I’m constantly anxious that one of my employees will quit

A reader writes:

I manage a small team. We pay generous salaries, overtime, on-call pay, and very nice year-end bonuses. I’d like to think I am good manager – I invest in my team’s growth, I communicate expectations clearly, and I offer genuine appreciation for good work. When something goes wrong – as it always does at some point – I’m professional and fair, and have a constructive conversation about corrective actions.

All that said, I am constantly anxious that someone is going to leave. If they request a day off in the middle of the week, I think “oh no, interviews.”

Everyone seems happy and I have no reason to think anyone is looking to leave. I check in regularly with the team to ensure everything is going well for them, but I can’t envision anyone really telling me they were job-searching if they were.

I totally get that people leaving jobs for a whole host of reasons is a normal thing. I have ensured the staff is cross-trained so I am not reliant on any one person, but as everyone is a key person, the thought of someone leaving makes me nuts. Any thoughts on how to control my stress here?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 78 comments… read them below }

  1. HS Teacher*

    It’s important to remember that it isn’t always personal. Yes, people will leave due to bad management, but that’s not the ONLY reason they leave. Sometimes we leave because we want to relocate or decide to move our career in a different decision, or because there’s an office that allows WFH or offers other perks not available where we currently work. I left my last industry because I wanted to do something else. There’s nothing anyone at my old job could have done or said that would’ve changed my mind.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I think it can be hard not to internalize “people don’t leave jobs they leave managers” when you’re a manager. We say that a lot – not just on this blog, but in general. And to some extent it’s true, but it doesn’t mean people NEVER leave jobs with good managers, it just means they typically stay at those jobs longer and don’t run away screaming like their hair is on fire.

      Jobs with good managers will often get generous notice period, where possible, good transition documentation, periods of change that don’t involve a lot of panic and chaos, and supportive teams to get through difficult hand-offs. Those are all great indicators that you’re managing well, not that people stay chained to you forever.

      1. sacados*

        Totally 100% agree. I’ve left three “real” jobs so far in my career and was lucky enough that every single one of them was for better opportunities but not because of managers.
        The first was because I wanted more pay/upward mobility and while I loved my team, the company itself was becoming really financially unstable.
        The second was because I decided I was ready to move back to my home country — I discussed my plans with my bosses and worked out a timeline for transitioning all my projects to other people (my last day was actually 5 months after I first told them I wanted to leave!). I was prepared to have to keep job hunting for a while after I got back but because the transition situation was all announced/out in the open, my then-boss (who had a HUGE network in my home country) shared my resume around and I was able to land a job before I had to move!
        And then I left that job as well– absolutely loved my manager and learned SO MUCH from her, but the company was very obviously moving in a different direction and our specific niche/business unit was no longer a priority. So while I did have full-time employment, there was no indication as to what I would actually be doing all day once my project wrapped up — because there wasn’t another of that type of project in the works that I could move on to. And the type of projects left to work on wouldn’t have really been in my area of interest/expertise.

      2. Koalafied*

        And sometimes, it’s bad management that is driving you out, but it’s not necessarily coming from your direct manager. I had a job where I 100% believed my managers were doing the best they could, supporting our team, and using every available tool to advocate for us… but the head of the fish was so rotten that ultimately there were problems I could no longer tolerate, which they sadly just did not have the authority or influence needed to fix them. So I was leaving bad management, but I didn’t blame my boss or even my grandboss, both of whom I had warm working relationships with. Nobody in their position could have made the changes I would have needed to see to stay.

      3. EngineerMom*

        Good managers work to encourage the kind of growth that results in people leaving – the great ones know this and plan ahead!

        Sometimes, though, even a great manager is stuck with bad business practices from higher up, like not being allowed to back-fill someone who is leaving.

      4. Zee*

        Yep. I was on a team of 4 + manager. 3 of her 4 reports left within the span of a couple months. But one person was poached by another department with a huge promotion, and the other 2 of us wanted to do different things that weren’t available at our current org. I was the 3rd to leave, and I felt so bad. I made it a point to tell her that it wasn’t because of her management (she was a new manager and had been promoted with pretty much no training, so she was particularly sensitive to this).

