When an employee nervously approaches your office with clammy hands and head down, it can only mean a few things: She just “accidentally” gave an angry client a piece of her mind, she mistakenly put the final copy of the financial report in the paper shedder, or—she’s giving you her two weeks notice.
Hopefully, you'll never have to deal with the whole paper shredder thing, but as a manager, you’re going to face an employe resignation sooner or later. And whether she was a stellar employee you thought was in for life or you both saw this coming, it's up to you to make the next two weeks—and the transition after—as smooth as possible for you, for your team, and for your soon-to-be former employee.
Gauge the Situation
In my experience, the way an employee approaches his or her remaining two weeks can be completely unpredictable. I’ve had top-performing employees who kept up their stellar work right until their last Friday 5 o’clock hour, but I’ve also had typically brilliant staffers turn unproductive and sour—one, specifically, who openly announced her job dissatisfaction to her co-workers and blatantly told me (her direct supervisor!) she just “didn’t really care anymore.”
So, your first step is to pay close attention to the employee’s general attitude when she gives her resignation. Does she express concern for wrapping up her remaining work? Or, like my employee-turned-rogue, does her resignation suddenly empower her to openly complain and disregard her remaining work?
Gauging her reaction can help in a couple ways. First, it will help you decide how to best announce her departure to the rest of the team—whether you leave it up to her to tell her colleagues, or whether you call a quick team meeting so you can set the tone before she does. It can also lead into a discussion about how she’ll handle her next two weeks. While it’s obviously her choice to discuss her dissatisfaction (or her excitement about her new job) in her private life, the workplace is not an appropriate outlet—and you may need to tell her that.
Develop a Transition Plan
The next step is to work together with your employee to develop a transition plan. Her idea of what needs to be finished up before she leaves the company may differ from yours, so it’s important to collaboratively make a list of all her regular weekly duties, the projects she’s currently working on, and clients she keeps in direct contact with. Spend ample time on this list, making it as comprehensive as possible, as you’ll soon need to decide who can take over those projects and responsibilities in the short-term. You should also decide together how to proactively contact the employee’s regular clients, vendors, and colleagues so that their emails and phone calls won’t suddenly go unanswered.
The transition plan should boil all the way down to any specific loose ends that need to be tied up before the going away cake is cut on Friday afternoon (e.g., getting the final sign-off on last month’s budget or finalizing the agenda for next month’s department meeting). Having a specific and finite list of final to-dos will give your employee a sense of purpose and structure for her last two weeks—and will ensure that her transition is as seamless as possible.
I recommend doing this within a week of when she gave her notice, then checking in again a few days before she leaves to make sure she’s on track to finish everything up.
Make Sure You Know What She Knows
Before your employee walks out the door, make sure she’s not taking essential information with her. I don’t mean you should check her bag for copies of the company’s financial report—but if she’s been with the company for a long time, there’s a good chance she’s developed some unique skills or knowledge that you and the rest of the team may not be aware of. And, unless you transition that knowledge to another team member, it’ll go right out the door along with that employee.
About a year ago, one of my employees left the company pretty suddenly. After she had been gone for a couple days, I realized that she was the very last employee in the entire department with working knowledge of an old software program—one that we didn’t sell anymore, but still offered technical support for. Since she was the only one who knew how to work that software—we were in big trouble.
So, take it from me—it’s important to evaluate the resigning employee’s knowledge. If you discover she knows something that needs to be shared with the team, sit down with her and conduct a “knowledge transfer”—that is, have her thoroughly explain (or even better, document) that knowledge, so you’re not left in the lurch when she leaves in a couple weeks.
Evaluate the Need for a Replacement
After you’ve created a transition plan and conducted a knowledge transfer, you’ll have a pretty good idea of exactly what your employee did and how much work will be left when she is gone. Then, you’ll want to compare this information to your team’s current priorities, tasks, and workload, so you can determine if and when you need to hire a replacement.
For instance, you may realize that her workload is so daunting that you need to get a temp in ASAP. In other cases, you may be able to distribute all her projects to current team members for a few weeks while you wait to find the right candidate. Or, you may realize that now is a good time to restructure the position and how it fits into your team. If you were easily able to give your employee’s remaining work to other team members, for example, maybe you can forego hiring another project manager and instead opt to hire a sales associate who can start generating more leads.
In any case, it’s a good idea to start any hiring processes sooner rather than later. So, within days of her giving her resignation, polish up that job description, notify HR, and get ready to dig through some resumes.
Wish Your Employee Well
In the end, remember that the business of losing an employee is more than just, well, business. No matter the circumstances, make sure you both leave on good terms. Wish her well in her new position, offer to be a reference in the future, and encourage her to keep in touch. Even if her performance wasn’t the greatest during those last two weeks, there’s no need to burn that bridge—you never know when you’ll cross paths again in the future.
Losing an employee (especially a great one) is tough—but as a manager, you’ll have to face it sooner or later. So, it’s best to be prepared with a plan of action—and, of course, a heartfelt card and farewell cake can always help ease the pain, too.