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What Do You Do When Your Best Employee Leaves?

Debra Auerbach, CareerBuilder writer

Every team or department is made up of individuals who have their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Yet there’s usually one or two workers who rise to the top; their work – and work ethic – stand out from the rest.

So, what do you do when your star employee announces he or she is leaving for another opportunity?

You knew deep down it was likely to happen – in today’s market, top talent is in high demand. Do you find a way to try and make the person stay? Or do you focus on recruiting another stand out? Here are some options to consider when your best worker leaves.

Contemplate a Counteroffer

If you believe the employee is worth fighting for, work with HR to put together a counteroffer. Consider the reasons your employee might be leaving, and develop a strategy to convince the person it’s worth it to stay. While this may include higher compensation or more appealing benefits, be sure to address the other factors in play – such as the employee no longer feeling challenged in his or her role.

If you go this route, do so with caution. Remember that there’s a reason the employee invested time into finding a new job, so chances are anything you offer the employee may just act as a Band-Aid instead of a permanent fix. And consider how you will feel about the employee if he or she stays – will your relationship be different? Will the trust disappear? If the dynamics are going to change, it may not end up being worth the work.

Take the Exit Interview Seriously

If the counteroffer is a no-go, or you decide it’s better to just let go, it’s still important to get to the root of why your employee wants to leave. While exit interviews can sometimes be an afterthought, why not take advantage of an opportunity to get real (or as real as possible) feedback on some of the grievances this employee – and likely other employees – have about the team or the company?

Encourage the employee to be candid with HR, and let them know you truly value his or her feedback and plan to put it into action. And don’t just pay the employee lip service – if there are valuable insights gleaned from the conversation, find ways you can apply those lessons to your current employees to hopefully prevent another top worker from leaving.

Talk to Your Team

Losing a star employee isn’t just a blow to you – it’s a blow to your whole team. Not only will they worry their workload is going to increase or the team dynamic will shift, it also may make them question their own situations – and whether they should be looking elsewhere, too.

Instead of brushing the departure under the rug, meet with your team and reassure them that everything will be operating as normal and you’re working to replace the ex-employee as quickly as possible. And considering that morale might be down, it might be a good time to plan an outing or activity that could help rally the team together.

Look Internally to Fill the Position

While it may seem like no one else on your team compares to your No. 1 worker, and your first instinct may be to look externally to fill the role, consider first looking internally. Perhaps there’s someone who has the potential to really shine but was never given the platform to do so. This could be your chance to nurture that person’s career while also saving time and money on recruiting an external candidate.

Consider the Positives

It may be hard to say goodbye to your star employee, but it may end up being a blessing in disguise. No manager wants someone on their team who doesn’t want to be there. Even if the person is a top employee, sooner or later his or her unhappiness will start to show in his or her work.

When your best worker leaves, consider it an opportunity to start fresh and build an even stronger team.

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