When it comes to employee resignations, it’s not a question of if it’ll happen to you, but when.
Although recent numbers seem to indicate a cooling of labor shortages—likely due to inflation and the incoming recession—the reality of the post-COVID world is: people aren’t as loyal to their jobs as they once were.
Frankly, we’re fans of the latter approach.
So knowing that a resignation is bound to happen at some point, what are some things you can do to soften the blow?
A two-week notice can be overwhelming at the best of times.
When you’re not expecting it, or if the person leaving is a star performer, it can seem like the world is coming to an end.
So instead of making decisions while in fight-or-flight mode, take a deep breath. Don’t hit the panic button—that’s just going to make a bad situation worse.
Ideally, your employee will follow best practices and turn in their notice on a Friday. This will give both you and them the weekend to process the news. Then, on Monday, everyone can come to the table with a clear head.
Fulfill all your legal obligations
There are some basic, legal obligations that you have to do when an employee leaves. These can include:
- Paying all accrued wages
- Disbursing any accrued benefits that must be paid upon termination (or issuing a notice of non-entitlement to these benefits)
- If applicable, accounting for and establishing a schedule for commission or bonus payments
- Provide the employee with the required legal notices (COBRA benefit continuation, unemployment and workers’ compensation notices, etc.)
- Reviewing nondisclosure and noncompete agreements to maintain compliance (on both sides)
Not only does fulfilling these obligations protect you from liability, it also shows that you’re going to maintain a professional approach to the exit.
Prioritize which gaps to fill
When someone works for your company, they ideally fulfill 40 hours worth of work (or more) per week. This is a major contribution, and it’s going to be hard to fill those gaps in the short term.
You can’t expect your current team to take on all that extra work, even if it’s just temporary. After all, they have their own roles, responsibilities, and KPIs to meet.
Instead, put together a list of the employee’s weekly tasks, and figure out which items are your top priorities. Accept the fact that you’re going to have to drop some key tasks until you hire a replacement, and focus on filling the most critical gaps.
Find the root cause of the resignation
In many cases, a resignation happens because of an issue with the employee—they want to pivot their career, work in a different kind of environment, etc. It doesn’t mean there’s a problem with your organization, it just means that the fit is no longer there. When this happens, it’s highly unlikely that the resignation will become contagious.
But there are some cases in which a resignation happens because of a problem with your organization. In those cases, the resignation will almost certainly be the first of many.
So when your top employee unexpectedly quits, it’s important to get to the root of their reasons why.
Often employees are hesitant to burn bridges and so may not be forthcoming, but that’s why it’s important to ask probing questions during the exit interview, and even read between the lines a little bit.
Some of these questions may include:
- What are your reasons for leaving the company? What service did you feel we were unable to offer you?
- What did you like about the company? What did you not like?
- What are the top 3 things you think we should do differently here?
- Did you have a good relationship with your supervisor and team?
- Did we meet your expectations in terms of employee experience?
Be transparent with your team
It’s important to maintain trust with the rest of your team in the best of times. But when someone resigns, it automatically sets everyone on edge.
So it’s important to be especially vigilant about being open and transparent, and reassure them that you still have their best interests at heart.
Start by letting everyone know that the person has turned in their notice. Better they hear it from you than from the grapevine. If appropriate, share some of the reasoning. If the employee is moving onto “bigger and better things,” share and celebrate it.
Transparency and honesty will help reassure the team that you support them as individuals, not just for their work product.
If possible, part on good terms
Barring some Festivus-style airing of grievances where the employee clearly wants to burn their bridges on the way out, it’s important to maintain a positive relationship with an outgoing employee.
You never know: they could become your next customer, refer new business your way, or they may come back to work for you in the future.
Make structural changes to prepare for the next resignation
Unfortunately, employee resignations are a part of the world we live in. As a result, you should make sure you’re prepared before the next inevitable quit happens:
- Don’t allow anyone to become indispensable. When an “indispensable” employee leaves, there’s no one left to fill the gap. Make sure that no one person siloes themselves off and hoards their knowledge and expertise.
- Document institutional knowledge. Top performing employees naturally accrue a good deal of institutional knowledge. You need to ensure that knowledge is properly documented so you don’t have to spend too much time bringing their replacement up to speed.
- Focus on meeting your team’s needs. By building a strong culture, you don’t just build a better and more enjoyable place to work, improve your chances of succeeding as a business and reduce employee churn; you make it easier on everyone when that churn happens.
Instead of burying your head in the sand and hoping that you never experience one, take proactive steps to prepare and handle them with grace.
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