    2. Wombats and Tequila*

      You’ve hit on an important insight about how it isn’t personal when someone leaves. The advice to consciously reframe it as normal and expected, and prepare for it, is vital, but some people are wired to feel like they must have done something wrong or that they are being personally rejected.

      It might be good for OP to contemplate whether this is the case.

      If so, they can bear in mind that they are apt to have that reaction, and should it happen, they can tell themselves that this is a sensitivity that have, rather than being at the mercy of the feeling.

      They can also tell themselves that they try their best to be a good manager, that even if they did something wrong, everybody does, we’re all here to learn, and now they have a chance to improve. They can browse through posts here about how to foster an environment in which employees feel free to be honest with their superiors.

  2. Caramel & Cheddar*

    “I think you should embrace the idea that people will leave — not just reluctantly accept it, but actively embrace it.”

    Alison’s opening line here is spot on. You will save yourself so much grief if you manage in a way that assumes people will move on, because even if staff have platinum tier benefits and salaries, that still won’t prevent situations like someone moving out of state because their partner got a dream job, etc.

    You can’t plan for every eventuality, but you can plan for a lot of them. What would you do if these folks didn’t quit, but had to go on an extended sick leave? What are your contingencies? What kind of documentation do you have (even if you think no one will ever read it)? There are ways to feel prepared for someone’s departure even if you hope for that to never happen.

    1. Momma Bear*

      Agreed. We have a situation right now where a key person is out at a bad time. IMO if you cultivate a culture of respect and teamwork, you will be able to roll with the punches when something happens. People are more willing to pull together under a good leader.

      I have left jobs for bad management but I have also left because the commute was awful, corporate stopped raises, and I simply got a better offer that was more in line with my career goals. It wasn’t personal.

      The other part of it is if OP feels incredibly anxious, they may want to seek counseling or help with stress management.

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      I can identify with how (I think) OP feels. You can’t necessarily plan for those contingencies all that well, especially for a role that’s quite niche or that you can’t really get temp/contract help for, etc (and that’s true whether the person quits, goes out on extended sick leave, or other unexpected things).

      I suspect OPs stress comes from the fact that as each person is key in their own way, something will fall apart when one of them leaves, and it will fall to OP to pick up the pieces. Probably there isn’t much in the way of redundancy or cross-training in a small team, and even if there is, the workload doesn’t diminish and suddenly you are down 1 person on a small team (and the impact is more than 1 person, because the people filling in aren’t as “naturally” able to immediately step into the whole role, and it gets split across people) so if you have, say, 6 people’s worth of workload it’s more like 4.5 (or less) people’s productivity to cover it when someone leaves.

      It seems to me OP is concerned with people leaving, but less so (or at least didn’t mention it) with issues like people going off sick. I wonder why that is.

      1. allathian*

        I assume that’s because people can’t really choose if they get sick or not, but they can choose whether or not they leave voluntarily.

        That said, even if they do leave voluntarily, it’s not necessarily because they think the LW’s a bad manager.

        I do think that the LW should look into some ways of alleviating the anxiety she seems to experience just at the thought of someone leaving.

    3. TootsNYC*

      As a department head, I see every person who leaves me as a success to my credit. I gave them opportunities and growth and confidence that makes them qualified for a higher level job. They get the credit for getting that job, but I get the credit for having retained them as long as I did, and for creating a situation in which they could stand on their current experience to reach higher.

      It’s like having kids: you want them to outgrow you.

  3. Yabadabadoooo*

    If I’m a good manager my employees will leave eventually, hopefully for bigger and better opportunities. I’m really proud of the people I have nurtured and grown. If someone leaves then I can hire someone new to grow.

    OP is your boss putting pressure on you to retain people? It really isn’t the end of the world if it happens.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yeah, I always want my strongest people to have opportunities to advance/grow, and, if I can’t provide those opportunities in-house, then of course they’re going to leave!

