If you are small firm, your employees must bear multiple responsibilities. But you have had the wisdom to hire good IT personnel to keep the business running smoothly.

You believe you have a good working relationship with the company “geeks” and that they would always be willing to come to you with any problems or frustrations. Then, one day, your lead tech in whatever IT role is most critical to the functioning of your business, submits his two weeks' notice.

While we’re focusing on IT personnel, there are a couple of things that should be addressed anytime someone leaves your employ. What went wrong or what didn’t go wrong? What should be done, right now? What about the aftermath?

Addressing these will go a long way to limit losses to corporate knowledge and assets while helping to ensure that remaining employees don’t feel threatened by the loss or encouraged to look elsewhere.

There’s the history of the situation. Do you know your employees as well as you think? If this is a larger organization, do you know your direct reports as well as you would like? Have you taken the time to really listen to what they have to tell you about the work they’re doing, the organizational environment and their outside needs? Not everyone’s life revolves around the workplace. Overestimating loyalty to the firm can cause an employer to believe that regardless of the conditions, an employee will stay to try and work things out.

This is particularly true in the IT environment. Many IT professionals want to belong to something larger than themselves. They come into the industry with the desire to be involved in something dynamic and challenging. Some want to write code that is tight, efficient and effective at solving some problem, not code that reinvents the “Hello, World” wheel. Some want to be involved in building infrastructure that provides the highest quality connectivity available, not chained to some third rate piece of equipment that was “politically viable”. Others simply want an environment that appreciates the use of their full technical potential in a meaningful way.

You as the supervisor aren’t always in a position to give them what they want. If you’re a small shop and the same redundant tasks are required for operations, there may be no room for growth. If this is the case, you should be aware of the needs and desires, and be prepared to lose them to a more technically challenging environment. You can’t do anything about this, but it shouldn’t sneak up on you either.

Talk, Talk, Talk

What if there isn’t a problem? Things are as exciting and challenging as they can be. Coders are encouraged and rewarded for writing good code. The network guys have an array of projects that are critical to the advancement of the organization. The operations personnel have the opportunity to stay on the cutting edge in technological advances, giving them a stake in the company.

Again, you can’t do much about someone who just wants greener pastures (the other side of the fence). But regular conversations will hopefully let you know in advance that things are coming to a close for them. (A side note to all you tech-weenies out there. Talk to your boss if they are trying to listen. Try to get them to listen if they aren’t. Give them every opportunity to hear what you have to say.)

I realize we’re talking about a perfect world here. That most of the time the truth lies somewhere in between. So they’ve resigned, now what? What you know about them becomes critical at this juncture. Are they upset with the organization? Are they just trying to move up in their world? Or are they just looking to move somewhere like Lebanon, Oklahoma, for the change in lifestyle? Knowing what’s going on, will help you determine how to handle the situation.

If they are leaving under less than cordial circumstances, you may choose to escort them to the front door, confiscate their keys and badges, and promptly remove all network access. Depending on the circumstances, you may want to conduct forensics on their system, and check your logs for activity that falls outside the bounds of their responsibilities.

Identify a possible legal issue as soon as possible (while the person is on administrative leave) gives you more options. You can always ship them their belongings in a box, and hold anything that might questionably be theirs in case they request it.

If you know your employee is leaving on good terms, let them take their two weeks to clean up loose ends, provide information to whoever will be replacing them or serving in the interim, and to say their goodbyes. At the same time, consider putting in place the necessary steps to remove their access at the end of the resignation period. This is simply good practice.

If you don’t have good documentation (Standard Operating Procedures) in place, now is too late to decide your departing employee should write down everything they have been responsible for during their tenure. If someone is replacing them either in the interim or permanently, have that person get to know the details of the job they are assuming. They should already have a basic understanding of the work. (This is known as the “x-gets-hit-by-a-truck” disaster planning. If one of your workers, content or not, becomes completely incapacitated, how much corporate knowledge will you lose?)

Maybe you have good documentation and maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re going to rehire for the same position and maybe you’re going to eliminate the position and hire for a different function.

How you handle the departing employee will signal to your remaining workforce what your opinion of them is. If you are escorting your employee to the door, be respectful and let them leave with their dignity intact. If you’re surprised by the departure, take the opportunity to sit down with your subordinates and have a talk about how they feel. It may give you more to think about than just the loss of your IT guy.