How to handle employee departure

When your direct report is leaving

One of the challenging situations for an engineering leader is facing the departure of a direct report. We often believe that our team will remain constant, so when we receive such news, it usually hits hard. This article, the first in a series, discusses strategies for managing such situations.

The series:

In reality, employee turnover is quite common. Research indicates that the average tenure for software engineers at a single company is approximately two years.

Here's some data:

  • Zippia's analysis of ~103K software developers found that 45% of software developers have an average tenure of 1 to 2 years, with a whopping 69% having a tenure of less than 2 years.
  • Hackerlife's analysis of over ten thousand software engineers who live in San Francisco found that the median tenure of a programmer in some tech giants is around 1.5 to 2.3 years.
  • LinkedIn's Global Talent Trends 2023 report found that the average employee tenure for tech companies is 1.9 years.

These reports are based on data from the United States, so treat them just as a general overview of the trends in software engineer retention.

As an engineering leader, you typically encounter two scenarios:

  • They inform you of their decision to leave but haven't mentally checked out yet. Even if a termination letter has been sent, many things can still happen.
  • They tell you they are leaving, and internally, they've done it already. Only formalities left. At this point, the outcome is unlikely to change.

In this article, we'll concentrate on the second scenario and develop an action plan for managing the departure. Here, you can find a cheat sheet PDF that sums it up.

If you're interested in a separate discussion on how to potentially retain a departing employee, let me know --> here <--.

You've just got the news

It's not about you or the company. It's them - they need to take a breath or got a better offer somewhere else. Their notice period is one or three months, and they assure you they'll do their best until the last day of their work. And hopefully, they will, yet your job is to reduce all possible risks in this period.

The reality is that the most challenging step for them—informing you of their departure—has been completed. From this point on, they are likely to be mentally disengaged from the company. Sure, many people will do their best until the very last day. Most are obligated by the law to do so. However, deadlines, priority changes, and external factors are no longer their concern.

Each day of critical dependency on them is the real risk you must assess and mitigate as soon as possible.

General Recommendation

No matter how much you trust them, I recommend putting some buffer time into the last weeks of their work. With one month of notice period, aim to complete or transfer all critical projects within the first two weeks. For the remaining time, you can schedule knowledge transfer, consultancy, non-critical improvements to the code, and other secondary tasks.

Opportunity for change

Brace yourself. Your next few weeks will differ from business as usual. This time may be challenging and bumpy, but it's also the opportunity to change things. Often, a crisis can serve as a catalyst for transformation.

Here are potential opportunities:

  • Revising team priorities: The departure is an excellent time to evaluate and prioritize commitments.
  • Chance for growth: Redistributing responsibilities is also a chance for other team members to develop new skills and take on fresh responsibilities.
  • Refreshing the team: Whether hiring a new person or adapting to the departure, the team's dynamic will inevitably evolve.


Here's a cheat sheet to structure the departure. The overall process may differ depending on many factors. For simplicity, let's assume a one-month notice period.

Departure action plan

Immediate (Days 1-2)

  • Acknowledge and Express Gratitude: Thank the departing employee for their service and express understanding of their decision.
  • Discuss the Departure: Decide how and when to communicate the departure to the team and other stakeholders.
  • Establish Expectations: Establish priorities and realistic expectations for the remaining weeks. It's either closing their critical projects or transferring them to others.
  • Ensure HR Process: Coordinate with HR to ensure all formalities are addressed. Things like legal documents, non-disclosure or non-compete agreements, remaining days off, etc. Make sure it's clear what's the last day of their work.
  • Communicate to Upper Management: Inform upper management and be clear when you provide recommendations for the next steps.