It’s going to happen (if it hasn’t already): one of your employees will find a new job, or move to a new city, or both. They’ll give you their two weeks. If you’re lucky, they’ll stay a little longer. It’s never fun to lose an employee, even if they leave on good terms. But what makes things even messier is when you don’t handle the transition of responsibilities with care. Here’s what you can do to make your staff transitions as smooth as possible.
Perhaps the worst situation you can get yourself in when an employee leaves is not knowing how to do their job. Whether they give you one week or two months of notice, make sure all of their primary responsibilities are cross-trained. That is, make sure at least one other full-time staff member knows how to do their job. If you’re running a two-person show, well, that’s you!
It’s a waste of time and resources to learn something from scratch when you could have been trained by an expert. If it’s not possible to conduct hands-on training sessions, have the departing employee create heavily detailed guides for each of their tasks. That way, even if they aren’t in the office they can teach others how to do their job.
If there are specific employees who will take over the duties of the departing staff member, make sure they’re spending ample time training. It can be difficult to pile responsibilities on someone who already has a full plate, so spread them out. A little extra work for a few employees is better than overwhelming one.
It may be awkward to bring up an employee’s departure with your staff, but the sooner the better. Get everyone together and handle the situation carefully and respectfully, explaining their reasons for leaving with as much transparency as you can. It your staff finds out about an employee leaving through the grapevine, it might cause unrest or a decrease in morale.
Likewise, being upfront with your board is crucial. They’re the people providing organizational vision, and it’s hard to do that when they aren’t fully aware of what’s going on. Be as transparent with them as you are with your staff. They might even have potential replacements in mind to make the process easier.
It’s usually not a particularly joyous occasion when an employee leaves. Even if it’s on good terms, it can be sad, scary, frustrating—any combination of things. As a leader, you need to make sure the environment surrounding their departure is positive. Frame it as an exciting new adventure instead of a sad terminus. Approach the addition of a new staff member with eagerness and positivity.
It’s easy to wash your hands of an employee when they leave. You delete their accounts, restrict their admin access, throw away their food from the office refrigerator. All of that is fine, but make sure you don’t completely lose touch or burn any bridges. After all, you never know what’s going to happen—they may hate their new job, or their new city, or agree to do some volunteer work. The relationships you make as a director of a nonprofit are indispensable. Don’t let them slip away.