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Don’t Make Losing a Key Employee Harder Than It Already Is

When key employees leave a small business or small office – there’s no getting around the sting. Besides putting a dent in the business, relationships matter greatly in small operations, and there may be the feeling of true personal loss as well as the loss of a needed skillset.

There are things you can do, however, which may determine whether your mourning period gives rise to the break of a new day or the sun sets for the last time.

We lost many key employees across my region in the Small Business Administration recently during a federal retirement incentive buyout. The incentives reduce the number of federal employees and cut government (and taxpayer) costs overall, but their impact cannot always be calculated across the country in terms of employee loss.

Losing employees happens in the private sector as well. Many small businesses lose talent they have spent time to train and groom to fit perfectly in their organization. Some leave for larger companies who can offer higher wages for fewer hours and better benefits – and others, for a variety of other reasons!

Regardless of the reason, the impact of key employee loss is pretty big. When one person leaves in an eight-person operation – 12% of the workforce is gone until a replacement is found. When two people leave a four-person office, half of the remaining work must be shared by the two who remain. This can be downright daunting. It is especially chilling if the people who are leaving have been highly competent and dependable. Plus, added to the new and bigger workload, will be the time it takes to find a suitable fit and capable replacement.

So what is an employer to do?

Perhaps the first thing to do, after feeling the shock of the loss, is to logically look outward. First, focus on the person leaving your fold and embarking on a new life chapter. Besides wishing them well, you might find it beneficial to talk with them about their ideas for their replacement. Many times that same departing employee knows of a coworker or someone from their own professional organization with similar skills and who would be delighted to apply for their open position. Sometimes the departing employee has suggestions in restructuring the company that make sense. Listening is learning.

Next, realize this begins a new chapter for your business as well. As with anything new, the future will bring new opportunities as well as challenge. So don’t make this harder than it already is.

Perhaps it is time to think about realigning some of the workload. In any case, it is certainly time to scrutinize the major job responsibilities of the person leaving to determine whether they are “critical” to the continuing primary operation of your business. Including other staff members in this dialogue can be very beneficial. Another team member may have always wanted to try their hand at one or some of the duties being vacated. Perhaps another is willing to increase their current workload for a bit more compensation. Likely, much more responsibility will again fall on you. You must ask yourself again whether you like or dislike doing these tasks and determine which of them might consume too much of your time, given your other functions.

What remains after this scrutiny gives you a new focus. And, it should now be the focus of writing the job description for your upcoming employee search. Now, the duties, skills and qualities are defined and you are in a better position to hire a new employee who can not only be successful but one who can help your company be even more successful.

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About Patricia Brown-Dixon

Patricia Brown‐Dixon was named Regional Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Region VII Office by SBA Administrator Karen Mills in January of 2011 as a Schedule C appointee of President Barack Obama. Previously Ms. Brown‐Dixon served in the federal government by helping small business owners as the Director of the Office of Business and…