population, use resignation as a tool to negotiate salary, position, opportunity; to cite the problems—fairness, manager’s relationship, other unknown issues like your alignment with the market. A resignation can also be an expression of a situation wherein the employee cannot take it any more. There is opportunity to retain the resource, but once the situation becomes more on the emotional side, it is beyond repair."

A resignation does not mean anything if not ‘Hey, I need to have a conversation with this person’.

Latha Nambisan, senior vice-president, HR, Servion Global Solutions, says if she was in BJP president Rajnath Singh’s shoes, she would see Advani’s letter as impulsive and angry, and try to get to the bottom of the issue. Servion designs interactive voice response systems for organizations like HDFC Bank. “A resignation does not mean anything if not ‘Hey, I need to have a conversation with this person’," Nambisan adds.

What not to do

“Avoid being caustic, nor give advice to the employer or reporting manager to mend ways, change, seek justice, etc., via the resignation letter," says Pankaj Mittal, sub-regional human resources director, G4S (South Asia), a security solutions group.

Avoid being caustic, nor give advice to the employer or reporting manager to mend ways, change, seek justice, etc., via the resignation letter.

In the corporate world, HR managers say it’s in bad taste to pen down such grievances in a resignation letter. Worse, it may even be seen as being opportunistic. “Have the courage to move the needle for change, to challenge the status quo while in employment and not while leaving or later," says Mittal. “I would also urge not to sensationalize departures."

Advani, as one of the architects of the BJP, obviously gets more leeway than a corporate employee would. It’s best not to test the managerial waters by criticizing the functioning of the department or company.

Says Dixit: “One thing a resignation letter should never become is a statement of grievance." In a connected world, a resignation is hardly goodbye forever.

Hygiene factors

Your resignation should be a...‘Boss, you are a great company’ type of letter.

Talking to the boss before giving in the letter can cut some of the shock, and make the transition smoother for both the employee and the company. Says Indrajit Chatterjee, ceramic tiles maker Nitco Ltd’s vice-president and head of HR: “A resignation letter should never be a surprise for the organization. A conversation with the reporting manager and HR person should always precede the submission of a resignation letter. This serves as a shock-absorber, does not harm relationships and also smoothens the separation process. Often resignations by key employees have to be explained to clients."

There are, of course, hygiene issues such as the date of resignation, the matter of the notice period and handing over that are extremely important and go a long way in establishing your lasting credentials with the company.

Resignation can be sent via email but never through SMS.

Acknowledge that you’ve gained something from the association with the firm. Wish them well. And while you’re at it, say goodbye to your colleagues, suggests Gaur.

The key thing is to extricate yourself with as much grace as possible, says Nambisan.

For most of us, it is advisable to play nice.

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