Topics: Management

The Worst Thing To Hear From An Employee

Where were you when it last happened? At home watching TV? Attending a family birthday party? On vacation with a drink in one hand and enjoying a relaxing tropical paradise …

The fear starts when the phone rings and your caller ID shows it is your business. You are snapped out of pleasant feelings into the “fight or flight” mode so you answer, “What’s wrong?”

Or …

You just got into the office, put your keys on the desk and an employee says, “We have to talk.”

You know its not going to be good in either situation. Don't care if you are the biggest manufacturer or smallest retailer, here is the worst thing they could say to you and how you might handle it.

I'm quitting today.

It may have come out of the blue from your best and brightest. Or from your assistant who takes care of much of the day-to-day problem solving. And they may have even offered to give two weeks notice. (I’m not talking about someone who has a catastrophic family emergency and has to quit or addressing the legalities of your states’ employment laws.)

But I am talking about the random quitter.

It might even have come from the one you’ve hated working with for awhile. You know the one…

You’ve written them up a couple times. You’ve taken my quiz to clarify your thoughts so those four words elicit a sigh of relief. The nightmare employee is leaving of their own accord. Whoo-hoo! Get the check! No drama. No more complaints and no unemployment benefits being paid.

Either case is not so good, right? You envision yourself being chained to the business, working long hours, handling the mundane events on the field instead of being up in the blimp directing strategy.

In either case, you have three options:

1. If you say, “I’ll get your last check right now, ” it may come off sounding unfeeling and harsh.

2. If you say, “Let’s talk about it,” the employee has you reacting to them. If they’ve threatened it more than once, it could be a way to assert control. They may feel neglected or want to assert their need for approval.

3. If you say, “I’m sorry, what can I do to get you to stay?” You’ve as much as given them the keys to your wallet. We’ve all done it, thinking we were good bosses by acknowledging we should have been paying closer attention to their performance and now want to make up for it.

Number one is really your only option and here’s why…

When you tell them you’re getting their check, you deal with all the awfulness. You force yourself to accept the inevitable, and you avoid contaminating your other employees.

It’s much like a marriage where someone is having an affair – their interest is elsewhere. Even if they try to keep up appearances, they already have somewhere else they’d rather be. You need to let them go there.

Option number two has you becoming their counselor, and then you are being seen as an equal rather than a boss. This can lead you to keep an employee out of sympathy even though it will cost you business.

Or it might just lead them to vent their frustrations on the business and make it all your fault.

I know, I had a guy set up a meeting after I invited him to “talk about it.” He gave me four pages about why our business sucked. Some of which was true but did nothing to improve his situation.


Because once he had determined to go, I didn’t have the desire to address his concerns and make changes. I had lost trust just like he had. If he had come to me before quitting, it might have been different and that is regrettable. We both should have valued our relationship more.

The weakest is option number three, bargaining to give you some room. Frequently this results in the employee receiving a raise.

Sorry, but I’ve never seen it work. Sure she might stay because she’s making a little more money but she’ll still be wanting to quit and eventually will. That kind of employee certainly won’t grow sales when someone comes in contact with them.

Just like a rich spouse who offers more money or extravagant vacations, you’ll learn that’s not what it takes to keep them happy and you’re just postponing the inevitable.

Certainly we all fear the phone call, but people have quit your business many times before and you did fine. You found even better employees the next time. You modified the way you managed. You started to notice the warning signs. You regularly checked-in with employees. You grew.

That isn’t a bad thing, its how you become stronger.

When the employee’s mind goes, so should their body.

Bob Phibbs is the Retail Doctor®, helping businesses of all sizes grow and deliver an exceptional experience for their customers since 1994. His latest creation is the magazine Prosperous Retailing which you can order here.


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Topics: Management

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