A right royal departure: Advice on how to manage a senior employee exit

The Royal Family was recently thrown into turmoil after the announcement from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle that they wished to ‘step down’ from their roles as senior members of the Royal Family.

The announcement caused a great deal of controversy and speculation, and is said to have come as a great shock and disappointment to the Queen and other senior members of the Royal Family.

As an HR professional looking at the situation, there must have been a breakdown in discussions at some point, and arguably, the Royal Family may have made errors in their management of the situation as Harry and Meghan’s effective ‘employers’.

Here are five tips on how to manage the exit of a senior employee.

Consider negotiating

Whether receiving an employee’s resignation is a bolt out of the blue, or something that has been building up for some time, receiving notice from an employee can be difficult to take. In the first instance, it is important to arrange a face to face discussion as soon as possible. If an employee is particularly highly valued, you will want to get to the bottom of their decision to leave and it may even be that you attempt to get them to change their mind. It isn’t uncommon for employers to offer promotions or pay rises as means of trying to encourage an employee to stay on. Whilst this can be effective, it is worth remembering that the root causes behind the decision to leave may run deeper than this, and even if an agreement is reached and the employee agrees to stay on, it may only be that this is a temporary measure.

If negotiations are unsuccessful, or if both parties agree that the decision has been made and should therefore be followed through, it is important to put the wheels in motion as soon as possible.

Consider your reputation

Although your company may not be as high profile as the Royal Family, it is still possible to experience reputational damage – albeit on a smaller scale. Despite your personal feelings, it is important to remain professional. The last few days or weeks an employee spends at a company will influence the lasting impression an employee has towards it, and ensuring that ‘good terms’ are upheld is therefore vital. To achieve this, it is important to be fair and willing to compromise, especially in terms of agreeing arrangements around notice periods.

Communicate with fellow employees

It can often be the case that employees working under a senior member of staff are very loyal, and news that they are leaving can result in employees feeling unsettled. Managing communication effectively and arranging a meeting to discuss the departure as soon as possible is a key step. This allows you the opportunity to take control of the dialogue and nip any rumours in the bud. It also allows for staff to ask any questions they may have, and for you to reassure them.

Remember the practicalities

Soon after the dust has settled after a resignation, it will be important to decide how you will move forward in replacing the individual concerned. There are a number of routes to consider – from internal promotion to recruiting externally. It may even be that the departure prompts you to rethink the internal structure of the team, in which case a straight forward replacement may not be sought. Whatever is decided, it is likely to take some time for everything to settle down, during which temporary cover or a redistribution of workloads will be likely.

As the leaving date approaches, it will be important to follow a due process regarding company property.  Keys, passcards, mobile phones, laptops, documentation etc will need to be retrieved from the leaver. Where senior employees are concerned, it may be necessary for them to sign a confidentiality agreement, if they haven’t already, and to remind them of any post-termination restrictions they are bound by.  It is also good practice to change passwords or access codes.

It should be agreed how the departure will be communicated externally, in particular with the exiting employee’s clients. Any necessary amendments to organisation charts, websites, phone lists, brochures etc will also need to be organised.

Conduct an exit interview

Despite the nature of the resignation, exit interviews can provide a useful opportunity for employers to gain insight. By this point, the air should be clear and the outgoing employee will often feel able to express their true feelings. If managed effectively, employers can gain wisdom from the employee’s experience, and perhaps even ideas on how to make positive change, which can go on to prevent further departures.

Managing the exit of a senior employee can be a time-consuming process but is important to get right.  For further help or advice, please get in touch.