It’s the moment you have always dreaded. Your favourite employee, the one who keeps the place running, the one with all the intimate customer knowledge locked up inside their head, has walked into your office with a resignation letter.
It can be a confronting moment, especially if you are not expecting it. It can also be very hard to respond quickly and appropriately given the disappointment and sheer panic you may be feeling.
These few steps will help you through.
1. Find out the reasons
Terms of employment are always affected by a larger personal landscape for the individual. The reasons may be out of your control if they involve a move interstate or a decision to stop work in favour of study or a complete career change.
However, it is most likely due to the person’s relationship with the company. The common reasons for people shifting companies are for a new opportunity or challenge, better remuneration, and less conflict or stress.
Lack of opportunities and perceived underpayment can build resentment but interpersonal disputes and a hostile working culture can cause people to leave when they would otherwise prefer the stability of staying.
Sometimes you may have avoided dealing with that disgruntled worker, who is now leaving because of a fractured relationship with the organisation.
If you find you are overseeing a culture that is pushing valued, important employees out the door, you need to address it now.
2. Suggest alternatives
Cynical managers may see the resignation as a ploy to leverage higher pay, and if you think the employee deserves more financial recognition, it is probably a prudent time to offer it.
But that isn’t always possible if your organisation has a regulated pay structure or the company simply isn’t willing to spend more on employees. The best option, in that case, would be to try to problem solve with the person.
You could offer some new project work in a different field or try to arrange a move to another department. Perhaps a promotion is possible if the employee is a high performer.
Perhaps there are other people within the team who are making life difficult. Only an in-depth discussion with the departing employee will reveal the underlying reasons that need to be addressed, if not now, then for the replacement.
3. Look at your processes
Losing an employee is never a good thing, but if it means one part of your business is going to break down until a replacement arrives, then some thought needs to go towards improving the distribution of work throughout the team.
Are you too reliant on a single person? Is your team too specialised? Do you have central data storages for customer information or is it all buried on an individual’s hard drive?
4. Minimise the damage
If the departing employee is a sociable, friendly person there will be a degree of mourning when they leaves. We spend a lot of our waking lives in the office and the relationships we build are very important, which means a loss of one of those relationships will result in a flattening of the group’s mood to varying degrees.
That is compounded by the fact the team has to carry the additional workload. Some may have to learn new skills quickly while trying to maintain performance in their existing set of tasks.
The better the leaving team member is at the job the more stress will be placed on the rest of the team. If you are asking people to take on additional work be sure to be clear with everyone on the expectations of their existing workload.
That is, you understand that it may be more difficult and if anyone is finding it too hard they should speak to you. And most importantly, roll up your sleeves and share the burden.
5. Steps for the future
This is an opportunity to reassess the team and the work. Reconsider the position. Do you advertise it as it was for the last person or take time to redefine the role to suit the changes that may have taken place in the business?
Become an employer of choice, with a great culture that attracts great new people, and importantly, retains the best you have.
This is an edited version of an article first published on October 3, 2011.