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When Key Employees Leave – the Guide to Move on

A key person in your company wants to leave? It may hurt, it may be infuriating, it can even make you question your every decision and your position as a leader and so on.

Surely, it is always a shock for the whole company but don’t panic and read our article. You’ll learn how to move on step by step and prevent you and your team’s work from collapsing.

Before we move to specific guidelines, let’s consider why certain key people leave their jobs and how to prevent some job departures.

What are the reasons key employees leave?

Key employees always grow and change interests, goals and needs. Forbes Coaches Council gathered the main reasons why the best people leave and gave some ideas on how to stop them. Also, learn to observe your teammates and identify the warning signs before someone hands you a resignation letter.

A-team Players can and will leave work – warning signs

There’s always another option and people will consider it. The warning signs that someone is considering quitting are:

  • increased days off
  • negative or cold attitude towards others
  • decreased number of hours dedicated to work
  • lack of motivation and engagement in projects

Think about those signs and act fast when you spot them. Keep your best employees engaged and be sure that they are feeling good and do everything to make people want to win and grow with you so that they won’t look for that elsewhere.

People aren’t heard

The best employees will eventually quit when they don’t feel valuable for the company anymore and stay quiet. Managers and even Executives can share private appraisal and recognize their successes publically to those star persons.

If you spot that key managers are curbing their talent and going backwards – talk to them to identify the problem. As the leader of software development, you can look for new opportunities to develop talents of your web app developers and show support in meeting new ambitious goals. This will also elevate the whole team’s spirit.

Employees leave because of… Managers

In fact, many employees leave their management, not companies. Many managers forget that their job is to retain a-players and keep them satisfied. If managers are dedicated, they’ll find what are the challenges as well as the opportunities for their talented staff.

Unchallenged means unhappy

What else can you do to reduce employees turnover? Look at the benefits you can offer focusing on:

  • improving people’s position and wages
  • offering a professional and safe environment to grow
  • individual approach to different characters

Each individual may have different needs but the key thing is always satisfaction.

Generation matters, too

Every employee regardless of their age values:

  • stability and safety
  • support from experts and mentors
  • the chance to upgrade/explore new areas of knowledge
  • truthfulness and reliance

Obviously, people differ depending on their generation, eg. Traditionalists believe in hierarchy, Boomers must have a mission, Generation X value an independent approach, whereas Millennials love teamwork.

You probably work with each of those kinds of people and you are expected to find a way to engage all of them. Think about creating a holacratic environment at work – let every individual speak out about their contribution to the strategic part of your projects.

Reasons why key employees leave.

Employees leave due to better job offers

It happens very often – people perceive an offer in a fresh company as more attractive. We know that in many cases the bonuses, benefits and rewards are exaggerated. But you can counteract – reward your faithful, good employee – offer a promotion or increase in salary. Just discover what your best incentives are for your people and tailor something that will keep them at your company without considering other offers.

Bad environment and lack of corporate culture

Even valuable stars quit if they feel bad around other employees. Review your company’s culture and what behaviors are tolerated. Is your team integrated? Do they feel engaged? If not – there’s a risk the best ones will soon be gone.

What should you do to stop the best employees?

When everything failed and you couldn’t (or didn’t want to) retain one of your key employees – continue reading. You’ll be guided through the hard path of saying goodbye, reorganizing and establishing a new order after the departure.

Remember about your legal obligations

Your best employee is leaving the company – definitely – be sure that everything is in compliance with employment law when it comes to termination. It is vital that the employer fulfill every legal obligation during termination of an employment contract.

What you should pay attention to as it comes to your obligations towards the employee that quits:

  • pay all due wages
  • distribute all necessary benefits upon termination (under law or policy of the company)
  • schedule or confirm at your accounting department every bonus that must be given/paid after the termination/departure
  • provide your employee with all necessary confirmations, documentation, legal notices, etc.
  • if any confidentiality notices, nondisclosure agreements or documents protecting the company’s intellectual property were signed – make sure that the employee remembers them and be clear about abiding the conditions.

The last talk – the exit interview

You can hold it in many ways such as a face-to-face interview, email, telephone, online survey etc. Use anything that would give you feedback about the employees’ real experiences at work, their insights and remarks.

You can use some of those questions during your last interview:

  • Why are you leaving the company?
  • What do you like/ dislike about the organization?
  • Do you suggest any changes or other directions for us? Is there anything that needs improvement?
  • What do you like about your job? Is it satisfying/ dissatisfying? How?
  • Please describe the relationship with your manager/supervisor.
  • Is there anything you would do differently at your job?
  • Were our requirements concerning your goals clear enough?
  • Did the company meet your expectations?
  • What are the successes that make you proud?

Speak honestly with the person departing – it will be also a moment of self-reflexion and an opportunity to clear up any misunderstandings or solve potential problems concerning the departure.

Be careful when it comes to security: take any lawful action necessary to be sure that just your employee leaves the company – not the data, information concerning customers, corporate strategy or any other confidentialities.

Also, an interview face-to-face is a good moment to confirm that all the documents or the company’s material property were returned. Again: ensure that any sensitive information wasn’t transmitted, saved or published outside the organization. It is also a good moment to mention the quitting employee’s obligations to the company.

Shape the strategy for the rest of the team

If the employees that quit were dissatisfied with their job, it often affects the team’s morale and team-spirit. Use the interview we wrote about in the previous paragraph to get feedback and instantly implement any changes needed to give the rest of the employees comfort in their work and try to build a stronger team with a better work environment.

Start filling the gap

Start thinking about the proper replacement for your departing employee. You can consider new recruitment to replace the old with the new, promote an existing employee or try to continue the work without that person.

No matter what you decide – to look for a replacement outside or to change somebody’s job post – you’re left with gaps to fill. Also, think about your team – create and introduce a plan for the employees considering that one key person left. It’s important to reorganize their goals so that they’ll be more achievable by a reduced number of people.

Also, it’s a good idea to create a “succession plan” for a similar issue in the future. Think about who may replace the leaving person – permanently or just temporarily.

Tips for the future

Make people’s jobs nice

Not every good employee leaves because of money or higher expectations. It can be avoidable but it requires energy from the first day at work. Be sure that you do everything so your people are satisfied with their job and proud of their manager.

Many companies think that benefits and bonuses such as fancy lunches, games or cinema tickets solve all employee needs. Your precious employees want more than that to be dedicated to the organization and do great things at work.

Of course, a lot depends on the people in your team but some things don’t change. Every person likes to be :

  • important,
  • heard,
  • understood,
  • respected

for what they do to feel nice at work. A great leader and executive will ask, talk, listen and react to what his core team members are communicating.

Understand employee needs

The last piece of advice may seem to be trivial but executives tend to forget about it. The best one will always have different opportunities on the market. You have to try hard to figure out how to retain them before you see warning signs.

What you can and should do to retain employees is:

  • ask for feedback,
  • discuss problems,
  • understand your employees’ communications,
  • know the risk and challenges,
  • motivate with different options
  • help employee reach personal goals,
  • create a healthy and nice work environment.

Final word

We started this guide by listing things that make the best employees leave their jobs, which should be helpful in analyzing the past terminations at your company and drawing conclusions to avoid certain future mistakes.

Also, you may learn what steps you should take when a key employee decides to leave the company. The last section is dedicated to the actions you can make in the future to stop people from quitting.

Matt Warcholinski

Matt Warcholinski is the COO of Brainhub (a software house building awesome node.js web and mobile apps) who loves to build startups and play guitar.

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