How to cope when key employees move on

Posted on: April 26th, 2016


You may not want to hear this (or admit it to yourself) but there will come a time when new and better jobs will entice away your most talented people. Alternatively, your top talent may eventually become tired of what they’re doing and seek new experiences.

No employer looks forward to the moment that a key member of staff hands in their notice, but it’s an inevitable part of modern business. Gone are the days when a job was for life. Today, employees switch between companies over the course of their careers – and many switch careers along the way too. This has created a juxtaposition between generations of workers: older workers expect loyalty while younger workers look for greater choice and flexibility.

Losing a key member of staff can feel at best disruptive and at worst like a betrayal. It provokes an element of soul-searching, “Where did I go wrong?”, but it’s important to remember it’s not the end of the world. Everyone is replaceable and the experience can be turned into a positive.

Here’s how to deal with the departure of valued staff members.

Be prepared for the future

The best way to reduce the blow of a staff member leaving a company is by having a plan of how to deal with what happens afterwards. A good starting point is making sure you have comprehensive, up-to-date job descriptions for every job role in the company. Managers need to be clear on exactly which responsibilities and tasks fall under which role, as well as having a record of key contacts relating to that position. Don’t leave it to the eleventh hour to scrabble together this information, be prepared.

Accept change is inevitable

If you haven’t already, it’s time to adopt the notion that it’s not a case of ‘if’ a star employee will leave, but ‘when’. Maintaining the status quo is not good for you as an employer, employees or the business itself. Organisations need to be able to evolve and adapt in order to survive and the departure of a key colleague is just one part of that ongoing transformation. You may not find an exact replica of that person, but you may just find someone else who can bring exciting new ideas and experience to the table.

Always part on good terms

It’s important to embrace your (soon-to-be former) employee’s new opportunity and offer them plenty of support. Threats and guilt-trips are only going to confirm to that person that they’ve made the right decision to leave. By making the process of departing a company as easy as possible you are generating multiple benefits. Not only are you creating a brand ambassador for the company, you are ensuring greater cooperation, a more streamlined hand-over and giving yourself the best chance of that person returning to the company again in the future.

Keep everyone in the loop

An employee leaving a company isn’t a slur on your leadership skills so be honest with your team about what is happening. Talk genuinely about how you feel – if it’s come as a blow, then tell them. Your team will want to do what they can to help – it’s in their best interest, after all. Reassure your team that there is a plan, their input is welcomed and that a solution will be found quickly.

It was Richard Branson who said: “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” You can’t guarantee an employee is going to stay with you forever, but if you value them enough you’re going to make their decision to leave a tough one.

If the inevitable does happen and a key employee decides to move on, take it in your stride. Make the change of personnel swift by starting the recruitment process as soon as possible.

Lucy Bristow can help you find a replacement and turn an unexpected departure into an unanticipated opportunity. Get in touch to find out more.

Image: goodbye by woodleywonderworks available under the (CC.BY.2.0) license

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