What to do when your Best Employee Quits

Karen Kirton
6 min readMay 16, 2022

It’s completely devastating when your best employee quits. So what can you do if this happens in your business? And how can you stop it from happening again?

Whether it’s because of the Great Resignation, the Great Realignment, or it’s just how things are in 2022, a lot of businesses are finding that they are losing their best employees.

It’s important to manage this from both a reactive perspective and a proactive perspective. You need to deal with losing your employee, and prepare for the next time a top employee quits.

‘You need to deal with losing your employee, and prepare for the next time a top employee quits.’

Reactive Strategies

So you’ve received that resignation letter, or had that conversation when your star performer tells you that they’re going to leave. The first question to ask is, is it salvageable? You need to dig into why they are quitting.

The first question to ask is, is it salvageable?’

Dig into their reasons for leaving

I talked about counter offers in another post, so I won’t discuss them in detail here. But you may want to look into a counter offer if someone is leaving simply because they have been offered more money. You still need to be prepared for them to leave in the next six to 12 months, but it might buy you some time.

Also ask yourself if they’re leaving for another reason:

  • Are they going for greater development or a challenge?
  • Are they just bored in their role at the moment?
  • Are their personal circumstances?
  • Are they moving interstate?
  • Do they want to move out of the workforce?
  • Are they starting their own business?

Consider casual contracting

It’s very difficult if an employee is looking for development or another challenge, if that’s not something you can offer on the same scale in your business. Because at some stage, unfortunately, even our best employees need to move on.

But if they’re leaving due to personal circumstances, there may be a way that you can still use them in some capacity. For example, if they’re leaving to study, can you use them on a casual or a contract basis, even if it’s just to mentor others and knowledge-share. In this way you can keep some consistency for a short period after they leave.

You can keep some consistency for a short period after they leave.’

Keep in touch

If you can’t convince them to stay, say they’re looking for more challenge, ask if you can keep in touch. And then schedule touchpoints into your calendar, because it’s possible that the grass isn’t greener for them when they leave and they may be willing to come back.

As I discussed in another post, boomerang employees are becoming more common. Again, this is probably not a long-term solution, the employee will probably leave again, but it buys you some time if you can get them to come back. And sometimes people will come back and stay for years.

Announce the departure

Make sure that you announce that the person is leaving, congratulate them on whatever it is that they’re going off to do, and thank them for their contribution. I’ve come across organisations that somehow forget to tell people that employees are leaving. Or worse, put them under gag orders so they’re not allowed to say anything.

Remember that for the employee, the way they leave is the way they will be remembered. And the same is true of you as an employer — the way people depart your organisation says a lot about the organisation’s culture and what you value.

Communicate with the team

The next thing you need to do is to check in with the rest of the team. If this person is your best employee, losing them will be a huge blow to the rest of your organisation. Because the team will be nervous. If you’re devastated, they probably are too. So you need to have a plan that you can communicate or at least communicate that you’re putting a plan together.

And it’s important here to stay positive and optimistic. You can say, ‘it’s a shame that this person’s leaving, but here’s what we’re looking to do’, or ‘we’re currently working on a plan with the person who’s leaving for what we’re going to do next’. Essentially, you need a ‘don’t worry, it will be okay’, kind of communication.

Proactive Strategies

Next you want to think about how to do things differently in the future.

Conduct an exit interview

When it comes to proactive strategies, the first thing to set up is an exit interview. Ideally with an external party so that you can get some feedback. You want to know what caused the resignation and what could have changed it:

  • was there a specific incident?
  • did they feel they had the opportunity to give feedback to the organisation?
  • did they feel they were being developed and challenged?
  • was there anything the organisation could have done to prevent the resignation?

Although it’s not going to stop what’s happening, that person is still going to leave, it can hopefully give you some good information about what to do in future to keep other great people from leaving.

Consider buy-ins

With smaller organisations, it’s quite common that there’ll be one person that the owner/founder/CEO, relies very heavily on. I’m just going to call that person the best employee for this scenario. So how do you do this differently when you have that one best employee?

Look at options for that best person to buy into the company. The idea is that over time as the owner/founder exits, this person may be the new owner. You can consider share plans and options that could keep someone over the years, or you could look at profit sharing.

There are a lot of options there that are important to consider with your Accountant. If you have someone who is critical to the running of your organisation, then you’re going to keep having the same problem each time you bring a new person in. Because at the end of the day, it’s not their business, they are an employee, and they will do what’s in their own best interests.

If you want to keep them within the organisation, perhaps there are options to make sure that happens. They won’t need the same level of ownership as you, but a level of ownership with your organisation that keeps them invested.

Who are your top performers?

The next thing to think about is identifying your top performers. If your previous best employee has left, who is now your best employee? I’ve already mentioned checking in with the team, and it’s also important to ask them:

  • who has the top leadership potential in this organisation?
  • what are we doing to retain them?
  • are we having conversations with them about their career?
  • are we investing in their training and development?
  • do we understand what motivates them?

What happens when your ‘worst employee’ quits?

When their worst employee quits, a lot of people just breathe a sigh of relief. But there are a couple of other things I would encourage you to do as well.

Firstly, have a look at your recruitment process and ask:

  • what are the gaps?
  • how did that person get hired in the first place?
  • what did we miss?
  • are there things we need to add to our process?

Secondly, look at how long that person was working in your organisation. If it was only six months, that’s a recruitment problem. If it was two, three, four or five years, that’s a performance management problem, in which case you need to ask:

  • why isn’t our performance management process effective?
  • why didn’t we identify that this person wasn’t performing?
  • why weren’t we able to help them to get to where they needed to be?
  • and what’s been the impact on the team?

When that so-called worst employee leaves, it impacts the team as much as the best employee going. What’s the impact? You need to check in with the team members and have a plan to keep them motivated and engaged.

The Takeaway

Reactive strategies can prevent a person from quitting in the first place. Or at least ensure you’re communicating with your current team and you’re not forgetting the impact on them.

Proactive steps are equally important, because if you don’t learn from the departure and plan ahead, you’re just going to keep repeating the reactive steps again and again.

Have your say

Has your best employee quit? We’d love your feedback on this series, just head on over to Amplify HR or connect with Karen on LinkedIn.

Karen Kirton

Founder of Amplify HR — a consulting company in Australia that specialises in enabling businesses to find, grow and keep great people. www.amplifyhr.com.au