      I’ve had someone amazing in an administrative position and was able to pay for a professional certificate and promote them to a higher-level role – I miss having them in the admin slot because they were so, so good at their job and anticipating the needs of the entire team, but I also can’t expect them to stay in an entry-level role forever because it’s best for me.

  4. A Pinch of Salt*

    If you’re able, it’s also great to show that you’re open to feedback and WANT people to come to you if they’re unfulfilled. It was taboo in my previous jobs (apparently we were all supposed to be happy all the time? Not realistic.) I’m now in a government agency job where I verryyyyyy loosely mentioned I’ll tap out the pay scale in a couple years and probably go elsewhere, which prompted my boss to start paperwork for a promotion.

    I realize that much responsiveness won’t always be possible, but have an open door and be willing to do what you can. Some will stay. Not all…but some.

  5. KRM*

    People leave! It’s OK! I work in biotech, and the biggest reason people leave is that they need to, in order to move to the next level. You can’t have all 8 principal scientists become directors, and that’s OK! 7 of those people will leave to be directors somewhere else, and we are happy for them moving up! People have to do what’s best for your career, and if they’re ready to move to the next level (especially if your company can’t provide that level), you should be proud that they’re moving onward and upward.

  6. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    It’s a fear I know all too well, and had during my early days in management. I honestly thought the best managers controlled *everything* and would never have staff leave, or get upset, or have their work slack off, or make mistakes or…

    Basically it was a control thing. I really really wanted to feel in total control of work (because goddess knows my personal life doesn’t have that) and got increasingly stressed the more I realised that some things just happen. People get other jobs, people have kids and quit work, people get ill, people may decide a total career change is for them etc. All things I couldn’t prevent!

    I’m eternally grateful to a former manager from many years back, now friend and sometime mentor, who explained his philosophy – ‘it’s like driving, Keymaster. No matter how good you are at driving your car you’ll never be able to control what others do and you’ll drive yourself nuts trying. Just keep your eyes on the road’

      1. TootsNYC*

        the driving metaphor can extend, too. You don’t just worry about what you’re doing, but you are also prepared for what others -might- do. You can’t control what they do, but you can be extra alert at an intersection, aware of where the shoulder is should you need to pull over, etc.

        A good defensive driver is always aware, even if only subtly, of what they might need to do to react safely and wisely to the movements of other cars.

        And of course, as dashcam videos show us, sometimes you just get blindsided.

  7. Sara without an H*

    It sounds as though the OP was doing everything right. But you really can’t get too invested in retaining any one staff member. People decide they want to go to grad school. They get married and move out of state. They decide their children need more attention and become a stay-at-home parent. (These examples are all from my personal experience, btw.)

    Make sure your job descriptions are up-to-date and your salary/benefits structure is realistic for your industry and local market. Document key procedures and cross-train as much as is realistic. Treat people well and fairly.

    And don’t take it personally when people decide to move on.

    1. Canadian Valkyrie.*

      I just glanced over your comment at first and the words I saw made me think of children leaving home amd some parents taking it WAY too personally, like children are supposed to grow up and move out. They’re not trying to slight you by becoming adults. I feel like there’s a parallel here

  8. Opalled*

    I have battled with this exact feeling as a manager – but going through people actually leaving has resulted in much less anxiety about it because of all these reasons: it is actually doable to short term handle the coverage particularly when other team members pitch in, I have learned to make sure there is cross-training in highly critical tasks (ex. payroll or accounts payable/receivables) which usually means vacations are easier to cope with too, the reward of watching former employees grow in their life when they leave (have families, move, advance in their career) and being able to hire better fits as I get more practice in hiring when someone leaves.

    1. After 33 years ...*

      “I think you should embrace the idea that people will leave — not just reluctantly accept it, but actively embrace it.”

