When an Employee Quits Without Notice: A Manager’s Guide

It’s Friday afternoon and one of your employees asks for a private meeting. Before you even close the door, she tells you she’s found another job and is leaving the company. Once you get over the shock, how should you respond? How do you cover her responsibilities? And how do you make sure that the rest of your team isn’t overburdened when she leaves?

What the Experts Say Unexpected resignations present big challenges for leaders, especially those unaccustomed to dealing with them. “It’s probably a frustration you haven’t had for a whileand if you’re a relatively new manager, you might not have ever experienced this before,” says Priscilla Claman, the president of Career Strategies, a Boston-based consulting firm and a contributor to the HBR Guide to Getting the Right Job. Abrupt employee departures are especially hard on the psyche. If you’ve grown to really rely on that person, “you may feel deserted and alone,” says Anat Lechner, a clinical associate professor of management and organizations at NYU Stern. “You’re left psychologically and practically without a point person.” Here are some tips to help you manage the separation and make the transition as smooth as possible.

Know the protocol It’s important to first understand your company’s HR procedures for handling these situations. At some organizations, policy dictates that the moment a person offers a resignation “you cut their employee ID card in half, call security, and escort them out of the office,” says Claman. At others, people are required to work out a notice periodtypically two weeksstipulated in their employment contract. Two weeks is common, but if the employee is leaving for an internal position, “there is often some flexibility to negotiate for a slightly longer lead time,” says Claman Although you can always ask the employee to stay longer, “don’t expect flexibility,” Claman says. “They probably already have a start date at their other company.” Besides, she says, when an employee blindsides you, “you need to ask yourself: do I want this person here anymore?”

Don’t emote Once the news is delivered, Claman advises “muting your inner response of: What? Why? You didn’t tell me!” Instead, she says, “breathe” and “even if you’re upset” do your best to engage in a “warm and friendly conversation about [the person’s] future plans.” In the modern workplace, “people come and go over and over again so it’s important to maintain relationships,” she explains. If your interactions with the employee have been difficult and you sense hostility in the departure — in other words, he can’t wait to leave — you need to “figure out what can be salvaged,” says Lechner. She recommends saying something like, “I appreciate the contributions you’ve made and I understand that you’ve had a tough time here. For the sake of your reputation and mine, let’s take the high road.” She adds, “Do things right so there’s no bad blood.”

Ask for a rationale It’s still important, however, to try to “understand the why” behind the employee’s decision, says Lechner. “Very often you can do nothing about it,” she acknowledges. Sometimes the person simply got a better offer and her mind is made up. But, occasionally, you can discover new information that “will help you construct a solution.” You may, for instance, learn that she’s resigning for personal reasons: Her spouse is being transferred to a new city or she needs more time to care for an aging parent. In these circumstances, you could offer alternatives. Perhaps she can work remotely or take an unpaid leave of absence. “You can make the suggestions because the employee might not have thought about it before,” Lechner says.

Consider a counter offer — or not Whether or not to make a counter offer comes down to “how critical this person is to you and how much of a disruption their absence will cause,” says Lechner. But both experts caution that counter offers are often counter-productive. “It’s like being on the verge of divorce and then reconciling,” says Claman. “Once the other person has gone through the thought process of leaving, it’s hard to fully trust them again.” A better strategy is to “retain a relationship” with the departing employee and then “re-recruit them in a year,” she adds. “Say: ‘We’ve missed you. And we would love to have you back.’”

Collaborate and communicate You can’t control how others react to the news, but you can control how it gets communicated. Claman suggests collaborating with your exiting employee on how to best present the departure. “Say, ‘Let’s talk about what you’re going to say and what I’m going to say.’” Does the employee prefer to tell others one-on-one? Would you — the boss — like to make an announcement at an interdepartmental meeting? Should the news circulate via email? Be honest and open when communicating the departure to other stakeholders, says Lechner. Explain the circumstance in plain language and assure them “you are working hard to find a suitable replacement and doing your best to make the transition as smooth as possible,” she says.

Transfer knowledge Now you have some difficult decisions to make about how to divvy up responsibilities while you’re short-staffed. Acknowledge that your team will have a “workload problem” for a time and that people are likely to “feel overburdened,” but also use the departure as an opportunity to “talk to employees about their careers and opportunities for growth,” says Claman. “Say, ‘Frank is leaving. I want to talk about what that means for you. Is there something that Frank does that you have an interest in learning or trying?’” Then, during the exiting employee’s notice period, set up an “extensive shadowing mechanism” so that those taking over his responsibilities can absorb what they need to, Lechner advises. The biggest challenge is transferring “the sticky knowledge — the things an employee knows that can’t necessarily be shown on an Excel spreadsheet,” she adds. For this, you need to negotiate continued communication with the person “so you can tap their knowledge either by email or phone when problems arise.”

