Among the many curveballs that the pandemic threw business and organizational leaders this past year was an increase in turnover.  

For some employees, navigating the uncertainty in 2020 meant holding onto their jobs longer than they were planning to. Now that things are stabilizing in 2021, they’re making long-awaited moves. Others re-thought their priorities and are seizing the moment to step into dreams, delayed. 

Whatever the case, getting the news that someone is leaving can be hard.  

Depending on whether or not the employee gives you ample, advance notice or very little notice, the situation and response intensifies. The weight of such news can feel heavier depending on the role and responsibilities the person leaving had and the size of the organization.  

Losing a key person in a large organization can be equally as difficult as losing a team member in a small business. But from a revenue standpoint, it may be a harder hit for the small business leader that loses a team member where margins are tighter.  

The following tips can help you navigate the challenges that the turnover bump in 2021 is bringing.


1. Don’t panic

In the wake of someone giving notice, it’s natural to launch into a damage-control mindset, spinning all the variables likely to be touched by this news. 

Don’t panic.  

Wholehearted leaders seek to respond rather than react. They know that a vetted response will be healthier for themselves and the integrity they are trying to live out. It will also be healthier for their organization as they work to absorb the impact of the change, and healthier yet for the person that’s just given notice, whether or not they are leaving on good terms. 

Take a day to process the news before responding to the notice. Hopefully, you heard the news directly from your employee and are working together toward a healthy transition and exit, which includes a mutually agreed-upon communication strategy. 

As the leader, it’s your responsibility to set the tone and expectation on how and when the news will be formally communicated to the rest of the organization, even if word has already started to spread informally.  


2. Rely on good systems

This is the time to return to the agreed-upon terms in the contract you have in place with the employee. 

Is there language that outlines how a transition process will go if notice is given to help ensure the transition is as healthy for both parties as possible? 

Even more importantly, is there language outlining the cause and process for termination? 

When employees have signed off on these terms at the beginning of their contractual engagement with you, drawing on them to provide the roadmap for the actual transition and exit is fair and just, even if the employee never actually read the contract and is shocked that you had a plan in place prior to them giving notice. It’s especially helpful if you were forced to terminate them for unfortunate reasons.  


3. Be honest and gracious

Having good systems in place allows you to receive the news and respond to it in a calm and gracious manner.

Given the choice, you’d prefer a turnover conversation to go like this:

John, I’m sorry we are going to be losing you. You’ve been a valuable contributor to our company and, to be honest, the news comes at a hard time for the company. But we’re committed to walking with you to help ensure a healthy and helpful transition. To do that, we’re going to rely on the protocols outlined in the contract you signed when you joined us. Let’s review those together so we can both have clarity and confidence in how things go from here, okay?

Honesty often begets honesty. Be willing to listen to any feedback given to you by the employee regarding his/her reasons for leaving. Often this can be difficult to hear, and can sometimes cause a defensive response. Remain calm and open minded. Avoid taking the announcement too personally. 

Remember that an individual’s desire to move on may not have anything to do with you or your company, but rather, may be a result of a new opportunity or new set of life circumstances prompting the change.


4. Tap trusted referral partners

Today there are a myriad of recruiting tools that can help you find the talent you need to replace someone on their way out. Before you cast wide nets, pause to consider who you know and trust that might know of an important lead. 

We recently contacted such a person and were completely surprised and excited to learn that they were interested in an opportunity, when previously they had simply been a resource to help us find others within their sphere that might be a fit for our company. 

If you don’t have these trusted referral partners in place, take the time to build 1-3 relationships, connected indirectly to your field, that can be mutually beneficial. Get to know one another. Share the values you hold for the work you do, then keep an eye out for good opportunities that may come into view for these outside partnerships, too.


5. Refine policies and practices if necessary

In the course of working through an exit, did something arise that you hadn’t seen before or perhaps hadn’t included in your contractual terms?

Sometimes situations arise that never existed beforehand, especially following a pandemic. Once the situation is no longer novel, spend time considering protocols that could better support healthy transitions and exits for similar circumstances in the future. This is not a reaction, but a prudent response to continue to secure and develop organizational health. 

To increase buy-in across the organization, consider delaying a public message about the policy changes until a little time has passed from when the need became clear. This way it will help reduce the perception that the change was an emotional reaction (a pendulum swing) and will signify that thoughtful and thorough attention was given to the matter. 

Use a direct and personal communication strategy to deliver the news. Invite employees impacted by the decision to personally connect with you — encourage others to bring questions, concerns, and ideas to help secure and develop the organizational health. After all, they are a key part of the team that remains. 

If an idea comes up that can make a positive difference, be sure to integrate it and give credit to the person who brought it to your attention. This will bolster company morale and reinforce the belief that everyone is on the same team and that all voices matter and can make a difference.  

Written by Jeff Mattson, Co-Owner/Founder, Principal, Living Wholehearted, LLC