Your Best Employee Quit … Now What?

October 27, 2016
Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN

The fact that someone will leave your team is something every small practice owner needs to be prepared for. So what do you do when a valued team member hands you their resignation?

As the economy recovers and new ways of working start to replace traditional avenues of employment, employees have more options than ever for finding work they deem meaningful and fulfilling. In recent years, the United States has seen an annual resignation rate around 8%, and it’s been forecast that younger employees entering the workforce won’t stay at any one job for too long. For a small business like your dental practice, this means that you’ll sometimes lose key team members to other opportunities.

It could be anyone in your office, from your best hygienist to your office manager. The fact that someone will leave your team is something every small practice owner needs to be prepared for. So what do you do when a valued team member hands you their resignation?

  • Don’t panic. It doesn’t matter who decides to leave--for practice owners, it might feel like the end of the world when someone resigns. It’s not. Yes, there’s going to be some work involved in finding a replacement, and everyone in your practice might have to help pick up some of the slack. But keep in mind that the longer your practice stays open, the more people you might have that move on to other things. It’s important to adopt an attitude of resilience, not defeat. One person leaving will not cause your practice to crumble down around you.
  • Don’t lash out. We’ve all heard stories of bosses that start screaming when an employee turns in their notice. Maybe you’ve even been on the receiving end of such a spectacle at some point in your dental career. Keep that in mind, and whatever you do, don’t become this scary person. Think about it—would you appreciate it if someone started demanding information out of you or accusing you of ruining their life or business if you decided to move on? You wouldn’t, and you might be setting yourself up for legal action against you if you turn into a screaming banshee. Just don’t do it.
  • Review your legal obligations. As a practice owner, you have legal obligations to your employees even when they turn in their notice. This is an area that can also lead to legal trouble if you’re not careful, so you want be sure to protect yourself and your practice. The rules vary by state, so check your state’s labor laws to make sure you’re in compliance with all rules and regulations required by the government. You’ll still need to pay all the employee’s accrued wages and disburse any benefit payments that might be applicable to the employee. If you’re paying bonuses or other commission-type benefits, schedule these payments out, if necessary, after the employee’s last day. You also need to provide your departing employee with legal notices as required by law, like documentation explaining COBRA benefit continuation. If any nondisclosure or confidentiality agreements were signed upon hiring, review them with your employee to make sure both parties are clear on expectations for maintaining confidential information once the employee is gone.
  • Wish the employee well, and conduct an exit interview. Parting on good terms can mean that your employee leaves with good things to say about you and your practice. They might even come back and looking for employment from you again in the future! Showing your support for the employee keeps the lines of communication open, and could result in your former employee advocating for your practice or even sending referrals your way. Conducting an exit interview is one way to encourage honest, frank communication with your employee that’s leaving. It’s a great way to learn about any aspects of your practice that could use improvement, and to get feedback on how to implement positive changes. During the interview, you want to be sure to let your departing employee know why you’re conducting the interview and what knowledge you hope to gain. Be sure to keep questions short and to the point so that you can better understand their reasoning for leaving and what you could do to make the workplace better. Take what they say to heart—after all, what’s the point of conducting an exit interview if you’re not going to use the information at all? Above all else, don’t get defensive. At this point, all you can do is accept what your former employee says without confronting them on any of the negative points they might bring up.
  • Ask your other employees for help, and come up with a plan. Once you’ve announced that an employee is leaving (and you should let your other employees know this when appropriate), it’s a good idea to ask the entire team for help. You can take this opportunity to bring your practice team together to meet the challenge of being an employee short, and you’ll probably find that your people want to help you anyway. Plus, asking your team for ideas increases their sense of value and will probably make them feel more involved in the practice’s continued success. Take the ideas you gathered from the exit interview and from your team to develop a plan for dealing with the resignation. Instead of allowing a resignation to turn into a depressing, paralyzing event, take the opportunity to plan for ways to improve the quality of your practice for all your remaining employees. Remember, people leave for all sorts of reasons, and you can use the transition as a time to move your entire practice in a more positive direction.

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