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Blog • 22.02.19

When a key employee resigns, what should you do?

Sian H
Junior HR Consultant

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A key employee resigns, giving you their notice and telling you when their last day will be. What a nightmare right! What should you do? Who do you need to tell?

As a business owner, you’ll likely be faced with a fair amount of decision making, it can be hard to keep emotions out of the equation, and it is easy to forget the wider picture of how the internal culture might be impacted by the departure.

A common pattern we see in businesses is that in the rush to communicate and reassure clients, reassuring your own staff falls down the agenda.

It can be tempting to want to bury your head in the sand and just wait for the dust to settle when any employee resigns, let along when a key employee resigns, especially if the loss of such a valued employee has left you feeling vulnerable and unsure what to say to staff. But the impact of losing a key employee will ripple across the organisation. For smaller businesses in particular, it’s possible the loss of one staff member will alter the day-to-day work for everyone in some capacity or another.

The following steps will help you to focus your people, your business and yourself, and help you to identify, and communicate, both the challenges and opportunities that accompany change.

1. Meet with the departing employee

Request that they keep the news confidential until you develop a strategy for telling staff and clients. This will help mitigate the risk of gossip.

You might be feeling unsettled losing a valued employee, but try to remain calm and respectful in conversations with them. Their knowledge and insight will be invaluable in helping you to devise a plan on how to move forward.

2. Evaluate the situation and identify risks

Emotions to one side, calmly identify any vulnerabilities. If you’re large enough to have one, involve your senior leadership team to help.

Things to consider:

  • Did the staff member manage key client accounts? If so, which ones and how can they be protected?
  • Are they a well-liked employee whose absence could cause major upset in your team?
  • Do they have skills and knowledge that appear, at first look, to be irreplaceable?

Considering these points will help you and your senior team to weigh up the risks as well as work out the positives that can be taken from the situation.

3. Communicate to the rest of your staff

Develop a plan to communicate the news to the rest of your employees and decide upon the best medium to announce the news based on the departing staff member’s seniority and role.

Whatever the case, remember to include all staff members in the announcement, as well as those on extended leave. We’d recommend talking to your staff as a group if that’s feasible and easy to do.

While we understand that any employee resigning can be difficult, and it can be that much harder when a key employee resigns, on you, it can be equally difficult for you employees too so there are a few points to make sure you cover:

  • The date the individual will be leaving.
  • Where they are going.
  • How the business will operate after their departure.
  • Whether you will replace this person.
  • Whether you will be having a send-off event for the staff member plus details of the event.

All communication should extend an offer to your team to discuss the situation individually if they feel the need.

You should then work to rally the team, you may be surprised to find your staff step up to the plate and help out.

4. Communicate to clients

Ideally, client communication should be conducted in person, or on a call with a follow-up email, including updated contact information.

Assure them that the company is on a solid footing and the departure has nothing to do with instability.

Just as critical, remind them that it’s business as usual. Explain how their account will be managed in light of the resignation, as well as your strategy for replacing that lost expertise.

Reassure them that maintaining the level of service they are accustomed to is your top priority.

5. Continue to keep staff updated during the transition period

Reassure them that your plan is progressing as expected, or if needed, explain any deviations from the original.

If the departed staff member was well-liked and seen as a key to your company’s success, employees will need regular reassurances that their jobs are safe and your business is stable.

Openness, transparency and reassurance with all members of staff is paramount when a key employee leaves. Be mindful that employees may be feeling unsettled, and any potential speculation and gossip around the situation can impact the company culture, lowering morale and productivity.

Communicating the plans you have in place to move forward, and keeping staff updated on your progress will help to reassure them and build their trust and support.

The same principles apply to clients; clear communication and reassurance is key.

Get HR Support

If you’re going through a significant business change, such as the loss of key staff, our HR consultants can help.

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