Make a hiring plan Claman recommends coordinating with HR to formally list a job opening as soon as possible. “This helps people on your team understand that this is temporary,” she says. Ask employees for input on what skills, experience and qualities they would like to find in the new hire. Perhaps they know people — inside or outside the company — who would be a good fit. Or an internal promotion might be in order, says Claman. “This could be a chance for someone to expand and grow” into the role. Lechner also recommends reconsidering your team configuration. “Ideally you should operate at some level of overcapacity so that when you lose an employee, you don’t need to panic,” she says. “This little bit of redundancy doesn’t need to cost you more — think about whether you could hire two part-time people instead of one fulltime person.”

Have a party On the employee’s last day, it’s important to gather your team to “thank the person who’s leaving and wish them well,” says Claman. It doesn’t have to be a big party; “it could be coffee and donuts in the conference room.” But the act of celebration is key. After all, “it’s not only about the person who is leaving. It’s also about the people who are staying,” she says. “You are rewarding the people for whom it’s going to be a difficult few weeks.” Failing to acknowledge an employee’s departure and his or her contributions sends a bad message to your team, adds Lechner. “The subtext is that employees are a plug-and-play resource”: here one day, gone the next. She continues, “It’s important to humanize the work relationship.”

Then take time to reflect Good managers should never be “truly surprised” when an employee announces she is leaving, says Claman. “As manager, you need to be aware of people’s interests and needs. You should know what they want to do. And you should be able to tell when someone is tired of her job, has aged out of it, is not engaged, or has life changes afoot — like a move or a spouse transfer — that make a resignation likely, she says. If this news did indeed blindside you, “it is incumbent on you to start having more contact with your team so that you know what they want for their future” and can predict or prevent these situations going forward.

Case Study #1: Be creative and accommodating about knowledge transfer When Kenneth Jennings, the CEO of Mr. Rekey Locksmith, a residential and commercial locksmith service, found out that his top finance person — we’ll call her Louise — had accepted a new job, his mind reeled. “You put a lot of trust in your employees and so when they walk out without much notice, it’s a bit of shock,” he says.

With a warm and friendly attitude, he congratulated Louise on her new job and asked what drew her to the new company. “I probed a little on what they were offering that we couldn’t. It was a little like an exit interview; her answers gave me insights into what I need to do to retain people.”

Julie* told René she was leaving the company for her dream job in the fashion industry. Outwardly, René took the news well. “I didn’t want to react negatively. I told her I was happy for her and asked when her last day would be,” she says. But the news was a blow. Julie handled everything from scheduling travel to creating market reports for the eight-person company. “Her leaving meant that all that work would be on my shoulders,” René says.

Previously, she asked resigning employees to leave immediately so as not to dent morale, but she asked Julie to work during her two-week notice period mainly because she “needed her to keep doing everything she had been doing,” she says. During this time, René got in touch with a former Charlie Bravo employee, Mary*, who had left the company on excellent terms a few years earlier. The two women had stayed friendly on Facebook and recently bumped into each other. René knew Mary was looking for a new role.

“She knew our company and she knew our culture,” René says. The day after Julie left, Mary took over her job. “It worked out amazingly well,” says René. “When I was younger, I took it personally when people resigned. I don’t do that anymore. From a professional standpoint, it’s so important to maintain relationships because you never know when you might need that person in the future.”

Can you quit your job without notice?

Employee Quits Without Notice? Disgruntled Employee Signs To Watch For

Why do employees quit without notice?

There are several reasons why employees quit without notice that do and dont relate to their job and the company they work for. Here are some common examples of why employees quit without notice:

Responding to a family commitment

When an employee has a loved one who needs extensive care and attention, they may decide to quit without notice to respond to those needs. If a spouse receives a last-minute job offer in a different area, an employee may also need to quit unexpectedly to support their partner in an exciting new opportunity.

Needing to address personal health needs

An employee may need to quit unexpectedly if they find out they have a medical condition or if they receive a physical injury that requires extensive therapy treatments. In this situation, the employee needs to put their health first and likely cant commit the same time and energy to work.

Receiving another opportunity that requires time to transition

If an employee gets a job offer with another company that requires them to relocate to another area or even country, they likely need time to plan for these changes to ensure they adapt well. This might cause them to quit without notice so they can give themselves the time they need to take on a new opportunity.

Desiring a new challenge

Sometimes, employees need a new challenge or a different job entirely to reignite their passion for a certain job field or industry. In these situations, an employee knows theyre ready to challenge themselves professionally, and they understand that they can no longer do so in their current role. Similarly, if you currently dont have internal promotions available at the time, this could make them decide to pursue other options.

