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When an Employee Leaves: Managing Employee Departures

There are many reasons why employees quit:


An Asian woman packing up her office.
  • They feel their salary is too low.

  • They don't see a clear career track or professional development opportunities.

  • They want more flexibility at work and in their personal lives.

  • They don't feel valued or appreciated for their efforts and skills.

How you respond when someone quits makes a big difference to company morale and to your ability to prevent similar resignations in the future.


Have a clarifying conversation with the employee. This is not a time for anger. Instead, be curious and respond to the news in a calm, affirming way. As part of this conversation, be sure you understand the reason they're exiting. Consider how you'd like to respond: Should you make a counteroffer? Will you change how you do things going forward?


Review schedules and responsibilities for the time left until the employee departs. Who will take over open projects and daily tasks? Do coworkers need to be trained? Take time to gather client contacts and project statuses. You may want to extend employee training periods for the remaining staff to build their confidence.


Schedule an exit interview and/or exit survey. The exit interview may be conducted by a neutral party, like another team's manager. Exit interviews should be at least 30 minutes long and include time to discuss overall work experience. They should also give the exiting employee time to suggest how to improve your workplace culture.


In addition to or as an alternative to the exit interview, provide the departing employee with an exit survey they can complete anonymously. Anonymous surveys can create a safer space where exiting employees may feel more comfortable sharing honest opinions and experiences. The survey should cover topics like, reasons for leaving, feedback on their manager and team, opinion of company culture, policies and benefits, suggestions for improvement, and whether they would recommend the company to others.


Encourage the employee to be candid in their responses. Analyze the aggregated survey data to identify trends and areas for improvement in the employee experience. Use both the qualitative feedback from exit interviews and/or the quantitative data from anonymous exit surveys to make meaningful changes to boost retention.


Other departments' responsibilities

Inform HR that the employee is leaving, so that they can create a formal resignation letter. This includes an official notice of resignation signed and dated by both you and the employee that shares the reason for leaving along with the employee's final day of work. Many states and contracts require two weeks' notice. If the employee cannot work that long or if you do not want them to work that long, pick another departure date.


HR should also confirm the employee's personal information, including mailing address, personal email address, phone number and emergency contact information. Your company may require that a nondisclosure agreement be signed by the exiting employee. HR should also organize the final paycheck and benefits information. Many states have laws regarding when final pay must be delivered. The final pay will include all accrued wages and may include unused sick days, accrued paid time off, commissions and bonuses. A third party, like an accountant, should double-check the math.


It is also essential that HR provide required legal notices about benefits. These include:


  • Health insurance, including COBRA.

  • The 401(k) plan.

  • Unemployment eligibility.

  • Any other benefits offered by your company.

HR, IT and other departments will be responsible for last-day activities like reclaiming the employee's company laptop, cellphone, equipment or tools, uniforms, building keys, ID badges, and employee manuals. It is also essential to change the employee's passwords to email or work accounts and remove the employee's access to internal digital systems.


Company morale

When someone plans to leave your company, part of your responsibility is to the people who are not leaving.


Be sure to notify other staff about the departure. You can tell key business partners or managers individually, but it is fine to send a general email to everyone else. In the email, keep the message simple and positive. Be sure to thank the departing employee for their work and add good wishes for their future. You do not need to include the exact reason for their departure.


Reassign responsibilities and/or shifts. Set up one-on-one meetings with specific employees to determine if deadlines and project dates need to be adjusted and if some workers will need to be trained to take over tasks. You may want to hire an independent contractor temporarily. Be sure to offer motivational talks to keep morale up.


As early as possible, formulate a process to replace the departing employee. Starting the process early will minimize lost revenue. Among the steps in this process:


  • Deciding whether you will promote a current employee or hire someone new.

  • Reviewing your budget; how much can you afford to pay for the position?

  • Writing an accurate job description.

  • Creating and distribute job ads.

  • Deciding if you'd like to outsource some tasks or responsibilities to an independent contractor.

  • Temporarily or permanently redistributing work among current employees. This supports continuity.

  • Reviewing employee performance reviews and workflows to see what's feasible.

  • If you are asking someone to increase their responsibilities, be sure you're providing additional compensation.

On the employee's last day, it is essential to say goodbye on a positive note. This maintains a strong relationship with the departing employee and sets an example for your other employees. Many companies offer handwritten cards, restaurant gift cards, flowers or edible treats as a goodbye gift. It is equally important that you take the time to walk the employee out and thank them for their time.


By understanding why an employee is leaving and thanking them for their quality work, you can provide an avenue for top talent to return in the future.

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