      Unfortunately, this varies significantly with circumstances. In our place, departure of a faculty member results in at least 5 years before a new person can be hired. Those courses cannot be taught and that specialty cannot be offered – cross-training is not an option, and others cannot pitch in. There is no positive outcome for the students and the department.
      Accept departures – yes. Recognize benefits for person leaving – yes. Reduced anxiety – no. Embrace – no.

      1. an academic*

        Uh, that sounds dysfunctional. Courses can’t be taught- really? If students start in a specialty and the faculty who teaches a specific course leaves, the students have to start over? No one can stretch the least little bit and cover something outside of their narrow, narrow specialty?

        1. After 33 years ...*

          Yes. Without being too revealing, X is a key, highly innovative specialty of our discipline. We lost all our practitioners of X in the past 4 years. Every day, I get to reply to one or more prospective students that “perhaps by 2023, we may be able to offer something in X”. The students don’t start over, but they graduate without much or any X, a specialty which companies and govt departments love and need.
          Next year, it will be my turn to leave by retirement. I teach Y, and I probably won’t be replaced either – definitely not until we get a new X person. Between 2018 and late 2022, we will have lost between 4 and 6 faculty (out of 18): if we’re lucky, we might get one replacement by this time next year.
          No one has been unkind, resentful, unsympathetic, or mean. None of our X people left unhappy. We all remain friendly and respectful to departing colleagues, but no one is embracing their departures.
          Dysfunctionality in progress? Absolutely – all our reviewers and colleagues have said so.

          1. an academic*

            It sounds like perhaps what you can embrace is your colleague departing to, hopefully, a much less dysfunctional working environment.

      2. tamarack and fireweed*

        Thing is, you *should* embrace it. In any healthy organization it’s healthy to embrace it. And because you’re put in a position that you can’t, it’s really important to use your capital (especially if you’re tenured!) to push the problem up to the powers that be. Normal turnover in a university means that some positions are unfilled, or filled with someone on medical / parental leave, or on a sabbatical – that should be the *baseline*.

        People are already having attitudes as if academic workplaces are a kind of dysfunctional extraterrestrial monster. That should spur everyone in academia to push for saner academic workplaces. They aren’t impossible.

        1. After 33 years ...*

          We are far below normal turnover or baseline- essentially, strict attrition with virtually no possibility of replacements for several years previously, with more to come. As a tenured prof with 33 years here, I (and many colleagues) have been pushing the problem up to all levels (including provincial and federal govt) for many years. This is fundamentally a resource problem, without a ready solution.
          We like each other, we work well together, we teach as much as we can, we try to enjoy what we do, and we have an approximately sane and respectful workplace. Unfortunately, we don’t have any ability to have faculty renewal.

  9. Canadian Valkyrie.*

    I feel like this about my clients sometimes. If a client doesn’t want to work with me any more I use to panic — omg what did I do wrong, omg now I need a new client for the time — and it’s very stressful but it’s ultimately personalizing if in a way that doesn’t make sense. Every person in my line of work is different. It’s ok, like I change dentists all the time and I’ve gone to multiple car fixing places and so on. There’s never been a dentist or mechanic I actively hated, it might’ve just been that X offered a service that Y didn’t have. In certain settings (eg personal training, therapy) maybe you’ve gotten all you want from that person and it’s time to move on. I think it’s important to have plans how to handle it if a client/employee leaves but also do work around your feelings.

    1. PT*

      Some of this can be because of performance metrics that companies use to evaluate employees. Like for example, lots of customers do leave because, say, you are only available on weekdays and they want weekend services. Or you offer recreational training and they want high level competitive training, and they’re going to need to find a different trainer. Or your store sells only organic food and they want Cheetos and Kool Aid and Twinkies.

      But if your boss has a metric that says anytime you lose a customer that is BAD and you did something WRONG because they are DISSATISFIED- even if they’re not dissatisfied, it’s simply a bad match between the services offered and the services desired- then you’re going to dread even this normal turn over of customers as they move along to find somewhere that’s a better match for them, because you know you’re somehow going to be punished for it.