Wanting a change in work environment

In certain situations, an employee may decide to quit without notice because they want a change in the type of work environment they partake in. This could mean transitioning to a job that offers a more fast-paced or relaxed work environment that allows them to perform at their best. If this happens, view it as a positive way to direct your hiring decisions and select candidates who thrive in your type of work environment.

What does it mean for an employee to quit without notice?

An employee who quits without notice refers to any situation where an employee suddenly resigns from their position. This usually means they dont put in a two weeks notice, but in some situations, they might. Either way, it may come as a surprise to you and your coworkers about the sudden change to the workplace.

What to do when an employee quits without notice

When an employee quits without notice, its important that you adopt a few practices to ensure a smooth and positive transition in your workplace. Heres a list of steps to help you navigate situations where an employee quits unexpectedly:

1. Ask if they can perform an exit interview

Exit interviews offer valuable insights into what a former employee enjoyed about working for your company and their reasons for leaving suddenly. To ask for an exit interview, contact them by email and give them the choice of coming into work, conducting it over the phone or answering questions in an email format. This shows that you care about their reasons for leaving and also increases their chances of agreeing to an exit interview because you provide different options.

2. Send out a memo to announce their absence to the company

You also need to prioritize the announcement of an employees departure to the company, so the rest of your staff have time to adapt to the idea. In this memo, you should take on a positive approach and wish the individual well in their future endeavors. Then, make sure you outline a basic plan for the coming days or weeks until you can find a replacement.

3. Meet with the coworkers directly affected by their absence to redistribute responsibilities

Its important that you provide support to the former employees coworkers until you find a replacement and train them properly. This helps limit their stress about the sudden change in personnel and shifting work responsibilities. When redistributing work, ask them about their strength areas and current responsibilities. This can help you redistribute work equally and to the right individuals.

4. Develop a job description to post on multiple job listing sites

Because your employee quit without notice, you need to make sure you draft a job description and post it to multiple job listings within a few days after their departure. This ensures you can find a replacement within a reasonable time frame and limit the number of time employees need to complete additional work duties.

5. Consider internal promotions for the role

Besides looking for external replacements, you can also consider employees for an internal promotion. This could be a great way to highlight internal promotion opportunities and allows you to transfer responsibilities to someone who already understands the company and the job role.

6. Work closely with HR and accounting to determine payroll and benefit details

When an employee quits unexpectedly, you need to complete final payroll activities and determine how to distribute insurance coverage and other benefits in accordance with state and federal laws. To make sure you do this correctly, work closely with the HR and accounting staff.

7. Communicate with the former employee about when theyll receive their last paycheck

Even though they quit unexpectedly, a former employee might still have a portion of their pay to receive (if youre between payroll periods). In this situation, make sure you speak with them about the date they can expect to receive their last paycheck. Depending on your payroll system you may need to send a paper check as theyre no longer on the payroll.

8. Maintain open communication with employees about hiring decisions

Transparency is crucial when you have to redistribute responsibilities and make hiring decisions quickly. For the employees who have to take on additional work, updates on the hiring process can give them hope that they can go back to their normal roles soon.

9. Praise employees for taking on additional work

As you look for a replacement, make sure you praise your employees regularly for taking initiative and working as a team to overcome changes to their workplace. This helps your employees feel valued and more motivated to support their team members.

10. Reflect on current workplace procedures and practices

After an employee quits without notice, you need to reevaluate your leadership style, workplace culture and typical procedures. This helps you identify potential areas where you can improve your employees experience and workplace satisfaction.

Tips for minimizing situations where employees quit without notice

Review these tips to help you reduce situations where employees quit without notice or prepare to react to these situations:

Develop an anonymous employee feedback platform

An anonymous feedback platform gives employees the opportunity to voice their concerns and ideas for better workplace practices. It also allows you to monitor feedback, identify recurring feedback from employees and address your plan to make changes during meetings or through memos. This shows employees you care and gives them hope for future changes.

Increase the frequency of employee performance meetings and check-ins

If you dont already hold monthly check-ins with employees, consider making this a routine procedure in your workplace. By speaking with each employee individually, giving them praise for their work and allowing them to speak about their needs, you can help them overcome challenges or re-motivate them before they consider other options.

Enhance employee incentives and reward programs

Incentives and reward programs help motivate employees and give them something to look forward to. Certain incentives include getting a gift card for meeting quotas, earning a few extra vacation days or earning a company trip. Incentives and reward programs also show employers that you recognize hard work and appreciate their work efforts.

Create a professional development program for employees

Internal promotional opportunities and transitional opportunities to work for other departments can help reduce employee turnover, as employees have the ability to achieve career growth within your company. It also shows employees youre invested in them and their professional success. Further, if an employee experiences burnout in their current role, they can pursue transitional opportunities instead of considering work with another company.

Use what you learned from an employees exit interview to direct change

After completing an exit interview with an employee who unexpectedly quits, you can use what you learned to improve your workplace and address their concerns.

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