What you need to do when an employee quits – and why

Published 2016-04-01, updated 2023-03-21

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Summary - Eventually, one of your employees will quit. If you’re a young company, the first departure – particularly if it’s a valued employee – may come as a shock. To avoid surprises, it’s important to set up a process for handling departing employees. Having a proper process in place will make departures smoother and will even help retain people.

As a company grows, there are bound to be bumps in the road. One of them is having an employee quit.

Losing people at some point is inevitable. In fact, there’s just no way around it.

We recently had 2 people leave, which was a first for us.

My first reaction to the departures (before I came to terms with it) was mild irritation.

But that’s not very useful. I’ve learned that if you can manage the departure process, it can be a learning experience that will help boost your chances of retaining good employees in the future.

I’ve boiled my learnings down to five points for making departures smoother.

See if you can see it coming

Avoid being taken by surprise. Surprise departures are difficult on staff, customers, the business and the transition.

For that reason, managing the process starts with learning to anticipate departures by keeping your finger on the pulse of the company.

At Klipfolio, our hiring managers hold regular and frequent informal one-on-one meetings with employees. It’s a 15 or 20-minute chat, and if there are any concerns on the company’s side or on the employee’s, this is the place to bring them up.

Our head of human resources also asks people how things are going and keeps an ear to the ground to listen for any distress signals.

In the future, we also plan to run regular employee surveys. We did one survey a while back and we found it useful, but a single data point does not tell you if things are improving or not. Our plan is to carry out anonymous surveys at least twice a year. We want to measure things like overall satisfaction of our employees and be better able to predict retention. While these surveys will not tell us specifically which person is at risk of leaving, they will show us whether there are things we need to work on.

Know your local business environment

Are other companies in your market recruiting? Is there a chance they might be after your people?

If so, you need to be aware of it. Recruiters will recruit, so there is little you can do about this other than making sure you are a good employer. But there is an unwritten rule that says “don’t poach from your friend’s company.”

Recruiting efforts is something people will talk about. So if you hear office chatter about people being approached by recruiters, pay attention!

Stay competitive

Some people leave for purely personal reasons, and there’s really nothing you can do about it. If an employee leaves to go back to school, for example, or to move to another country to be closer to family, you can only wish them well.

But you want to make sure they aren’t leaving for reasons that are within your ability to control, like salary, culture or good leadership.

That doesn’t mean trying to get a departing employee to change his or her mind by offering a higher salary. That move, while well-intentioned, often leads to far broader problems down the road, since your existing employees inevitably find out.

It does mean making sure that your salaries are competitive within your industry and geographic area, and that your working conditions are as good as they can be.

Do an exit interview

It is very important to find out why the person is leaving. Do that by conducting an exit interview. In fact, do a few (human resources, the CEO and the hiring manager might each do one) to ensure you have an accurate assessment of the reason for leaving.

If you are interested in trying to retain the employee, this is where you find out if it’s at all possible. If you are paying a competitive wage, chances are money is not the issue; maybe there’s something else you can offer.

If you are resigned to letting the employee go, probe anyway to find out if there are things you could be doing better. Exit interviews provide a real opportunity to get useful knowledge that will help you retain others in the future. Ask what sparked their decision to leave. Ask for advice about what to do better. Get as much information as possible.

Go public

Once the final decision is made about an employee quitting, announce it within the company as soon as possible. This keeps rumours at bay and demonstrates a spirit of openness.

An employee who quits usually gets a few weeks to transition out.

That transition time is important.

It gives the employee time to train a replacement and transfer useful knowledge. It also gives other employees time to say goodbye.

A departing employee leaving on good terms will do their best in those last few weeks to help the company. So do what you can to make sure the parting happens on good terms.

On the employee’s final day, do all the official stuff, like a goodbye lunch and public words of thanks.

End on a positive note. Who knows? Your paths may cross again.

Allan Wille is a Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Klipfolio. He’s also a designer, a cyclist, a father and a resolute optimist.

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