Your workday is moving along as usual, when suddenly you see the email from one of your reports in your inbox. “Can we talk?” or “I have some news.” Commence the sinking feeling, which gets even worse when your highly valued team member announces she’s leaving for another job or taking an extended leave. Now you’ve not only got to figure out how to get along without this key colleague, but also figure out the plan forward for the rest of your team. Breathe. You’ve got this.
Don’t keep it a secret
Unless specifically asked to keep it on the DL until a certain time, you should start letting your remaining team know as possible. Even if the impending departure isn’t common knowledge throughout the company, it’s important to make sure that key stakeholders know what’s going on. After all, if they’re going to be responsible for shouldering some extra workload for a time, or having responsibilities changed, people need to have as much notice as possible. That way, you minimize any resentment from people feeling out of the loop, or feeling that they’ve been blindsided by a big change to their work life.
Be prepared to answer questions. You needn’t go too deep into the employee’s personal reasons for leaving (if you even know them yourself), but be ready to talk about what happens next, what it means for the team, and what you expect the immediate future to look like.
Have transition sessions with your team and the employee who’s leaving
If you pretend it’s business as usual until the employee’s last day and farewell lunch, you will likely be regretting the information you didn’t get while you had the chance. As soon as you’re given notice, get some time on the calendar—both one-on-one meetings with the person leaving, and some group sessions with the person and any other employees who will be directly affected by their leaving.
In your one-on-one sessions, make sure you’re absolutely clear on what the person has in progress, what their day-to-day tasks are, and any gaps they see arising after they leave. Once you have a grasp on that checklist, you can start working with the larger group to make sure things are covered, and that work is being assigned fairly. Having a clear plan for the next few weeks (or however long until the person leaves), and then some time beyond that, will help make the transition easier on those who will be staying.
If the person is going to be replaced, make sure that’s clear to your team. If a replacement won’t be coming any time soon, and these workload changes are a longer-term reality for your team, make sure they understand that too. Be clear you that want everyone to feel comfortable and supported with the changes.
Schedule check-ins with the rest of the team as well
When someone leaves (no matter what the reason), people tend to get uneasy about their own role in a group. Check-in with every team member, and give them an individual chance to talk about how they’re doing, and any concerns they may have. Making sure that everyone feels supported in a transition is essential to keeping up morale and helping to prevent a disgruntled exodus.
This is also a chance to consider if other changes would benefit your team. If there are no clear promotion opportunities, think about what can be shifted around. Maybe the departing person’s responsibilities would be better realigned with other members of the group, giving them development opportunities that might not have come up otherwise. Present this as a chance to pause, make thoughtful changes, and be a stronger team moving forward.
Sudden change can be a headache for any manager and the employees left behind, but really, this is an opportunity. The employee who’s leaving is on to new challenges, and you and your team can work together on a path forward that gives them room to grow as well. By making it a group effort (with input from all) instead of “ugh, more work,” even upheaval can be workable.
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