      1. Canadian Valkyrie*

        Oh I’ve 100% lost clients because I work 3 weekdays, 1 evening, and 1 weekend BUT only every other weekend. It’s still not a big deal FOR ME because, well, I have enough clients and if I can’t accommodate someone’s schedules then I am more than happy to refer them to someone who can… But I see what you mean. I have been super lucky to only work places where the people I work for care about reasons and stuff, they won’t penalize you and make an employee quitting or a client going else where to be all about dissatisfaction. It blows my mind how often organizations will make stuff like that out to be something exclusively bad. It’s like, if my client can only meet Tuesday after 6pm, but I don’t work those hours, but I respectfully offer them times I DO work (assuming that my hours are set as such for a reason!) OR I refer them to someone else who can do those hours, then that client can make a choice to (A) decide if what I have to offer is worth, idk, coming the evening I do work or (B) they can decide to see the person who can meet in that time.

  10. DapperApple*

    When I worked at a university, we often hired grad students for many of our roles. Some of them were great, some not so great, and some were so good we knew it was going to be really painful when they left. The one thing that experience taught me early on in my career is to anticipate and expect departures. Be it 1 year or 5 years, we weren’t going to have them forever. But this recognition helped us make the most of our time together, and in some ways it was kind of liberating. The ones we could live without wouldn’t be with us forever, and the ones that were amazing were going to go off and be amazing elsewhere and do some really great things. It helped to see us as a part of that critical growth!

  11. Beth*

    If employees don’t leave, they’ll either retire or die. Or become vampires or zombies, which is outside the usual scope of this column.

      1. quill*

        Pencil that in for the end of october.

        “Dear Allison, one of my coworkers keeps biting people’s necks. I’ve never seen it actually happen, but people come back from lunch with puncture marks, and sometimes a little bit of blood… and my coworker Alucard always seems to have something red on his teeth. Should I leave this be, or take it to HR?”

    1. Silver Radicand*

      I dunno. I totally want to read about the HR problems and antics that result from an employee turning into a vampire or zombie!
      Does worker’s comp apply then? How do health benefits work then? Does Vampirism fall under the ADA?

    2. Batty Twerp*

      “Or become vampires or zombies, which is outside the usual scope of this column.”

      It’s October.

      We had completely non-work related question recently.

      It’s not beyond possibility…

    3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      This made me think of Charles Stross’s “Laundry Files” and the “Inhuman Resources” department

  12. katkat*

    just dont do what my exboss did: everytime i initiaited a meeting, she would ask: are you about to leave?

    first i was a bit amused, then a little discouraged, then irritated and by the tenth time or so i gave my notice. i found out later she said that to every employee. dont be exboss.

    1. Circe*

      I work with a manager who does that. Every time I wore a remotely put-together outfit in our super-casual office, I got a remark about going to an interview.

      Finally, I snapped and said, “Fergus, one day we will all leave. Hopefully when I do, it will be on my terms. But the way you talk, I feel like dying at work is your best-case scenario and DEAR GOD, I hope that’s not what happens.”

      I said it in a joking way, but thankfully, he’s also the kind of person who cowers in the face of female anger and has never brought it up since. Also, it’s been MANY months since I’ve been to the office, let alone in a cute outfit, so who knows what the future holds.

  13. employment lawyah*

    It’s perfectly reasonable stress. In modern times, the 2-week deadline is way too short for many businesses. Moreover, even with more notice, losing an employee can cost you tens of thousands of dollars. There are enormous benefits toward being able to plan a business as if people will stay forever.

    But that usually only works when the business is very small–not when it has people who manage groups of 10. And besides, YOU DO NOT OWN THE BUSINESS!!

    I don’t know if I’d go so far as to “embrace” it (it sucks when good folks leave) but certainly you can plan around it.

    And if it makes you feel better, remember this: YOUR boss also does not want YOU to leave, so s/he will try to work to prevent it from being too horrible when your own employees leave.

    1. pancakes*

      I don’t follow as to why you think that would work for even the owner of a very small business. They don’t have oracular abilities the rest of us don’t. They can’t make people stay forever, either.

