How to Manage when Good Employees Leave


The average American changes jobs between 10-15 times in their life. They may be moving closer to family or relocating with a spouse, or just chasing their dreams in a different industry.

In an extensive 2017 Gallup poll, researchers found that 51% of people working full-time “aren’t engaged at work.” That’s a nice way to say they dislike their jobs.

There are definitely things bosses and companies can do to make employees feel more respected and appreciated, but a lot of the dissatisfaction also comes from internal struggles between people’s hopes and dreams versus their reality.

So, avoid taking it personally when a good employee leaves, and then follow these steps to make sure the transition is as smooth as possible.

Let them be entirely honest about why they are leaving

If you want to grow as a business, it’s vital to confront hard truths head on. Give your employee the chance to get everything off their chest, and even if they criticize you or some part of the business, let them do so without being defensive.

Your employees know your company intimately, so all of their feedback can be used to improve it in some way. Do they think you’re a bad boss? Ok, ask them how they think you can improve. Do they think the company’s direction is misguided? Get details why, and what direction they think the company should pursue.

Getting defensive won’t help you or anyone. Likewise, you don’t want people leaving on bad terms; every employee is a part of your company, and you should be grateful for their part of the ride.

Think about a counteroffer (if applicable)

If the person is leaving for a reason beyond your control or if they are legitimately getting the chance of a lifetime, shake their hand and wish them well.

If they’re leaving for more negotiable reasons, then you can entertain issuing a counteroffer. More money, more flexible hours, the chance to work from home, and other perks all present realistic ways to make an employee happy to stay.

Be careful about overreacting however—don’t issue a counteroffer the minute they tell you they want to leave. Here is where it’s wise to always keep a mental record of your employees—their strengths, weaknesses, and value to the company—in case you do need to spontaneously come up with a fair offer, but it’s better to present them with a counteroffer once the emotions cool off a bit.

Ask them if they’d be willing to consider a counteroffer, and if they say yes, get back to them within the next 24 hours. In that span, contact anyone who should know or be consulted. Everyone needs to be on the same page to ensure there aren’t any disruptions.

Prepare for the handover

No matter how important the person leaving is, do not rush into hiring a replacement. Rush is the keyword there. If it’s reasonable to hire someone capable within a week, do it, but if you know you’ll need to dig through resumes for a month to be comfortable hiring someone, that’s what you should do.

Know how much time you have before the employee leaves and maximize it. If you have someone in-house who’ll be promoted or take over their responsibilities (this is ideal), have the employee walk them things carefully and monitor their first few tries at each task.

Maybe you’ll even have the employee stick around to train a new hire if it’ll take some time. If you don’t have that luxury, get them to document what they do step-by-step, and fill the void yourself by allowing them to “train” you for the job. That way, when someone eventually fills the position, they have proper notes and you there to demonstrate what’s expected of them. (After all, you are the boss, so you should know what everyone does regardless).

Tie up any loose ends

If the employee is working on an important project, it’s best to see it through to the end unless they have to leave for an urgent reason. Make this clear without coming across as demanding. There shouldn’t be any surprises for someone as they go—their pay, benefits, and responsibilities over the last few days/weeks need to crystal clear.

Before their final day, make sure you get back any company belongings, whether a laptop or a car or anything else valuable.

On their last day, terminate their access. Know that it’s just business. Having former employees with access to your offices, accounts, or information isn’t a good idea no matter how much you trust them.

Conduct a formal exit interview. You’ve likely gone over most of the important things during the initial conversation about their departure, but once they are officially out of the company it’s good to get everything on the record.

Give them a proper goodbye

Oftentimes the first question you ask someone upon meeting them is, “What’s your job?” A person’s career is already an integral part of one’s identity, and since people spend about 25% of their time working, the place where you work becomes a part of who you are. Even when someone leaves, they take a bit of that place with them.

No matter how upsetting it is to see someone walk out the door for the last time, make sure it goes gracefully.

Give them a going away present, throw a party, or do whatever you think is best. Be sincere on just how valuable they’ve been to the company and how much you appreciate both their work and them as a person. If there ever was or has been a hatchet, bury it. There’s no use wasting energy on vendettas.

Handle things professionally, and you, the employee, and your business will be better off for it.

«What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.»

-T.S. Eliot