What to Do When an Employee Suddenly Quits

What to Do When an Employee Suddenly Quits
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A sudden employee departure can cause panic within even the best-run company and require swift action to manage the exit properly. This is particularly true for smaller businesses that may rely on just a small handful of employees to keep operations running smoothly.

It’s important to handle this type of situation carefully to ensure that remaining employees, clients, and other stakeholders experience as little disruption as possible. This article discusses what you can do to make the best of an employee’s sudden resignation.  

Why do good employees quit?

Even the best employees move on. The reasons a particular team member might quit are as varied as the individuals themselves. However, it’s important to honestly assess why a resigning employee has made the decision to leave your organization. Even employees who leave on good terms can provide valuable insights into how to make your business better.

If the reason is personal—such as the employee experiencing a change in life circumstances like a move, a family or health matter, or another non-work-related issue—there may not have been much you could have done except to lend your support. Life happens.

If that’s not the case, you have reason to dig deeper into the contribution your organization and its culture may have made.

Some business-related issues that can cause a good employee to quit include:

  • Low pay
  • Lack of recognition and/or respect
  • Insufficient work-life balance
  • Few opportunities for growth
  • Overwork and/or lack of support
  • Poor communication
  • Lackluster management
  • Toxic work environment

While no business owner or manager wants to think key employees are jumping ship due to their management style or workplace culture, that unpleasant fact might sometimes be the case. In a situation like this, it’s important to evaluate whether these issues are also negatively impacting other members of your team.

What to do when an employee quits suddenly

There are certain steps your organization should consider following when faced with a sudden employee departure.

Assess the situation

You might be startled initially at the employee’s sudden resignation. Your knee-jerk response—especially if you run a smaller company that will feel an immediate fallout from the work disruption—might be to panic. You might even take the resignation personally and think, “How could they do this to me?”

While these types of feelings are perfectly natural, keep them to yourself. The best thing you can do is to take a deep breath and consider the long game. How you conduct yourself at this time will say a lot about what kind of leader you are.

As a manager, though, it’s OK to ask questions. There’s no harm in asking, “Is there anything we can do to convince you to stay?” It might be that the employee wants a raise or another role in the organization. And while you may not always be able to accommodate their request, you've taken the time to hear them out.

However, even if your goal is employee retention, it’s rarely a good idea to make an immediate counteroffer. The team member has taken the time to assess their options and come to a decision that the best course of action is to leave. Even if you make the proverbial “offer they can’t refuse,” you want to make sure they’ll be happy if they take your offer and stay. In fact, over half of employees who accept a counteroffer end up leaving within a year anyway. You may decide that the best thing to do is to accept their resignation letter with grace, keep calm, and behave professionally.

But you may want to understand why the employee made their decision. There’s a lot organizations can learn from an exit interview, especially if it’s conducted in a calm and professional way. Departing employees may have trouble being honest with their manager, so make it easy by offering them an opportunity to speak with HR.

The insight you gain about how employees perceive the work environment can be invaluable—as long as you can use the information in a way that makes you a better leader and your company a more welcoming workplace.

Take care of legal requirements

Regardless of why the employee is leaving, it’s important that you comply with all state and federal employment laws. You should always consider consulting with a human resources professional and labor law attorney to ensure you follow the laws and regulations for your industry and location, which may include:

  • Making sure their final paycheck includes all accrued wages, commissions, and bonus payments required by contract or law
  • Paying out any payable accrued benefits
  • Providing all required legal notices, which may include unemployment, workers’ compensation, and COBRA benefit continuation information
  • Reviewing and reiterating the terms of any employment, noncompete, and confidentiality agreements that the employee signed during their employment

Please note that this is not legal advice. Please always consult a qualified legal professional.

