How to Talk to Your Team About an Employee Departure

When an employee leaves the company, it’s always a little painful for everyone involved. For the remaining team members, a team member resigning or being fired can be particularly destabilizing. Not only do they have to adjust to a new workload, but it also threatens their sense of stability and can even lead to waves of employee resignations.

It falls to managers to guide their teams through this moment in ways that are fair to the team as well as to the departing employee. That’s a tricky line to walk because you have to balance your team’s desire for transparency with your obligation to maintain privacy and discourage needless drama.

We’ve created a simple guide that managers can use when talking to their teams about a team member’s departure. We’re starting with some overall rules of thumb and then getting into the specifics of addressing an employee who resigns versus one who is terminated.

Simple Rules for Addressing Employee Departures

Regardless of the exact circumstances of an employee departure, there are a few guidelines managers can always turn to. When you’re crafting your response, here’s what to keep in mind.

Show respect for the person who is leaving

This tenet should form the foundation of everything you do when someone leaves. Even if this person is leaving on bad terms—even if you, personally, cannot stand them—do not publicly disparage them. If you find it hard to hold your tongue, remember: you’re not doing it for this person, you’re doing it for the rest of your team. Behave with professionalism so team members feel psychologically safe and don’t worry about how they’ll be treated when they leave the company.

That being said, you can treat someone respectfully while still holding them accountable for bad behavior. We’ll get into that more in the section on employee terminations.

Make a written public announcement

When someone leaves, address it publicly, and address it only once. Preferably, issue a written statement rather than bringing it up in a meeting. This isn’t an issue that you want to invite public conversation about, so stick with a Slack message or a memo.

When it comes to explaining the situation in the employee departure announcement, stick to the “less is more” doctrine. It’s better to say too little than too much.

Offer follow-up in private

Your written announcement should conclude by telling team members that if they have questions or concerns, they can approach you privately. Give your team members an opportunity to bring up the departure in one-on-ones, but don’t bring it up yourself.

These private conversations are a chance to address any worries your team might have, but be careful not to slip and let them turn into gossip sessions. If a team member asks for more detail about why someone left the company, turn the conversation around and ask if they’re worried about how it might affect them.

Speak first, and own the narrative

Your team should hear about this news from you (unless HR is handling the departure announcement). Don’t wait to make an announcement; that just gives time for rumors to spread. Decide how you plan to present the story, and stick to it.

Reassure your team

A team member’s departure tends to make the rest of the team antsy, especially if the person who left was part of their direct team. “The effect of the turnover contagion is particularly pronounced in smaller team groups that are self-contained,” according to Scientific American’s article “Is Quitting Contagious?”

So project calm, and get ahead of your team’s worries. For starters, that means letting them know you have a plan for handling this departure, including who will be absorbing their workload. Don’t have a plan yet? Then let them know you’re working on it. Just don’t look like you’re panicking (even if you are). You also need to reassure your team by shoring up your personal relationships with them and reaffirming your commitment to them in one-on-one meetings.

Follow the HR/legal playbook

Maybe this goes without saying, but none of the advice here is intended to replace your company’s procedures for handling employee departures. When in doubt, refer to your company’s documentation, and follow your HR department’s lead.

How to Announce an Employee Resignation

Let’s just start with the obvious: “employee resignation” can mean a lot of different things. In the best-case scenario, team members leave on good terms and with ample notice. In the worst-case scenario, they storm out dramatically, burning bridges as they go.

Keep it positive

Assuming an employee leaves on good (or even neutral) terms, you should treat their departure as a celebration. In your departure announcement email, celebrate their accomplishments and your gratitude for their work. You want your remaining team members to feel confident that they won’t be punished for moving on to other opportunities, especially if they do it the right way.

Let them say goodbye (with caveats)

If this person is leaving on good terms, give them an opportunity to address the team in the week or so before they leave. If you’re on the fence about whether or not this is a good idea, there’s an easy way to make up your mind.

Harvard Business Review lists seven styles of resignation:

  1. Grateful goodbye: Helpful and appreciative during departure
  2. In the loop: Communicative about their plans for moving on
  3. By the book: The typical two-week notice, while explaining their reasons for leaving
  4. Perfunctory: Giving notice but providing no explanations
  5. Avoidant: Quitting without directly informing their manager (for example, going straight to HR)
  6. Bridge-burning: Doing damage to the team as they exit
  7. Impulsive quitting: Quitting without warning (or “ghosting” by failing to show up)

You should hand a departing team member the mic only if they leave in ways 1 through 3.

Employee Resignation Announcement Example

We’re sad to announce that November 23 will be Melissa’s last day. In her time at the company, Melissa has been instrumental in X, Y, Z. She’s leaving us to pursue an exciting opportunity at Acme Industries. Please join us in thanking Melissa for all her hard work and wishing her the best in her future role! Jamie is going to cover Melissa’s assignments for the time being, and we’re actively looking at new candidates to take her position in the long term. Please reach out to me if you have any questions. Best of luck, Melissa! We’ll miss you!

How to Announce an Employee Termination

When we surveyed managers about their toughest situations, “employee terminations” was one of the most commonly-mentioned issues. Having to let an employee go is hard enough, but it’s only half the battle; you also have to manage any potential fallout.

The biggest question most managers have when a team member is fired is, “What am I allowed to say about it?” So all our ground rules here will address that issue.

If they couldn’t do the work

If this termination is an unfortunate case of someone being unable to fulfill their duties, you can gently explain the situation to your team. The message you need to impart is that your team doesn’t need to worry about being fired over the slightest mistake. Emphasize that this person was well aware of the issue, and that you took steps to help this person fix the problem. If at all possible, get the departing team member’s blessing for sharing the story.

If this is a behavior/personality issue

In your public announcement, simply say that this person wasn’t a good fit for your team. In all likelihood, team members will know what you mean without the need for further elaboration. If you have other team members who were directly impacted by this person’s behavior, discuss concerns during private one-on-ones.

If someone is fired for a serious infraction

If the departing employee’s actions directly impact the business or violate company values, use it as a chance to reiterate those values. For example, a security inspector who gets caught cutting corners puts the company in danger. When that happens, it’s appropriate to address the issue with your team. Remind them of the company’s policies on these issues, and make clear that you take them very seriously.

While you shouldn’t needlessly scare people, this is a moment to be firm and emphasize the gravity of the situation.

Sample Employee Termination Announcement

Today is Scott’s last day at the company. We had to end Scott’s tenure when it came to light that he had been deliberately falsifying data in his communications with customers. This is a serious violation of our policies and our customers’ trust. We are sad to part ways with Scott, but we have a zero-tolerance policy about this matter. You can re-familiarize yourself with the policy by referring to the employee handbook. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

Don’t Let an Employee Departure Tear Your Team Apart

Employee departures are often inflection points for companies. Whether they lead to positive or negative change depends largely on how managers handle them. If you behave firmly and calmly, you can minimize the ripple effects of personnel changes on the rest of your team.