Six Steps for Managing Workflow During Unexpected Staff Departures


Surprise! A key member of your staff tells you he or she is leaving to take another position. Once you process the shock that often comes with such an announcement, it's time to think about managing workflow during this transition—along with other considerations such as supporting the employee who is leaving, communicating the departure to other staff members, and following established HR exit procedures for your organization.

Managing workflow during an unexpected staff departure is critical for several reasons, chief among them is ensuring key tasks don't fall through the cracks. But smart workflow management during this time will also prevent remaining staff from feeling overwhelmed as they take on additional duties, and will help keep your time and attention focused on the high-level work of planning for your company's future.

To effectively manage workflow during this time, consider the following tips:

  1. Capture knowledge. Have the departing employee map out his/her tasks, from large projects to day-to-day tasks. Ask the staff member, in partnership with other team members, to create a plan to cover these tasks in his or her absence. Establish which duties the departing employee will finish before he or she leaves. Obtain key contacts for ongoing projects as well as any upcoming deadlines. Ask other employees to shadow the departing employee as they complete his/her day-to-day work; this will help ensure you're capturing those duties that can be documented, as well as any unique knowledge the employee has developed that others might not be aware of.

  2. Prioritize key tasks. Determine which of the departing employee's tasks are mission critical to your organization and which ones can be put on hold until another person(s) takes ownership. Compare these tasks of greatest importance with the other priorities and responsibilities of your team to help determine if work can be divided among existing employees or if additional interim help is required.

  3. Work with the existing team. Be honest with other employees about what kind of impact this will have on your organization—and on their workload. Now might also be a good time to reconfigure your existing team. Are there individuals you might want to test out with a new role? Make sure existing staff feel supported, not overwhelmed. Help them prioritize work as needed.

  4. Post the job immediately. Working with the information you've gathered from the departing employee and existing staff—along with the previous job description—it's time to go to HR to formally list the position. Consider asking the exiting employee for his or her thoughts on education or experience that may be particularly useful in finding a replacement. The outgoing employee may also know of someone—either internally or externally—who would make a good candidate for the position.

  5. Manage your relationship with the departing employee. Remember not to take your employee's departure personally. Congratulate him or her on the new opportunity and thank them for their service to your company. Establish a protocol for contacting him or her should questions arrive after the last day of work. Keep the lines of professional communication open—this person may one day return to your company and/or become a good source of leads for other opportunities.

  6. Consider interim help. If the departing employee's duties cannot be managed or are too much to handle for the remaining team, you may want to consider some interim help to keep workflow on track. One great source for interim help is your own network, particularly former employees that may have done this work in the past. But if this option isn't a viable one for you, there are services like vChief that provide qualified, high-level interim support in key areas such as management, operations, strategy, and communications. Here's what one of our customers had to say about the interim staff support she received from vChief's Jenn Barr Weiss:

"Jenn was a huge asset to me personally—and to TFA Baltimore—during a period of transition between Chiefs of Staff. She was incredibly fast at getting up to speed on context and building relationships, and able to add value almost immediately. I was so grateful to have her support during a critical period for our organization and team." - Courtney Cass, Executive Director, Teach for America Baltimore

With a careful balance of clear communication, and mindful delegation, and additional support, you can help ensure an unexpected staff departure doesn't throw your team's workflow off track. If you think interim support might help with your company's transition, please don't hesitate to contact vChief for a free consultation.


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