Act quickly and plan ahead when an employee departs

1/29/2024
 

Employee departures are an inevitable part of any business. As your company grows and evolves, your needs change, and so do your employees. It’s natural that some of your people will move on to new opportunities or no longer be a good fit.

Yet, if you've done a good job as a manager, departures should never be a total surprise. Through good rapport and open communication, you will know when a departure is coming, whether it’s your idea, their idea, or a little of both.

Departures can happen for a lot of reasons, and it’s not always a bad thing, or anyone's “fault.” Maybe they got a new dream job. Or needed to move away to be closer to family, or because of a spouse’s new job. Or they could have decided the company they work at today is too different from the one they joined (common for early stage startup employees to feel after hyper growth).

Regardless of the reason, the important thing is how you handle it. That includes both how you treat the departing team member, and equally important, how you tell your team.

Even if you think others expected the departure, or knew it was coming, it’s still very important you approach it the right way and manage any disruption to your team well.

If handled poorly, a departure can damage your team and culture. If communicated well, it keeps your team aligned and focused on work despite the transition, while demonstrating your care and thoughtfulness as a leader.

But how exactly do you announce to your team that someone is departing?

What do you say and not say?

How much notice should you give?

We answer all these questions and more in today’s post.

Why You Shouldn’t Avoid Announcing Employee Departures

When you learn that an employee is going to be leaving, you may be tempted to try to keep it quiet. You may be worried it will distract your team, and not sure the best way to tell everyone.

But waiting will often backfire on you.

Keeping quiet about an employee's departure can lead to office gossip; it won’t take long for people to find out once anyone knows, because they’ll likely tell their friends. Or, they may notice the disappearance of someone from work chatrooms, or assigned future tasks and figure it out on their own.

If you say nothing while this gossip and confusion spreads, it can lead to questions and concerns you don’t want to deal with. It also can undermine your leadership as you’re failing to step up in a circumstance you’d be expected to.

Announcing departures promptly avoids a variety of problems we just went over, and also has many benefits.

By letting your team know, you show strong leadership, create clarity, and make the transition as smooth as possible. You also make it easier for your team to come to you with any questions or concerns, because you’ve demonstrated you’re on top of the situation.

Keep in mind, when somebody leaves your company, others will often think, “Should I leave, too?” That’s the most expensive reason to handle this process well.

Important Rules for Announcing an Employee's Departure

How you share this news is as important as doing it promptly. Follow these rules to make sure your announcement covers everything important, even while you’re trying to move quickly.

Make the Departure Announcement Fast

As we’ve emphasized repeatedly, you need to move swiftly to avoid a variety of problems.

Delaying the news gives time for rumors and gossip to spread, which can hurt your team morale and culture. It can also lead to your team making changes and adapting to the departure in ways you did not intend.

That’s why you should try to inform your team within 1-2 days of confirming someone is leaving, if not sooner. Being proactive here can make all the difference.

Share who is leaving and the key details your team needs to know

When you announce an employee's departure, start by sharing the basics: who is leaving and when their last day is (or was).

Then, you have an important decision to make: Will you share their reason for leaving?

Some of this comes down to your company’s policy, so if you’re at a larger company, check with HR first. Otherwise, you can use this as a rule of thumb:

 

  • If they egregiously broke a company rule leading to their termination, then letting your team know that’s why can eliminate rumor and reinforce the rule.
  • If they were let go for performance issues, it’s typically best to keep it vague and simply state they’re no longer with you. Chances are, your team knows they were an underperformer, but by saying nothing, you allow them to save face.
  • If they chose to leave, and the reason they gave is positive for them and you, then you can share that, or leave it to them to tell everyone.
  • If they chose to leave, and the reason is negative (you two didn’t get along, they’re upset at a company decision, etc) then it’s best to keep things vague and simple.
  • If this is a layoffs situation, then it makes sense to explain that this departure is due to the company-wide layoffs and leave it at that.

 

The good news is that by focusing on the other details we recommend, most of your team won’t worry too much about the departure reason. Instead, they’ll be focused on the future because of the other sections we suggest.

Share the transition plan

When someone is leaving, there are a few key questions that impact the day to day work of your team:

  • Who is taking over the tasks this person owned?
  • How does this impact deadlines and goals related to current projects?
The fact is, when someone departs, you have lost a contributor to your team. That means they won’t be helping get things done, and others will have to cover for them.
 

Either you need to push your team harder to fill in the gaps left behind, or you have to adjust priorities and deadlines to account for the lost productivity.

