I have been in business for over 20 years and have employed more than 30,000 people.
I’ve had my fair share of employees who decide to quit. After these experiences, I have some suggestions on what to do when an employee that is extremely valuable to the team decides to quit and have boiled them down to three general suggestions.
1. Hold them tight
I often hear that if a person decides to quit their job, they will do it sooner or later, no matter what you do. You can’t stop it, and you probably shouldn’t — after all, there are no irreplaceable people. I strongly disagree with this notion.
Quitting is always stressful. You can’t know what a future will hold. Of their own free will, a person, if everything is in order, usually does not want new troubles. They want to stay in their comfort zone (if you have created one for them). Therefore, most likely, there are grave reasons that pushed them to come to this decision. It is always worthwhile: Maybe you will find something to improve within your company and try to help. Experience tells us that there are practically no unsolvable situations.
Sometimes employees quit for the weirdest and easiest-to-solve reasons ever. I’ve had a software engineer that didn’t like the way his manager spoke to him in the chat and just decided to not tell anybody. I’ve had developers quitting because they got tired years ago and didn’t know how to take a break. I’ve had the head of digital marketing quit because they thought their pay was too high for the quality of the job they were doing. Employees can be weird. The only way to know what’s going on is to ask them calmly and be mentally prepared to receive any answer.
If a person is truly valuable to the business, your pride is secondary. You should try to keep them no matter what. It is rarely only about salary. Often giving them new positions in the company or giving them some fresh tasks is even more important.
Then what about the former tasks of this worker? This is still terrible, right? Who will do their job? But think about it like this. If they quit, you will still have to distribute all of their former duties, so it is the same thing. But your trusted employee is a keeper of the knowledge, traditions and culture of your company. They have some authority among their colleagues and they are an opinion leader. Keeping them is important. Losing them will be like losing a finger or toe. Your company can continue, but the quality of life will be reduced.
2. Continue talking to them
What do people usually regret on their deathbed? Judging by what I heard, it seems like disappointing your boss is somewhere at the bottom of that list. Most people regret not having spent enough time with their family and friends.
But, in fact, quitting is a form of death. Of course, thankfully, everyone remains alive and well, but the connection you had is broken. You no longer have this person in your life. They are “dead” to you.
But it is within your power to avoid this. Continue talking to them — people want to feel needed.
Even better would be if you start talking to them before they quit. Often the lack of a positive assessment of the person’s work by their managers is the core reason for them quitting their job. That is why in some big successful companies such as Adobe and Intel, supervisors are encouraged to spend at least an hour every month with each of their subordinates discussing random topics, preferably not related to work. This way they can better feel the mood and understand the plight of their employees.
If the subordinate sees that you are grateful, they’ll be happy — and it won’t cost anything. Providing people with moral support is hard work, but it is free, and it is the most important. If they are fulfilled, they have no reason to quit, even if their salary is not the best.
Managers need to understand that your company has already paid a premium for searching, interviewing, onboarding and training this specialist. If they are still valuable and if their job is still needed, it would be foolish to not fight for them at all.
3. Wait for their return
Let’s imagine that your efforts were not successful. The person leaves. My firm conviction is that, no matter what, you need to part on good terms. Make this your complete priority. Do not burn any bridges. Them deciding to quit might not be the end of your joint work. The world is small, after all, and the world of quality workers in your field is even smaller.
If they are quitting, first and foremost, it is worth getting any feedback you can. What was their favorite thing about working for you? What was their least favorite? What would they want to change? Who would they like to replace them and why? This person has nothing to lose now, so they are invaluable. They are ready to share their experience and tell you honestly about the situation at the workplace. Don’t neglect this information.
Now your attention needs to be on those people who stayed with you. Carefully consider how to distribute new responsibilities between the people who are still with you. The load will most likely increase for everybody, at least for a short while. People need to be prepared for that.
More than once I’ve encountered an opinion that once an employee leaves your company, it is incredibly hard for them to return. They will be too ashamed, and moreover, you should not accept them (because they are a “traitor”, in a way). This is complete nonsense. When someone tells you something like this, just remember Steve Jobs, who was fired from his own company with a scandal, but returned triumphantly just a few years later. Now the company’s name is synonymous with him, and the company is all the more successful for it.
If you create a welcoming environment, and if they know they will be accepted, you would be surprised by how many want to come back after just a few months. People left my company, Smartbrain, for other companies, for higher positions and for higher salaries. But hundreds of those whom I sincerely offered their job back after a few months actually returned. Even on the same conditions and on the same salary they had before. I know of a few cases in large IT companies when some employees quit and came back up to several times.
If a truly valuable person quits working for you, you must assure them that you will always be happy to see them come back. This will be extremely valuable in the long run. Especially since finding new employees that fully fit your business and onboarding them right now is extremely tough.
In general, hold on to your talented people. Try to make the life of your workers as carefree as it can be. A happy, nurtured person can grow, fully realize themselves and create an additional value for everybody around them.