  14. too many too soon*

    Anxious managers can make for unhappy managees. I’ve used a fair amount of my employee capital to stay out of the domain of a particularly anxious (and controlling, buttinsky) unit manager that translates his anxiety into controlling his direct reports like sock puppets.

  15. H*

    For me, what has helped is to look at the average time people in this industry on this level stays in their roles and then plan accordingly. Having employees staying longer than that is great but I as a manager needs to plan so that we can manage and survive an average turnover.

    My best performer will hit a point where I cannot provide them more advancement upwards. They will be extremely attractive on the market (I get on average three LinkedIn messages a week regarding new positions in my field in my city and they are likely too). When they hit that point I would prefer to be able to wish them good luck in them new job and keep a good relationship and see the now open position as an opportunity to promote another high performer.

    I know a function a bit as a mentor and I’ve been very open in discussing paths forward with my employees. And I prefer to be able to comfortably say that if you really want to pursue X that I can’t offer at this company, let’s talk about it and I’d even offer references because I do want them to succeed. And in the long run keeping people onboard who wants to move on will not be good for the team either.

    I used to be much more anxious. But working a lot with creating enough overlap so we can keep this department running even if people are in vacation, ill or leave has made me much calmer. And it helps the team too as they feel they can have proper vacation without needing to worry. Same with getting everyone involved with onboarding new team members and having a process and material ready for that.

  16. Annie J*

    Actually I think that a healthy turnover, with people coming in and out when necessary is a good thing for any business, it stops work teams from getting to stale, the same people with the same ideas.
    Besides, How else would you meet new people at work, I think the way to think about it is that if someone leaves the chances are you will meet someone else and have just as strong a relationship with that person as you did with the person who left?
    I also think it can be good for employees as well, working with the same handful of people every day for years on end can’t be good for you, and for the business it leads to new people with new fresh ideas especially as things are always changing so suddenly these days.

  17. Storm in a teacup*

    I think the key here is to flip your thinking so if people are going to leave and progress their careers you’ve been a great manager to them. I used to manage a team where 40% of the posts were junior clinical staff who were only going to stay for 2-3 years (if I was lucky). I still see a number of them around in the industry and always feel pride to see how well they are doing.
    If your employees leave on good terms, with decent notice and handover then that is a win. Sometimes they may even come back at a higher level and may well recommend the place to others as a great place to work.
    It sounds like you are actively trying to be as good a manager as you can and one of the joys of management is seeing the people you’ve managed continue to develop their skills, even if that has to be elsewhere.

  18. Introvert girl*

    After 4 years I gave my notice. I have a wonderful manager, but I just didn’t have growth possibilities. I was grooming llama’s who were becoming more and more fat and I just wanted to have an actual impact on their health so when a company offered me the position of llama diet manager with a substantial raise, I took it. I will train my replacement and make sure I leave everything as well as I can but no matter how amazing my manager is (and she really is amazing) tis job offer was too good to let go.

  19. HailRobonia*

    In my office the directors are always taken aback when people leave. We’re dysfunctional in a variety of ways, but one of the most important is that we are all doing much higher-level work than our job descriptions and yet there is virtually no hope for promotion.

  20. learnedthehardway*

    Are you having anxiety in general about staff leaving, or are you worried that you can’t replace them?

    If this is anxiety, it sounds like you’re a good manager, and that your team will remember you fondly if they leave. Keep in touch with them (appropriately – like on LinkedIn) and include one as one of your references in future – the best reference about a person’s leadership abilities often comes from someone they managed.

    If you’re worried that you can’t replace staff easily, that’s a different challenge. What you might do is to look at the average length of time people typically stay in the roles on your team. Have conversations with your team members about their career development and try to gauge whether they will get the growth they’re looking for at the company / in their role). That should give you a bit of an idea of what to expect so you can do some future planning. Eg. if people typically stay in the a Financial Analyst role for 2.5 years from the time they’re promoted to that role, then you can expect Joe and Bob to leave or need to be promoted in 1 year and 8 months, respectively. Then you can look at whether you’re likely to have a role to promote them to, and if not, to start figuring out how to replace them.

