An employee told me that she is planning to quit, but didn't provide a date for her last day on the job. Her role is critical. I want to start searching for a person to replace her, but do I have to wait until she actually gives me an exact date before hiring someone new?
Ready to Rehire
Dear Ready to Rehire,
This is a tricky situation. On the one hand, you should be thrilled to have gotten advanced notice. On average, it takes 42 days to fill a vacant position, which is a lot longer than the standard two weeks notice most employees give. On the other hand, now you're in limbo. You don't have a date, yet you know she's got one foot out the door and everyone is waiting for your next move.
Remember, all of your employees are watching how you will handle this situation. Legally, you can go ahead and start recruiting now and, once you find someone, fire your current employee. But, if you do that, no employee will ever give you more than two weeks notice again. You want your other employees to be honest with you about their plans because it helps you prepare, so don't jeopardize that openness with a rash decision.
Instead, before starting the recruiting process, have a formal conversation with your existing employee to better understand their motivations for looking for another job.
Ask her why she's planning to leave and just how serious she is about it. This may also help you gauge her end date. For example, if she's planning on starting graduate school, she'll have an end date to give you just as soon as she's received an acceptance letter. But, if she's just looking for a new job, it could be well over a year before she actually leaves, assuming she finds something better.
When you two speak, don't be afraid to explain your situation. Tell her: "Jane, you told me you were looking for another job. Because your role is critical, I want to fill it as soon as possible. Can you help me nail down a date so I can start the recruiting process? Ideally, a new person would start a few weeks before you leave, so that you can help with training."
Jane may have just been babbling out loud and doesn't have any real plans to go anywhere, in which case this conversation should alert her to the seriousness of what she said.
Additionally, she may have been fishing for a "please don't go" raise or promotion. Threatening to quit isn't the best way to ask for those rewards, but people often don't know how else to do it. If she deserves a raise or a promotion, offer it, but know that it might not fix the problem if it's not what she wanted in the first place.
If she is ultimately serious about leaving, then offer to help. Why? Because this behavior on your part will ensure your good reputation in the field, and make other employees feel at ease about coming to you with their plans. Turnover is a part of HR life, but getting advanced notice makes it far less painful.
Suzanne Lucas, Evil HR Lady