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When a Valued Employee Leaves

An esteemed employee left us recently, and it made us consider the effect losing one of the best and brightest has on a small business.

The real cost of employee turnover 

 Whether a company’s employee turnover is above or below average, losses affect employee morale, productivity and revenue. Add to that, small businesses are in constant competition with larger businesses and their larger budgets when vying for top talent. Recruiting and training a replacement takes time and money, but worse than that is the personal loss combined with the threat of a cultural hit.

When our senior recruiter told us it was time for him to move on—not for more pay or a better position elsewhere, but mainly to focus on his family’s needs—it was hard to hear. If an employee’s reasons for leaving center around wanting more money or a promotion, those are things that can conceivably be arranged. So, you feel especially helpless when they leave for intangible, personal reasons. In this instance, the best thing we could do was offer no resistance, only support.

The loss of a valued employee is emotional. They take a piece of the company with them, and there’s a real danger that their values will leave, too.

It’s like our Managing VP of Recruiting, Steve Whirlow, says, “The toughest part of owning a small business is having to say goodbye to internal employees. Not only are you faced with the loss of an important asset, but also a kind of family member. And as with actual family, you have to respect that the choice they are making is best for them. But saying goodbye to an employee doesn’t have to mean saying goodbye to their legacy.”

Opportunities for continuity 

A key team member’s departure presents an opportunity to make sure their values stay with the company, and to make sure the rest of your team is covered. They are dealing with the same personal loss you are, and they may also be worried about how their workload will be affected by the sudden abdication. After you’ve taken some time to react and respond, do the right thing—not the easy thing—to minimize the damage of a well-liked team member resigning.

Communication is key 

Hold group and individual meetings – When one of your employees resigns, you need to inform the rest of your team as quickly as possible. This avoids potential gossip about what’s happening in the company, which can add to a decrease in output. A group meeting helps get everyone on the same page about your plan moving forward. Use this time to let everyone know they are important members of the team. Assuring your remaining employees that they are integral to your organization will motivate them to reach their full potential.

Be ready for some team members to be disappointed or even slightly depressed at the news of their colleague leaving. Let them know you understand, and that your door is open to anyone who wants to continue discussing the situation in private.

Wish them the best – Don’t just let your team member slip out the door without celebrating their successes. Instead, lead the way for well wishes and thank them publicly for their contribution. If you share inside jokes, take a moment to reminisce and laugh. Doing so will help the person who’s leaving feel good about your company, which is of value itself and helps ensure they praise your company culture as they continue on their career path. A happy sendoff also strengthens the bond among the people who remain.

Be honest – If your employee’s departure means his work will fall on your existing team, tell them as early as possible. Come up with a plan, or ask them to propose which tasks they feel confident handling. This ensures people feel like they have the requisite skills, resources and time to do their jobs, plus any extra responsibilities. Make sure everyone is clear on your expectations, and the highest and lowest teamwide priorities.

Ask for feedback – Even if an employee leaves for personal reasons, it won’t hurt (well, it will but you’ll be better for it) to ask for their candor about what you need to learn from their departure. Ask questions like:

  • What factors played a part in your decision to leave?
  • What advice would you give me to prevent another great person like you from leaving?
  • What would make for a better experience here?

After you’ve processed this feedback, take it back to your team. Share what you’ve learned and ask the others if they agree, and if they have recommendations to improve those glitches. This line of communication is valuable and can be the very thing that prevents a pattern of loss.

Stay in touch – Your former employees are your new brand ambassadors. Your personal relationships with them don’t have to end when your working relationships do. Check in with them now and then to see how they’re doing, both personally and professionally. Keeping the communication lines open could eventually lead the past employee back to your company. Plus, social media makes it easy to stay connected without requiring much effort. It also provides a window into an old employee’s new skills and experience.

Losing a valued employee can feel like a major setback, but you will bounce back—maybe even better than before.