Preserving office morale when the top performer leaves

After two years of hard work, an employee who not only was the highest-performing but also was a delight to work with, decides to quit, leaving other team members panicking about their future at the company.

Here’s how to help your team move forward in this classic situation.

Employees need to be well-equipped for change

Make sure there isn’t just one person who knows how to do a crucial task before anyone leaves. Regularly practicing key things like this can really help. It’s a way to make sure your bases are covered, should someone quit or get sick.

Other employees don’t necessarily need to have the same in-depth knowledge as the employee with the most extensive skill set in that area, but they should have a basic understanding and a framework for figuring it out.

Talk to employees about what’s to come

Don’t leave everyone else in the dark.

In a blog post for the Rapid Learning Institute, President & CEO Stephen Meyer writes about how to talk to the team about a “voluntary departure.” This advice also applies when the person leaving the company is a high-performer.

“Give some certainty to those who remain. Those who are staying will likely wonder whether and/or how the person is going to be replaced, and whether they’re going to be expected to pick up some of the person’s duties, temporarily or permanently. To the best of your ability, try to address these questions when the departure is announced.”

Pay attention during the exit interview

Paychex WORX post illustrates what managers should be prepared for during the employee’s exit interview.

“Employees make the decision to quit a job for many reasons, money may be only one of those reasons. Once their decision is made, you have a valuable opportunity to learn why. Schedule an exit interview soon after the employee informs you of his or her decision and then have an open, honest discussion about the reasons behind the departure. Of course, ‘open and honest’ may include criticism of you and your managerial style. Becoming defensive or denying what the soon-to-be ex-employee says will get you nowhere. Focus on asking questions that can lead to improvements in your team and culture. When an employee quits, perhaps the most important question to ask is, ‘What changes to our business might have kept you on longer?’ “

This might just help you make necessary changes for the future.

Have a concrete plan

Jayson DeMers, Founder and CEO of AudienceBloomwrites in Entrepreneur what a new business should do when it loses the highest performer or partner, but his advice also applies to managers at large companies in the same situation.

“Make a list of everything that has been damaged or compromised by your partner or employee’s departure that either is or will be important in the next month. Separate these into ‘A,’ ‘B’ and ‘C’ level priorities based on both importance and immediacy, then start addressing them one by one. Don’t try to do everything at once or you’ll get overwhelmed. Instead, stop the bleeding one step at a time, and get the rest of your team involved to help lighten the load.”

This article originally appeared on Ladders, a publication dedicated to breaking news, opinion, analysis and advice at the cutting edge of our changing workplace. For more, sign up for Ladders' newsletter here.