The Great Resignation – or the Great Reshuffling, as it may come to be known – has left plenty of companies competing for talent. But whenever someone departs a company there’s also an impact on the people who don’t quit. Managers need to address the elephant in the room and make sure their team is in alignment after people quit.In our latest look at how Covid-19 has reshaped the way we work, Blueprint is exploring ways to motivate your team after one or more employees have left the company. (You can check out all of the articles in our series here.)
An intriguing article in the Harvard Business Review breaks down a number of strategies for dealing with the fallout after an employee leaves. Experts Dina Smith, an executive coach and the proprietor of leadership development firm Cognitas, and Rebecca Zucker, an executive coach and founding partner at leadership development firm Next Step Partners, share their best advice for what to say to employees after a staff departure as well as how to boost morale and productivity.
Smith and Zucker lay out six clever ways to pick up the pieces after someone on your team has quit.
Like it or not, the change that happens when someone leaves the workplace is uncomfortable for most of us. Change, even positive change, can foster an environment of uncertainty. Smith and Zucker suggest gathering the troops and addressing the issue head on.
“Create certainty for your team wherever you can. If you have no plans to leave the company, make that clear. You might say, ‘Just so you know, I don’t have any plans to leave. I will be here for you.’ Or, if your team is looking for clarity on the company’s strategic direction and you have questions about it as well, process certainty by informing your team of your plan to seek the answer and a specific date by when you’ll get back to them.”
Addressing the change proactively lets your team move on.
Now that one or more members of your team have moved on, it’s up to you as a manager to figure out how the work will get covered before a new team member is onboarded. Smith and Zucker suggest a collaborative process, rather than a siloed approach. “If your team is close to (or over) capacity and something needs to give, invite the team to help problem solve and re-prioritize. People are motivated when they have a say in creating team goals and in what they can and can’t take on — and, they may have some great ideas that you might not think of on your own.”
This rebalancing process might reveal inefficiencies that have nothing to do with being down a player, and it’s a good opportunity to make sure each of your team members has an appropriate workload. Smith and Zucker are bullish on the benefits of soliciting direct input from employees into their workloads. “Their feedback will also increase your visibility into their workload, which may require you to adjust your expectations about what can realistically be accomplished. It will also help you build a stronger case to your boss for additional resources for your team, given the team’s goals.”
Now that remote and hybrid work is gaining traction in many industries, your employees have more control over how they spend their time. Smith and Zucker extoll the benefits of this greater autonomy: “When people feel in control and that they have a choice, they are more motivated and experience higher well-being. Conversely, a lack of autonomy can elicit a strong negative reaction that can diminish the ability to focus and collaborate.”
Think about how you can help your employees enjoy even more flexibility, both around their company projects and in terms of work-life balance. Giving your team more autonomy and more choice will lead them to feel more empowered – and it lets you know that you value their contributions.
Let your team members know it’s OK to say “no” and question deadlines. Invite them to challenge your assumptions and tell you how much work something that “seems simple” will actually take to accomplish.
You will need to give explicit permission for them to do so and repeat this message over time. It can be easy for team leaders to lose sight of the power dynamic that can make it intimidating for some people to speak up, let alone push back. When people do speak up or push back, be sure to listen, acknowledge what you’ve heard, and engage in a two-way conversation (or negotiation) about what can and can’t be done, deadlines, and how you can help remove the relevant obstacles for your team.
Failing to grant this permission and create this psychological safety for your team will only cause them to keep quiet, allowing morale to decline and burnout to increase, which will ultimately lead to more team members leaving. In granting this permission, you can also openly recognize your common humanity with your team members — that we all have limitations and burnout serves no one — making it easier for others to let you know if they are feeling too stretched or overwhelmed.
What happens when three people are left to do the work of four or five people? The best case scenario is that they’re a little grumpy, but any smart manager will also be concerned that an overworked employee will follow their predecessors out the door. Smith and Zucker highlight the importance of pushback against the expectation that the remaining employees on the team will “make it work.” It can be hard to say no – but your assertiveness will underline to company leadership how important it is to replace your missing team members as soon as possible.
“While good leaders typically protect their teams from unrealistic or low priority requests, it’s more essential than ever when there are fewer people to bear the same workload. Engaging in ruthless prioritization, including quick triage of unnecessary or low-value work and pushing back against low-priority demands on behalf of your team, is paramount.”
It’s also important to clearly define what is urgent and what can wait when there’s too much work. Don’t leave your team members to set priorities on top of trying to get through their to-do lists!
Although a certain level of detachment at work is healthy, Smith and Zucker point out that workplace friendships boost camaraderie and productivity. “When teammates leave, it’s an opportunity to recalibrate and solidify your foundation as a team to help maintain, or even improve, team members’ individual and collective morale and performance.”
The authors suggest taking extra time to connect as a team on a more personal level, “whether it’s doing a personal check in at the beginning of staff meetings, celebrating a team member’s birthday, hosting a team happy hour, or planning a fun team-building activity. Creating spaces where team members can connect on a personal level is one lever to prevent feelings of isolation that can contribute to burnout.”
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