Thursday 29 November 2018 10:06 am

As Theresa May has shown, it’s crucial to keep a cool head when staff start jumping ship

Love or loathe her, it’s fair to say that Theresa May has had a tough time recently.

As if being tasked with successfully navigating Britain’s exit from the EU isn’t enough, members of her cabinet have been dropping like flies.

Regardless of whether we’re looking at the world of business or politics, every leader knows that a good captain needs a strong crew to weather stormy seas. But what happens when your crew decide to jump ship?

Resignations are common in business, but for the Prime Minister, 15 November proved to be particularly testing. The morning after she unveiled her draft Brexit agreement, Brexit secretary Dominic Raab resigned. A snowball effect began, leaving us questioning not if, but when the next resignation would be. And sure enough, work and pensions secretary Esther McVey handed her notice in too.

Clearly, with Brexit looming, these are exceptional political times. But even so, unless you’re sat in Lord Sugar’s boardroom on The Apprentice, it’s rare to see more than one employee walk out the door on the same day.

A business can feel most vulnerable after a resignation. Other workers may ask “if they’re leaving, maybe I should too?” or “if they got that offer, what could I get?”.

Whether an employer can stop the snowball in its tracks, depends on how staff departures and replacements are handled.

When faced with staff resignations, there is a temptation to panic, when in fact the opposite is necessary. As May has shown, a cool head is needed in this critical time.

Assess the employee’s role and the impact that their departure could have on the team. Aim to share the news with staff at the same time, and keep the message consistent to avoid unwanted office gossip.

Next, ensure that you have a robust recruitment plan to reassure staff and minimise collateral damage to team performance and morale. Prepare recruitment solutions in anticipation of a resignation and set up a handover process for others to step into a vacant role quickly and efficiently.

Most importantly, use resignations to reflect on the reasons behind an employee leaving. Open up an honest dialogue with them and embrace constructive criticism. Business leaders must look critically into why an employee might leave, and then learn from this candid feedback.

Also use the resignation as an opportunity to assess your company’s structure against competitors and be prepared to adapt.

If an employee is leaving to join a rival, compare their business model to yours. It’s not about emulating their culture, but about using competitors as a benchmark for what you could be offering employees.

It’s also important to maintain respect for the departing employee, and ensure that their contributions are recognised by thanking them for their service. This will show staff that you value their hard work, while also ensuring a smooth transition to a new team setup without any bad blood.

That said, it’s important to focus your energy on the future, namely finding good or preferably superior replacements for the person who’s leaving.

Finding a strong candidate to match or exceed the work output and personality of the departing employee can be tricky. It’s important not to rush into a decision and instead consider carefully whether a recruit is the right mix of technical ability and characteristics. Showing thought and care in any new appointment will demonstrate to your staff that their concerns are front of mind.

As Britain moves towards a new arrangement with the EU, May will know more than most that there’s no such thing as a completely smooth transition. But the steps you take to steady the ship will ultimately prove to be the most important.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.