“I don’t know how I’m going to survive without you.”
“I can’t live without you.”
How do you respond when a team member tells you they’ve accepted a new job?
When I was a young manager, losing a good employee terrified me. I took it personally when people I liked moved out of my daily sphere. And the company depended on me, I believed, to get so much done. If a good employee left, my team would struggle to keep up. We might let people down. When I consulted my own manager about my fears, I was told, “Don’t let them go. Tell them they can’t go.”
I fought change like a mongoose fighting snakes. I made counter-offers to people who hadn’t earned them (and regretted it later). I tried to guilt people into staying. One time, I even brow-beat an employee, telling her she wasn’t ready for the new job, she’d get eaten alive, and I threatened to send her home if she kept insisting she was going to accept the new position.
That last one was my wake-up call and, even now, when I think about it years later, I cringe. (I felt so horrible when I finally snapped out of it, that I kept apologizing to her for years – she took it like the champ she is.)
That was the one where I recognized that fighting change is a mistake.
I wasn’t alone as a manager resisting change. Over the years, I’ve heard stories from people who told me that, when they gave notice, their manager ghosted them – just stopped speaking to them, wouldn’t even say Hello as they passed in the hall. Conversely, I’ve heard stories about people whose manager intensified the bullying that had driven them to seek a new position in the first place.
Managers, hey, this is unacceptable behavior! It reflects badly on you as a human being.
The right response when someone tells you they’ve accepted another offer is, “Congratulations!” followed by, “You deserve it. I know you’re going to do great work there.” Then, “I’ve loved working with you and I’m going to miss having you on my team.” And finally, “Let’s schedule some time to talk about how we’re going to reorganize your work over the next two weeks so we can survive without you.”
Leave out the anxiety about how you’re ever going to survive without them or you don’t know how you’ll get it all done. Do not share your stress with them.
Because you will survive without them. You will continue to get enough done.
I know their leaving is a blow to you. I know it could impact your ability to achieve all the impressive goals that you’ve set for yourself. But you know what?
That’s not their problem.
If you are so overwhelmed – as I was, when I was such a bad loser as a young manager – that the loss of one person on your team sends you into a panic attack, you are the one with the burnout problem. You are the one who needs to look in the mirror and deal with what you see. Not your employee.
So, suck it up, smile when you tell them that you’re happy for them, plan their goodbye party.
Then quickly post the job and make hiring the priority. And put your graduating employee to work, for their last two weeks, documenting all the stuff they do, so you can cover until you can onboard a new hire.
You can’t control whether a team member receives other job offers. Your team may love working for you but, if you are doing your job and mentoring them, they will get offered and accept higher-paying jobs with more responsibilities. It’s like kids going off to college – it happens and, if you’ve done your job right, you’ve prepared them for this.
You can control the actions you take in response.