The day may come when an employee walks out that door and points to you as the reason he just couldn’t take any more. If it happens, you can be sure of one thing—everyone on the staff will find out that he’s blamed you for his exit. What can you do to get past that awkward time when you’ve been branded, rightly or wrongly, as a villain?
1. Be the bigger person. You have no wiggle room to criticize the employee; firing back when unkind words have been thrown your way makes you look weak. Keep the staff’s respect by wishing the departed well and moving on as if the separation was expected, inevitable and part of doing business. This subtly conveys a sense that there might be more to the story—but you’re far too busy with more important things to address salacious gossip.
2. Stand tall for a principle. If it was a company policy or necessary measure that the employee objected to so vehemently, you’ll appear strong if you defend it clearly and demonstrate why it’s sound enough that no employee can be placed above it. Show the staff the solid business reason why you stood your ground and they’ll respect it. If the principle is wobbly, it’s the company’s overarching mission you can champion instead.
3. Call a meeting ASAP. But not to talk about what happened, not at all. Summon the team to dive directly into a new project, or get everyone involved in a brainstorming or problem-solving session. With this trick, you both show yourself to the “public” to establish that you’re not hiding—in fact, you’re more anxious to collaborate than ever—and you shift their minds to business so pressing that the fate of any one worker quickly seems secondary to the here and now, where a strong leader is showing initiative and forward thinking. Meanwhile, where the heck is the one who quit?
4. Pull out the mirror and use it. If a good employee resigns because of you, it’s highly likely some blame can be set at your door. A blowup like that is a serious move, and borne of long-simmering frustration. The measure of your emotional intelligence may lie in your willingness to review the situation impartially, through a lens not your own, and acknowledge a mistake or two was made. Every separation is a teaching moment—don’t waste it because of foolish pride.