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When a Key Employee Leaves the Company

Even the best companies lose their most significant talent from time to time.  Workers sometimes receive job offers that are better suited to them for a variety of reasons.  Of course, the distressing news that one of your most vital employees is leaving can make any business leader panic, but before you do, there are a few things you should know.

When Key Employee Leaves - Businessman pointing to icon on touchscreen

Remain gracious.

While you may be extremely disappointed, if not slightly incensed, don’t let your employee in on your anguish.  While you should express that you are sorry to see them go, be gracious enough to congratulate them on their new endeavor.  However, don’t be afraid to remind them of their significance to your organization; which brings us to the next point.

Define their importance.

If this employee truly holds a crucial role within your organization, your next response should be to ask their reason for leaving, and if there are any actions that could be taken to change their mind.  Also, notify the CEO and ascertain if there is any possibility of matching their offer, if that was one of their deciding factors.

Take the outcome in stride.

In a perfect world, every business leader would be able to reverse their most talented employee’s decision to leave; however, in reality, this isn’t always the case.  If your best employee receives a job offer with an increase of $30K per year with paid benefits, and this is not within your budget, you will unfortunately have to accept the circumstances.  Luckily, most companies experience this from time to time and are still able to successfully move onward.

Communicate and acknowledge.

To eliminate speculation, swiftly inform the company of the employee’s exit.  It’s recommended that the employee who is leaving also inform his or her coworkers personally.  Clearly convey to your staff that the decision was not wanted, yet the team will band together and continue with a resolution in place.  Also take time to acknowledge and show compassion toward any feelings of sorrow or agitation among the rest of the team.  Besides the loss from a business sense, employees can experience a similar deficit since bonds are often formed among coworkers over time.

Conduct an exit interview.

After you have notified everyone from the top rung downward, it’s time to arrange an exit interview.  This gives the employee the opportunity to express what they may not have been previously able to say while they were still employed.  This is an opportune time to analyze the feedback you’ve received, and determine if there are improvements to be made on your end.

Decide how and when to replace.

It’s tempting to immediately seek a new candidate, whether internal or external, to fill the role of the key employee who has decided to leave the company.  Nevertheless, it’s important to make the best possible choice, and that may require a significant amount of decision-based thinking.  Reevaluate the individual’s role and job description and measure against the skills and capabilities of your current work staff.  Whether you decide to promote from within or hire a new candidate, you will still need to redefine the role that needs to be filled.  Conversely, don’t delay too long because as you’re planning, your employees are also clambering under the pressure.

Gather your team for support.

By calling upon your best workers to implement the most important aspects of your former employee’s role within the company, you will be able to make do until a permanent decision is made and carried through.  Be sure to approach this or any crisis with a positive “can-do” attitude, and your team will likely follow your lead.  It’s also important not to overwork one employee over the rest of the group.  Small tasks evenly distributed according to skill-level and availability will make for a smoother and more amicable transition.  When a high-stakes employee leaves, and either one worker or a small group of employees are left with an inordinate number of added duties, tensions can run high and morale can sink.  Instead, try gathering your team for ideas and input on some ways to bridge the gap.

When Key Employee Leaves - Professionals working on laptop

Turn a negative into a positive.

When one of your most relied-upon employees gives their leave notice, it is not always the beginning of the end, but rather the beginning of something new that may even work out in your favor.  From every negative, a positive can be drawn. By bringing your team together and forging forward as a cohesively productive unit, you will find that any challenges postured by the loss of a key employee can be more easily and quickly overcome.

By Fred Coon, CEO


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