What to do when a key team member leaves

team member leaving

Don't let the departure of your best and brightest create turmoil within your business. Learn how to deal with employee exits the right way using our tips and strategies below.

Even if it’s happened before, the news of a key employee handing in their notice can sometimes come as a shock. And when someone so integral to your business’s operations decides to move, it’s easy to let feelings run amok. From disappointment to uncertainty about the future, these emotions can sometimes spiral out of control.

But by taking a decisive, proactive approach to departing employees, it doesn’t have to feel like a spanner’s been thrust into the company works. Knowing how to handle the situation can restore stability and continuity once again.

To make their exits as smooth as possible, we’ll take a look at the most effective things you can do when a key team member leaves the company.

Don’t take it personally

One of the most important things you can do when an employee leaves is not to be hurt or offended. It’s not just your business they’re working hard for, they’re moving on so that they can progress in their career. Chances are, they’re leaving because they’ve outgrown their role and are looking for fresh challenges on the way to reaching their goals.

employee talking to his manager

While it may be a shock for you, it’s still a success for them. They’ve been offered an opportunity, so be gracious and let them know you’re happy for them as they look towards starting a new chapter in their career. Maintaining relationships with ex-employees is important; you never know when your paths will cross in the future.

Notify stakeholders as soon as possible

When a key employee decides to leave, you don’t want the news filtering through to stakeholders in the form of gossip and hearsay. They should always hear it from you first. As soon as you receive the news from the departing employee, inform your stakeholders as soon as you can.

Make an announcement promptly

Even if you don’t have a succession plan in place, you might not have the luxury of being able to wait for one. Time is of the essence, and employees need to hear the news from leadership, especially before rumours have time to spread.

When you inform employees, be candid with them. Let them know the departure is unwanted, but that change is unavoidable. Nevertheless, you have the solutions and resolve in place to deal with the change properly.

colleagues having a discussion

Listen to their reasons for leaving

Use their departure as an opportunity to learn. Their reasons for leaving can shine a light on certain things within the company that might need remedying. Were there personality clashes with other employees? Is there a lack of career progression? Perhaps they feel the money wasn’t sufficient for the work they were completing?

And though we’d advise against making any hasty counter offers, you could still use this information to address their concerns so that other employees don’t jump ship for the same reasons.

Discuss their leaving plan

It might be the case that they’re leaving for a direct competitor. With instances like this, they may need to leave the business immediately, so make sure you have established procedures in place. For example, is there any risk to your business from a competitive basis? If so, they may have to sign a non-disclosure agreement or be placed on gardening leave until their notice period is over.

Don’t assume you have to immediately replace them

Sometimes, it might turn out that you don’t need to replace this person after all. Take a look over the vacant role’s responsibilities and compare them to existing employees’ capabilities; can they take on these tasks, even if it’s for a little while?

businesswoman addressing her employees

Instead of immediately trying to hire a replacement, use this time to determine how the role should be defined, who should fill it and when. Hire internally if needs be. Remember, making the right decision is much more preferable than making a fast one – especially if it’s a key position within the company.

Work out the legalities

To avoid any litigious issues that may come back to bite you, work out any pay that you owe your employee, including vacation pay, benefits, bonuses or commission. Get any paperwork in order and make sure that your departing employee has their own copies just in case.

Gather key information for their successor

If you have found a replacement, then ask the departing employee to write down important information that their successor might need. This can include upcoming deadlines, client contract details and how to locate key files and information their successor will need to carry out once their new role starts.

Acknowledge others’ emotions

If the employee was a well-liked member of their team, then it’s bound to impact their colleagues in an emotional way. Instead of ignoring this side of things, be sympathetic to your employees and listen to them if they want to talk. You might consider hosting a goodbye lunch or drinks after work so the team can give the employee a proper send off, which can give remaining employees’ morale a boost.

shaking hands

Conduct a formal exit interview

Holding a formal exit interview before they leave gives you the chance to learn from them, so listen to their concerns – the issues they raise might also affect other team members.

An employee who knows they’re leaving will likely feel more compelled to be honest about the organisation, its leadership and any changes they think you should make. Let them be as candid as possible with you. It might result in some unpleasant home truths, but their responses can also be very valuable.

What can you do more of, less of or modify going forward? Respond and act accordingly to their concerns so that you can improve the experience for your current workforce.

To conclude, having a plan in place and knowing which steps to take means you can successfully make employee departures a smooth process. By keeping communication lines open between everyone who is affected, it ensures the employee leaves on a positive note and gives you feedback to act on after they depart.

Additionally, your response to the news can help to allay the concerns and worries that other employees may be feeling during this time.

And if you’re looking for further insights on how to deal with upheaval and change in the workplace, then learn how to mitigate and manage threats with our introduction to risk management here.

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