Begin shifting tasks and roles

Before the employee departs, you may want to ask them to document their day-to-day activities and duties as well as the status of any outstanding projects. Ask them to make a list of all the resources their replacement will need to continue the work. This detailed information will help you fill the gap the departing employee leaves. Current team members might be able to step in temporarily, but the last thing you want to do is overload the workers who are still with you.

Don’t be in such a hurry to fill the position that you make a premature job offer to an unsuitable hire. This is also a good time to evaluate whether you should backfill the role as is or make changes to it. Do you need to backfill the role at all? How important is the work compared to other priorities? Can the work be distributed to other team members without overloading them?

Begin the process of replacement

If you decide that your business would benefit from backfilling the role, though, make sure your next hire is someone who is a good fit, both from a skills and a company culture standpoint. Consider shifting parts of the departing employee’s workload to independent talent on a temporary basis while you conduct a thorough search for a new hire. Upwork is an excellent resource for finding just the right talent to bridge these types of workforce gaps.

Manage communication about the change

If the employee leaving had a high-level position, was with the company for a while, or was just really well-liked, it can be a big blow to the rest of the team. Resignations can also be contagious—with some people wondering why the person left and if they should consider their options, too.

In cases like this, it’s important to effectively manage communication about the change. While it may be prudent not to go  into too much detail about why the employee left, you may decide to provide enough information to the people who worked directly with them so that they understand what duties might fall to them. Whatever you decide, though, being proactive is important. Make sure you provide essential information so that current team members aren’t left to guess and fill in the blanks themselves.

Make necessary changes within the company

A sudden employee departure can bring new insights that make your company even stronger. Take the intelligence gained from the departing employee’s exit interview and think about making some changes to improve the overall work environment.

Look at the pain points that resulted from the team member’s resignation and seek ways to avoid future workplace upheaval. For instance:

  • Groom great managers. A good place to begin is by assessing how employees perceive their managers. Look for factors that could be contributing to employee turnover—maybe managers aren’t giving enough feedback or recognition or are micromanaging their team—and introduce new management methods and training to help stave off future problems.
  • Document each employee’s institutional knowledge and workflow. Workforce disruptions are sometimes inevitable. That’s why it’s important to be prepared for any contingency. Documentation and cross-training are always important because you never know when someone might leave or need to be out of the office for a while. Make sure each worker thoroughly documents their tasks in a way that another professional could pick up where they left off with as little work interruption as possible.
  • Keep culture top of mind. Think about the type of company that attracts and retains the best and the brightest and become that company to the best of your ability. Be the type of leader who wants the best for their team and shows up for team members no matter what. This means keeping your finger on the pulse of how employees are feeling through check-ins and surveys. Don’t wait to conduct a survey until right after an employee leaves—make it a normal part of the work process. A leader who treats their team with respect will almost always receive respect back. That will make all the difference when dealing with the inevitable transitions and upheavals that every company confronts.
  • Know who’s next in line. Sometimes, an employee resignation is unavoidable. That’s why it’s important to consider succession planning. Ideally, if someone leaves, another person on the team should be able to step in and help. Do you have someone who’s next in line if the role is suddenly empty? This also includes your role!
  • Know how to pivot on a dime. Don’t leave yourself open to costly project delays or unhappy clients when personnel changes occur. Build a virtual talent bench of freelance professionals from Upwork who can pinch-hit any time you need an extra hand.

Conclusion

Like most companies, you rely on your outstanding team to continuously drive your business success. Thus, it makes sense that you would want to focus on creating a work environment that invites top talent to stick around and grow with your enterprise.

An employee who leaves suddenly can disrupt operations, but you can use that disruption as an opportunity to reevaluate your goals, your company culture, and where to focus your team-building efforts.

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What to Do When an Employee Suddenly Quits
The Upwork Team

Upwork is the world’s work marketplace that connects businesses with independent talent from across the globe. We serve everyone from one-person startups to large, Fortune 100 enterprises with a powerful, trust-driven platform that enables companies and talent to work together in new ways that unlock their potential.

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