It’s an unfortunate reality of business ownership: eventually, one of your employees will quit. Probably more than one. And this reality isn’t changing; an ADP survey from July 2022 found that 24 per cent of Canadian workers recently changed jobs. Plus, the percentage of retiring workers in Canada has grown by a third in the last decade.

So how do you handle this inevitable hurdle — especially if the outgoing employee is one of your best?

Take a breath

You’ve just heard the news, and it’s a shock. You might feel frustrated, betrayed or disappointed. These are valid feelings, but discretion is key — you don’t want to blurt out something you’ll later regret or make your employee uncomfortable. Besides, if they’re a great performer, you may want to maintain that connection.

Instead, take a breath. You can say you’re surprised or sad to see them leave, but keep it at that. Remember: it’s rarely personal. Their reason for leaving may be entirely out of your hands — and we’ll touch on that soon.

Know your protocol

When an employee leaves, you need an offboarding plan. It’s not glamorous, but it is essential. Some parts are simple: you may need to change passwords or revoke access. Other aspects are more complicated. For instance, did you know you owe the employee their outstanding pay within six days? To comply with employment standards laws, you may also have to provide vacation pay, CPP contributions, employment insurance contributions, overtime and stat holiday pay.

A payroll partner will automate these calculations, save time, and ensure compliance.

Be wary of the counteroffer

A counteroffer — especially one made in the heat of the moment — isn’t always advisable. Even if your employee accepts the offer, you know they want to leave. How long until another company turns their head? You need a team of equally committed individuals. No matter how crucial you think the employee is, it’s probably best to let them leave and maintain that relationship for the future.

Understand their reasons for leaving

It’s unavoidable: exit interviews can be awkward. That said, they’re an excellent opportunity for a business owner: you’ll get honest insights you might not have otherwise garnered. You may not want to hear the answers, but if you remain objective, you’ll receive information you can use to manage your team better.

Of course, you and your business may have nothing to do with the decision. Perhaps they’re moving to be closer to loved ones, or maybe a close relative needs care. In these cases, the best thing you can do is support. You could even keep the door open for a future return.

Brief your team

Nobody wants to be surprised by a colleague’s departure. Worse, you don’t want your team to worry. So brief them as soon as you can. You don’t need to share the details of why they’re leaving — that’s not your story to tell — but you should explain that the employee is no longer with the company and what that means for the team. For instance, who will assume their duties? How will you cope with the loss in the short term? In the long term? Keep it positive; your team will look to you for guidance.

Devise a transition plan

Before you can brief your team on their short and long-term duties, you need a plan. If possible, have your outgoing employee help with the transition. They know their work better than anybody. And if they genuinely want to help, the situation will be less awkward.

First, assign their duties to other team members. But pay attention to these employees — you don’t want to overburden them. Morale is key.

Start the hiring process

To prove to your team that their increased workload is only temporary, you should start the hiring process as soon as possible. For small businesses, this can be daunting — sifting through resumes and scheduling interviews can strain time and resources. So we recommend a flexible HR partner to help with recruitment and onboarding. You could even start with a freelancer — something to ease the burden on your team while you select a long-term replacement.


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