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Riding the Turnover Tsunami

Updated: Oct 26, 2021

My last two posts have talked about the Turnover Tsunami that may be hitting employers in 2021. After getting through 2020 in survival mode, employees are now asking themselves the age-old question to employers: What have you done for me lately?

Last month’s focus on preventing a tsunami from swamping your business said with the right planning and action, many employers can prevent most voluntary turnover. However, they can’t prevent all of it. Good employees will still leave for a better job, more money, more responsibility, for the opportunity to work from home…or because they don’t like their team or boss.

We also know that sometimes the employee who leaves may be one we aren’t sad to see go. It could have been their attitude or performance that made them a less than desirable employee. In too many cases though, it’s the talented and effective employee who resigns leaving us with a hole in the company.

Here are four steps to take now to deal with the eventual loss of employees and how employers can mitigate the damage it might cause.

1. Be proactive

Regular conversations with employees tell you a lot about their attitude toward their job, the company, and you, their boss. These check-ins will show that you and the organization are proactively engaged in their wellbeing and seek to ensure things are right in their world. Additionally, these dialogues will help identify any issues the employee may have and give you an opportunity to proactively address them before it’s too late. Employee surveys can serve the same purpose on a company-wide scale but shouldn’t replace the regular chats between a manager and their staff.

Once an issue is identified, let the employee know you will address it as appropriate. If possible, seek their input in helping resolve the issue. This interaction helps gain buy-in from the employee, and if a resolution can be found, creates another bond with the company that may help prevent their departure. At the very least, these conversations should give you a heads up that an employee is about to submit their resignation.

2. Protect the loss of institutional knowledge

Over time, employees gain valuable knowledge about systems, processes, customers and history that is not necessarily captured in any other manner except in their head. This could be someone who has worked for you over the past few months, or for the past 20 years. When they leave, so does the information in their head.

Aside from confidentiality issues, this loss of knowledge can put a wrench into your relationships with customers or in the well-oiled operations the departing employees was so intricately involved in. How many times after someone has left have you realized the only person who knew how to fix a recurring problem now works for another company?

This loss can happen when someone resigns from the company or when they need to take a sudden leave of absence because of an illness or injury. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. It is critical for employers to document processes and procedures and update them regularly. Start by documenting the daily and weekly tasks of each employee. Then move to the less regular activities and finally when a new issue happens, document how it was resolved. This will serve to not only reduce downtime fixing issues, but it will also help onboard new employees and get them up to speed more quickly.

On the sales and customer side, the sales force must have intimate knowledge of their customers, but without documenting that knowledge, you run the risk of damaging the relationships if their regular contact is no longer with your company. Preferences, dislikes, challenges and prospects are erased without documentation.

3. Succession planning starts now

Successful employers have plans that focus on preparing the next crop of leaders for the company. They also have “what if” scenarios in place should leaders leave or are no longer able to continue in their roles. But what if you don’t have an organizational development department focusing on succession planning?

Each manager should evaluate their own team and any identify internal candidates who can move into critical roles should the need arise. What skills development do the upcoming leaders need to be prepared for a change? What training should they attend? How should their goals be aligned so they are ready for their next move? Sometimes there is no internal candidate in which case the succession plan would identify potential external sources or develop a plan to fill the gap on a temporary basis.

4. End on a good note

In the end, you will lose valuable employees. It will be regrettable and may hurt for a while. You may second guess what you did wrong or wonder how the relationship soured. Whatever the reason, move to the next step in your relationship with the employee on a good note.

Create a transition plan to ensure you retain as much institutional knowledge as possible and their successor has the tools needed as they take over the role. Thank them for their time and contributions to the company and ask if you can stay in touch with them as they develop their career. Believe it or not, sometimes employees regret making a change and leaving the company they have worked for over the years.

In some cases, it’s best to let the employee go and not return. However, over the course of time, you may want to allow an employee to come back if they have buyer’s remorse. I have seen this work and I have seen this fail miserably. The key is to learn why the employee left in the first place and address the issues so it doesn’t happen again. Whether or not an employee returns, tackling these areas of discontent may help prevent another employee from leaving for the same reason.

When all is said and done, the 2021 Turnover Tsunami tells us that we need to be much more proactive about the relationship our organization has with its employees. The employer-employee relationship needs to be beneficial for both sides to be effective and long-lasting. The more you are prepared for the tsunami and understand the underlying currents, the better your organization will come out on the other side.

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