How Managers Should Talk to Employees When Someone Leaves

by Justin Reynolds on Oct 11, 2016 8:00:00 AM

employee turnoverSometimes people leave jobs because they’re off to bigger and brighter pastures. Other times, managers are forced to let people go because of their performance or behavior.

Suffice it to say that managers are put in quite the predicament during staff shakeups. In addition to having to figure out who’s going to tackle certain responsibilities, either by hiring new people or reconfiguring workloads, managers also have to do something critically important that is often overlooked: let remaining employees know exactly what’s going on. Which is often easier said than done.

When someone quits or gets fired, how should managers respond?


Be Quick to Share the News

When one of your employees jumps ship or is let go, you need to inform the rest of your team as quickly as you can. News travels fast. The last thing you want is a bunch of people on your team worrying about their own job security. Your team is already at least one player down, so to speak, so you’ll have to figure out how to absorb some productivity losses anyway. Giving remaining employees a bunch of time to gossip about what’s happening at the company before an official word comes out will only add to that decrease in output.

If you can, try to hold a team meeting in the immediate aftermath of an employee’s departure. That way, you can get everyone on the same page, discuss your plans for moving forward, and explain how the departing employee’s workload will be divvied up, at least in the interim until a replacement is found.


Be Forthcoming and Transparent

Once somebody on the team leaves for whatever reason, you can’t expect your remaining employees to act as if nothing happened. They’ve likely worked at the same office as their departed coworker for a significant period of time, after all.

Communicate as clearly as you can, if for no other reason than, once word gets out, the rest of the members of the team will start to worry about their jobs. Employees like it when their bosses treat them like adults and let them know what’s going on at the place the spend 40 hours (or more) at each week.


Be Professional and Reserved

When someone gets fired or leaves, you need to give your employees the headline. But that doesn’t mean you need to divulge every single detail.

Keep the personal stuff to yourself. In some instances, there may be other members of the team — like the HR department and managers who are directly affected — who need to know more information than just the headline. That’s fine: share it with them.

But don’t reveal anything too personal. For example, if an employee takes another job and lets you know in their exit interview that the main reason they began the job search was because someone on the team is super annoying, you might want to keep that information to yourself.

employee turnover


Be a Teacher

While sharing the news that someone was fired or quit to take another job might not be the most exciting part of a manager’s job description, the experience doesn’t have to be an entirely negative one. You can use the opportunity to reaffirm your company’s culture and make sure that all of your remaining staff members are aware of what’s expected of them.

For example, when an employee is fired for underperforming, odds are the rest of the team is privy to the fact the individual wasn’t pulling their weight for some time. It’s called a team for a reason, and anybody who’s ever held a job knows what it’s like to work with someone who isn’t contributing fairly. If someone’s performance isn’t up to par, the rest of your employees know. And they’re almost certainly aware of the fact that you’ve spoken to the individual a number of times and given them every chance to improve.

Use this time to remind your team of what’s expected of employees at your company. Reinforce your culture and your values. Turn a negative experience into a positive one.


Be Reassuring and Motivating

Once someone is forced from the team, it’s not uncommon for remaining employees to feel as though they may be the next one to go. Imagine the person who feels as though they were the second-weakest link at the organization, only a little stronger than the person who was just let go. This individual may feel as though they’re now the person on the bottom of the totem pole and be overcome with anxiety and stress.

To counter this possibility, let everyone know that they are very important members of the team. Reassure them that your decision to fire someone wasn’t one that was made lightly, and that everyone else’s job is secure (assuming, of course, they are). Make your remaining employees feel as though they are integral parts of the organization, and they’ll be motivated to reach their full potential.


Be Understanding

Invariably, someone on the team is not going to take the news well. Imagine the person you’ve just fired is best friends with one of your top performers. There’s a good chance that person is going to be upset by your decision — however necessary it might have been.

Be ready for some members of the team to be disappointed or even slightly depressed. Don’t punish them for having reactions that are completely human. After you’re done sharing the news with your team, let everyone know that the door to your office is open and you’re happy to continue discussing the situation in private if anyone has additional questions or concerns.

Firing an employee or having to explain a departure is never an easy thing to do. You might hurt someone’s feelings and rock their world financially. You might demoralize your team. Still, no matter the circumstances, you have to keep your remaining employees motivated and productive — which is no easy task.

The good news is that by preparing ahead of time and responding quickly to the situation with confidence and a plan, you can make the most out of an unfortunate situation. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.



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This post was written by Justin Reynolds

Justin Reynolds is a freelance copywriter, journalist, and editor based in Connecticut.

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