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So you have a Leaver?

26 January 2023

The dreaded white envelope, an unexpected email, hopefully not a lazy Whatsapp...

Just when you think things are looking up after a tough couple of years, it’s a bombshell when an employee resigns unexpectedly. You’re caught off guard, it’s a shock to the system, in an SME business it’s almost personal, it hurts.

It’s awkward as the employee tries to explain ‘I’m sorry but… I’ve been offered a fantastic opportunity elsewhere/ I’ve been offered more money with less hours/I need to move on for my own development/Work life balance reasons’ and so on (delete as appropriate).

It happens. It happens on a daily basis, employees across the country will be handing in their resignations today, tomorrow and every day of this year, because they can.

It’s natural that people come and go, yet it still hurts. SME businesses can feel the loss more than larger organisations where there is an ability to cope better with short-term gaps in resources due to their size. SME owners may also take resignations from their business more personally, but they should look at turnover as natural business change; and not react to the situation desperately or by making rash decisions.

SME business owners run a tight ship. They don’t have the luxury of additional resources being able to step in at short notice to fill urgent gaps when an employee decides to move on; and this can cause real problems in a business.

To minimize the disruption to an SME business caused by turnover, there are a few things you can do.

Vacancy = opportunity.

Yes it’s a blow, but once you get used to the idea of an employee leaving, there are opportunities to be grabbed with both hands:

  • If it’s someone you’re keen to retain in the business, it’s ok to try...ask if there’s anything you can do to change their mind to make them stay. This might result in the type of constructive conversation which would only happen in this situation. If the employee still decides to move on as they had reasons to resign in the first place, at least you tried. If the employee decides to stay, follow through on the promises you made to change their mind otherwise their loyalty will be short-term.
  • Review the job description for the role and update it accordingly.
  • If there isn’t a job description for the role - get one drafted. This will help focus on recruitment for the replacement and will help attract the right talent into the business.
  • Use the opportunity to review the structure of the team. Do you need to replace like-for-like or are there different ways of doing things? Is the structure still relevant, are there any improvements that can be made?
  • Look internally to promote from within your existing team - who do you have on your substitute bench you can offer a developmental opportunity to?
  • Conduct an Exit Interview – this is essential to understand the main reasons for employees leaving and to capture views on their employee experience in your business.
  • Employees tend to be open and honest during these interviews, and most are careful not to burn any bridges. This enables you to capture useful information and suggestions for where the business can make improvements from the departing employee.
  • Use the data captured to digest where things could be better in the business and act accordingly.
  • Check your Terms and Conditions of Employment. Having notice periods to suit the business are important. It’s not the first thing a business owner or an employee thinks about when they are hiring, however notice periods must work for the business and the job role.
  • A one-week notice period is the norm for weekly paid employees, however, allows an employee to leave at what seems like a minute’s notice.
  • One month’s notice is common and buys the business a bit more time to react to the change.
  • A three-month notice period may seem excessive, however for higher level job roles in an SME this may be appropriate and required.
  • A notice period clause in contracts that works for the business will buy the business time to react, review the situation and allow time for thought on how best to start the recruitment or replacement process. It’s worth thinking about.

In the event of an employee resignation, you don’t want to be left high and dry. Don’t panic and don’t bury your head in the sand. There are several actions a business can take to alleviate the pain of losing an employee which allows them to move on and take appropriate steps to adapt to the change and natural business growth.

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