HR Management & Compliance

Pitfalls of Losing a Star Employee

When a star employee leaves, it’s frustrating all around. The most obvious risk is the lost productivity that likely happens immediately afterward. After all, that star employee is no longer working, and it may take some time to get back to full productivity—even if someone is already in place as a replacement, but especially if not.

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Other pitfalls, however, can be just as problematic, and some may be less obvious. Here are a few to look out for:

  • Loss or dissatisfaction of customers who were happy with that person. If a customer now has to work with someone else, they may be disappointed and may even be reluctant to continue working with the organization, depending on the situation. In some severe cases, a customer may even leave solely because they’re no longer able to be assisted by that employee, or because they’ve chosen to follow him or her elsewhere.
  • Reduced employee morale. This is a concern regardless of whether the high performing employee was well liked or not. If the employee was well-liked, the employees who remain may be both sad and discouraged. But even if that individual was not any more popular than anyone else, their departure could mean other employees worry about the organization.
    • They may fear that if the organization is unable to keep a star employee happy, what will happen in their own future?
    • Or they may hear rumors (substantiated or not) about why the employee left, and those can fuel speculation and negativity.
    • Employees may be frustrated that they now have to pick up the slack for the departing employee.
    • The teamworking dynamic may change when a key person leaves, which leaves other employees to have to change working relationships.
  • Significant company knowledge may leave with the employee. This is especially relevant if the person has been with the organization a long time.
  • The competition may benefit. If the individual does not have a non-compete agreement, he or she may be taking their talents to your competitors.

These are just a few of the pitfalls to watch out for when a star employee leaves.

Ways Employers Can Combat These Pitfalls

Thankfully, there are a few things employers can do to combat these issues, both before and after losing a key employee. Here are some examples:

  • Remain positive. By focusing on the positives, such as the employee’s contributions during their tenure with the organization, it helps to keep the mood positive and show that the employer is still invested in the employees.
  • Communicate quickly. Don’t let the grapevine be how most employees hear of another employee’s departure. Also communicate to directly customers where applicable, letting them know what the transition will be.
  • Ensure transfer of knowledge. Starting right away—before losing a star employee—have processes in place to ensure transfer of knowledge. For example, if the employee works with key accounts, ensure there are ways in place to record information on how to interact with the account. This is just one example, but the key is to have processes for knowledge transfer in place and utilized before they’re needed to minimize the loss of knowledge when someone leaves. This is true regardless of the role—the preservation of knowledge and processes is important in every case.
  • Have succession plans already in place for key roles to minimize disruption. True succession planning also incorporates training and grooming as needed to prepare successors as time passes.
  • Have redundancies in place to handle immediate work in case someone leaves abruptly. This minimizes short-term frustrations and lost productivity.

How has your organization handled the situation when a star employee resigns? What would you add to the list of risks?