The best thing you can do in an announcement about an employee departure is to outline your plan to answer these questions. This manages everyone’s expectations, and helps focus your team on what they need to do because of the change.

It’s also important to think about what might happen with the role going forward: Will you be replacing them, or will the team have to make do without the role being filled?

Including this in your announcement assures everyone that you have things under control. Outline who will be taking on the employee's most important responsibilities and projects after they leave. If a replacement hasn't been named yet, explain the process and timeline for filling the role.

This may require some planning, so be sure that nothing in the announcement is surprising to those mentioned as taking over the work, and check with your manager if you need clarity about the long term plans for the role.

Show gratitude and stay positive

How you treat employees when they leave makes a strong statement to the rest of your team.

Even if a departure is disappointing or poorly timed, take the high road. Thank your employee sincerely for their contributions and time with your company.

In particular, if they were a strong performer, then highlight specific examples of their great work. You can mention how they may have won a big contract, increased your revenue, improved critical metrics, or shipped a key feature. This shows appreciation for your efforts and lets your team know you recognize when people make significant contributions.

Keep in mind, sometimes you will have a weak or mediocre team member departing. In that case, keep your comments about their work simple and vague. It does no good to overstate their value or efforts. Your team knows just as well as you if they weren’t doing great work. Instead, just wish them well and move on.

Share Farewell Event Details

Finally, if you are hosting a farewell event for the departing employee, include those details in your announcement so others can join.

Provide the gathering date, time, location, or video call link in the announcement so it’s easy for people to find. This is a great way to give valued employees a proper sendoff both from you, and their coworkers.

Of course, use your best judgment on this. Any farewell event should be:

 

  • Appropriate for your culture: Going to a bar doesn’t make sense if most employees don’t drink, and if most people prefer to be home with their kids, then a lunch may be better than a dinner.
  • Mutually agreed upon: Some employees will not want this, and other times you may feel an event is inappropriate. Only organize one when both you and the employee feel it’s a good idea.

 

This doesn’t have to be fancy, or sophisticated to plan. It can be as simple as either of these messages:

"We will be celebrating Jane's 7 years with BPM Co. at a farewell lunch this Friday at 12 PM in our cafe. Please join us in wishing her well!"

Or:

"Fred's last day is March 15th. We'll host a virtual farewell hour that day at 5 PM over Zoom: [link]"

 
What if you fire an employee?

Sometimes employees depart because you had to fire them. These situations are a bit different than what we’ve gone over so bar, because in these cases:

 

  • There is typically no notice period — you let them go immediately.
  • You likely won't be highlighting many positive contributions, since their performance or behavior issues led to termination.

 

Even so, your team still needs to know about the departure to plan accordingly, and avoid the same gossip issues we discussed previously.

With that in mind, announce the departure graciously, simply stating that things did not work out and you've parted ways. If you’re thinking about saying more, it’s probably a good idea to clear it with your HR or legal team, since firings usually have legal ramifications for the company.

Regardless of legal concerns, it does no good to rehash anything bad that happened or reasons for firing. Your team likely knows, and they’re watching how you treat people when they can’t do anything for you anymore.

Instead, focus on the next steps, just as you would with a voluntary departure. Explain who will be taking over the former employee's responsibilities and reassure everyone that the work will continue smoothly. Make yourself available to answer questions and take the pulse of your team after the departure. You will often hear some of your team is relieved a jerk or underperformer is gone.

By keeping your note about a firing departure announcement brief, neutral, and forward-looking, you can make even sensitive departure a relatively positive process.

Remember their friends

Regardless of the reason someone is departing a job, they likely had relationships with some other people at your company. That means when an employee leaves, pay special attention to their best friends at work.

When you recognize that one of your current employees was friends with someone who has departed, reach out to them and discuss the departure with them one-on-one. This gives you the chance to personally check in to see how they are doing personally and get their honest thoughts, reactions, and questions about the departure.

Your goal with these discussions is two-fold:

 

  1. Find out if the departure makes anyone else want to leave: Unfortunately, employees can leave in waves, and one friend can inspire another to leave. Communicating openly about it with the remaining friend is the best way to make changes that ensure they’ll stay. (Learn more here)
  2. Learn any questions or concerns you should address with your team: When you speak privately with team members about the departure, you can find out what is on the mind of your team. This is priceless and should be addressed by you going forward.

 

Losing a work friend can be tough for anyone. However, by showing you care about their experience and listening to their concerns, you can retain the remaining employees and keep them engaged.

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