What to Do When a Key Employee Leaves Your BusinessOne widely-circulated statistic holds that today's average 25-year-old has already worked more than six jobs since his or her 18th birthday. Even older generations job-hop every couple of years; through their 40s, boomers changed jobs about once every two years. Thinking about how these figures apply to your business, you can certainly expect that you'll lose staff every year, and in all likelihood, from time to time you will lose a key employee.

But while the departure of a key employee may come as a blow to your business, there are ways to handle it gracefully and keep moving forward.

Adam Toren, contributor to Entrepreneur.com, offers tips for coping with a trusted employee’s exit from your organization.

See Things From Their Point of View

In a wide range of businesses, but especially major tech companies, key employees are constantly being poached. It’s easy to understand if one of your workers is drawn away by the promise of a bigger paycheck, but as Toren notes, “there are numerous other reasons for wanting to jump ship.”

He advises business owners to ask if the employee is willing to write out the reasons behind their decision. “Understanding their reasons could be a turning point for you or your company.”

Part Ways with Your Key Employee Amicably

Playing nice through an employee's departure can be a little counterintuitive for someone who cares deeply about their business. What's there to celebrate when it might feel as though someone is breaking up with you?

That said, assuming the employee is leaving your business on good terms, it's wise to mark their last day on the job with a modest celebration, “such as serving an ice cream cake during lunch or a trip to the local watering hole,” said Toren.

The first reason it's wise to say goodbye to your key employees with kindness is that you never know where that person will eventually end up. You also want your remaining employees to know that you won't burn them if they're thinking about leaving. Who knows, they may even be honest with you and give you a chance to keep them on board.

If, however, the situation with your parting key employee isn’t particularly pleasant, Toren suggests simply penning a note expressing your regret that things didn’t work out, and thanking the individual for all he or she has contributed to the business.

Start the Hiring Process ASAP

The best thing to do in this situation is to start looking for a replacement immediately. The hiring process takes time—placing job postings, reviewing resumes, scheduling and conducting interviews, making a decision—and putting it off only hurts your business.

First, Toren says, look within the organization. Is there anyone on the team who can step in and take over the departed employee’s duties and responsibilities? Anyone who might be able to do so with a minimal amount of training? Hiring from within is the best first move when a key employee leaves. It demonstrates to the rest of your team you value their work, and want to keep them on for the long run.

If such a move isn’t practical, turn to your colleagues and staff for quality candidate recommendations (while of course advertising the position in all appropriate venues). After receiving applications, narrow them down with a particular eye to who might best fit within your culture.

“Ask yourself if they are someone you’d be able to spend countless hours with during a crunch-time weekend,” Toren says.

Stay in Touch with Key Employees

There’s no reason you and the departing employee must never cross paths again. On the contrary, it makes good business sense to stay in touch. Staying mad at an ex-employee or pretending to forget he or she ever existed is foolish and short-sighted. Instead, keep their contact information on hand and, after an appropriate amount of time has passed, drop them a line and ask how their new job is working out.

Losing a key employee comes with the territory of running a business. But when you part ways on a friendly note, Toren says, “people are more willing to throw business, partnerships, and other networking opportunities your way.” And the people who still work for you will see your commitment to leading with dignity and principle.

How do you handle the departure of a key employee?


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