When a favorite team member resigns — someone the rest of the team loves working with — your role as a manager becomes more complicated. You not only have to manage the work burden that comes with a vacancy on the team; you also have to be aware of the social impact of the loss.
The social fabric of your team can unravel if you don’t manage the situation with care. You have to recognize, acknowledge, and manage the emotional response of the team, as well as the workload. Team members are likely to feel an emotional loss associated with the resignation — so much so that often organizations see a domino effect with others resigning in response to the first resignation.
How do you keep the team together, emotionally invested, and highly productive? Here are a few tips:
Show appreciation for the one leaving, no matter the circumstance.
Managers tend to shower appreciation upon those retiring at the end of their career. When others resign, the tendency is to view it as a betrayal or an abandonment. With an increasingly mobile workforce, people will come and go more frequently than ever before. Your team will welcome some of those exits, but when they don’t, you have a particularly important role to play.
When a well-liked and favored employee resigns, the most important thing you can do is show that you, too, are sorry to see the person go. This may or may not be completely true in the broader sense, but acknowledging the positive aspects of the employee’s contribution will help you connect emotionally with your team’s sense of loss.
Share the news with your team as quickly as is reasonable. (They likely already know.) Discuss what you appreciated about the individual’s contributions. Acknowledge that you know how much the team enjoyed working with him or her, and that they’ll miss having that person around. If you can include team members in the selection process for a replacement, assure them you’ll work closely with them to choose the right fit in a new hire to complement the team. When you respect the contributions of the employee who’s leaving and acknowledge how important it is to find a replacement that fits well with the team, employees will be more likely to see that you understand what they’re feeling.
Answer questions with transparency and respect.
When someone the team cares about resigns, the other team members will have questions — for you, and for the individual resigning. You were probably taught to avoid answering questions about an individual’s resignation and to focus only on the implications to the team. But if we come back to the idea that the exit of a favorite employee has emotional and social implications, you may need to invest more thoughtfully in answering those questions. If your team is feeling uncertainty and doubt, your role is to ease their concern and reengage them so they stay and remain productive.
Understand as much as you can about why an individual is leaving, and speak with them about what they feel comfortable having you share with others. Is she pursuing a new career? Was he offered a role with more flexibility to spend time with a child or aging parent? Is she moving for more money or just looking for a change? Is he unhappy and wants out? The more you understand, the more you can prepare to answer team member questions with trust and transparency. Be respectful of the person leaving in all conversations, and don’t be lured into sharing anything you haven’t agreed to share in advance. Try to posture or position favorably and you risk losing the team.
Invest in the health of the team.
In my consulting practice, I frequently ask leaders about their team’s dynamic and then I go talk to the teams directly. I often see a disconnect. Not on the big and important points of alignment, but on the nuance of team dynamics.
Managers may be respected and connected to their team, and yet still not understand fully what happens outside of team meetings — how the team really operates, who has influence, or what lingering conflicts might exist. Well-liked employees are the ones who most influence the team dynamic. When those individuals leave, the team dynamic can fracture if not supported. It requires thoughtful attention to keep the team successful and satisfied.
Meet with your team to check in on the team dynamic. Let them know that you want to hear their thoughts on how things are going, especially in light of the recent changes to the team. What’s going well that shouldn’t change? What could be better? For the new hire, what does the team think is important in terms of work preferences, communication styles, and persona to find the perfect fit? With this dialog, you demonstrate that you care about the team, which improves morale and engagement.
It’s always challenging when someone leaves your team, especially if they’re well-liked. Your role is to ensure that the work can still be completed, but also that the team can navigate the social change with ease. Show that you care about both the person leaving and the team that remains and you’re much more likely to retain employees and strengthen trust with your team.
Author: Lisa Lai