10 Steps to take when key employees leave

A start employee's resignation can come as a surprise. Here's what to do when an employee leaves.

Matthew Reeves

Published on 

March 16, 2020

Updated on 

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When a key employee hands in their resignation, it may be met with shock at the organization. However, there are several important things that you will need to do to smooth the transition. If your company has a succession plan to deal with this scenario then the next steps will be clear. Yet, if there is no succession plan to replace the employee who will be leaving you may feel a sense of panic, but it doesn’t have to be chaos. 

Knowing how to best handle the situation moving forward is an important part of creating a successful departure. This includes having open communication with the employee, stakeholders and your other staff. When a key employee leaves the organization, it can be a time of stress and high emotions. Be sensitive to these facts as you maneuver your way through all the steps you need to take. 

What to do when an employee resigns

Once you are sure that the employee is leaving, you will need to take some steps to manage the situation before the news spreads. You want to be in control of the message that is communicated around the office so that no rumours or worry can seep in and damage the atmosphere at your company. Here are some steps you can take after a key employee has given you notice that they will be leaving the organization: 

  1. Notify stakeholders promptly: When a key employee decides to leave your company, it is important that your stakeholders hear it from you first. Word travels quickly in our digitally-connected climate so pick up the phone right away and make those important calls. If there is no answer, leave a voice message. 
  1. Don’t wait too long to announce it: While you may want to have a solid succession plan in place before you address your other employees, sometimes you cannot wait that long. It is important that your employees hear the news from the leadership. This can quash any rumours before they start. When you do announce the news, demonstrate to your remaining employees that you understand this is a key position and you are in control. This can help calm any fears that employees may have about the changes that will be coming. 
  1. Protect your organization: Regardless of the circumstances of the departure, you will want to ensure the employee returns all of your organization’s equipment including key cards, computers, etc. If the situation is tense and you are concerned about the employee’s ethics, you may need to block them from the company computer system so your files are secure. There may even be a need to escort them off the premises. 
  1. Acknowledge the emotion: When a key employee leaves the organization, it can be met with a lot of emotion from others within the company. Don’t ignore the emotional impact of the news. Be sympathetic to your employees and listen to them if they need to talk about their feelings. One way you can help other employees move forward is by hosting a goodbye event like a lunch or party. This will give everyone the chance to say goodbye in a positive way. 
  1. Develop a hiring plan: Replacing your key employee is likely going to be top of your list. However, take some time to develop a plan. Write down details about the position, including responsibilities and any skills and experience that you want a candidate to have. From there you will be able to assess any internal candidates who would be a good fit. 
  1. Don’t rush a replacement: If you don’t have a clear succession plan in place resist the urge to rush a replacement into the job. When it is a key position in your organization, you don’t want to make any hasty decisions. Take your time over the selection and interview process and solicit feedback from others about potential candidates. 
  1. Know the legalities of leaving: As soon as you can, work out any pay that is owing to your employee so that there are no litigious issues. This can include any vacation pay, benefits, bonuses or commission. It is also important to get the paperwork in order and ensure your departing employee has their copies in case they need it. 
  1. Have a list: Before your employee leaves, ask them to write down some important information for their successor. This can include any upcoming deadlines, client contact details, directions about where to find key information stored in files or on the computer. 
  1. Seek feedback: An employee who is leaving may feel more compelled to be honest with you about your organization, leadership and any changes they believe should be made. One way to get this feedback is to ask them to participate in an exit survey. Allow them to be as candid as possible with you. 
  1. Be positive: Even if you are upset about the way your employee is leaving, try not to burn your bridges. Keep things on a positive note with open communication. You never know if they may return at some point in the future or be able to help you find a qualified candidate. 


Many times when a key employee announces their decision to leave your organization feelings of shock and panic can result. However, by having a plan in place and following the right steps, you can ensure a successful transition. This means keep the lines of communication open between everyone impacted by the departure, do what you can to make sure the employee leaves on a good note and review any feedback they give you in an exit survey or interview. It is also important to support your other employees during this time as there may be some confusion, fear or sadness that follows the announcement. By taking care of all parties involved it will make it easier to attract new talent to continue growing your team.

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