  21. Canadian Librarian #72*

    When I left my job, it was my managers being great that gave me pause about doing so! They were wonderful and did everything they could to support my and my colleagues’ work and professional growth. My leaving had nothing to do with the people I reported directly to. Chances are it’s the same for your employees: if and when they move on, they’ll likely think of you as someone who will hopefully give them a good reference and remember you fondly.

  22. Thursdaysgeek*

    My boss just sent the following message, which exemplifies the attitude of a good manager:

    Team – It is with both sadness and excitement that I tell you we must bid farewell to Wakeen. I am sad that we are losing him and his talents, but excited that he is moving on to a new opportunity that offers him the future he is seeking both personally and professionally. His last day with us will be Friday October 15, 2021.

    Please take a moment to wish Wakeen well on his new endeavor!

  23. Batty Twerp*

    Workplace norms have shifted and changed so much in the last couple of decades. People like myself (12 year anniversary last week) are anomalous. Most people only stay in a job for 3-5 years before moving on.
    Now, whether they move on because it’s the only way to progress in their careers, get a decent raise, their interests change, or they move house (curious to know if that will still be a barrier with the increase in teleworking…) might be worth looking into, but expecting employees to be lifers is out of keeping with current employment trends.

    As mentioned: *expect* it to happen. Short of chaining them to their desks (hint – sign of a BAD manager), you can’t keep them forever, and shouldn’t try. This isn’t a reflection on you – you’d know if it were; instead of worrying about staff leaving, you’d actually be *seeing* staff leaving. Which means that when the odd person does go, it’s for reasons which are personal to them, not personal about you.

  24. That One Person*

    Maybe there’s an underlying fear of change? When you get a really good environment going it can be a little scary to think at some point it’ll shift if someone leaves. I’ve missed coworkers and managers alike who left my old store, and I imagine I was missed when I left (but I absolutely had to because the job itself wasn’t a good nor intended permanent fit for me, retail isn’t really my thing).

    I will say I’m happy to hear about the cross-training as it’s nice to have a net in case something happens like someone ends up in the hospital/has to take care of family, or maybe just wants a vacation.

    While those days off could be interviews, it doesn’t hurt to remind yourself that sometimes people just want that extra day to themselves, have family trips, or maybe want to take care of a slew of errands that aren’t as great to do on a Saturday or Sunday. Unless you have a high turn-over rate I’d just reframe the requests into more mundane things if the person isn’t griping about an appointment or talking about a day trip.

  25. Lady_Lessa*

    To the manager. I know that you have a tight knit group that has been together a long time, let me tell you what it can be like coming into a new situation.

    I was the first new person in a long time, the person I was replacing was retiring and they wanted a long overlap. That didn’t bother me and I am experienced in coming into new companies and new locations without knowing anyone except the person who hired me.

    I was given no help in the work area where I had zero experience. All my attempts to find common ground failed miserably. I even had to bring in my own lap top to do some work during the over lap time. This was the company, that after my predecessor moved away for retirement, I was not involved in the interview process of selecting a lab technician. (the one there when I was hired, quickly moved on also.) By the time I was let go (about 10 years after I started) I was just counting the time to retirement. It was strictly due to the people and the atmosphere they created.

    I’m now in a place I love, the problems are challenging and the people good to talk to and to work with.

    1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      Well said! Anxiety about transitions is not productive, but a manager who understands that transitions will happen can invest some time and energy in developing a solid and effective onboarding process.

  26. anonymous73*

    A good manager will be supportive and help their staff learn, grow and move on. Most people aren’t going to want to stay in the same job, doing the same thing, day in and day out until they drop.

  27. Ed123*

    From an employer perspective. Keep your anxiety from the people you manage. My manager keeps malsong comments about “hope none of you are leaving” or if I apply pto for a random Wednesday “hope it’s not an interview”. It makes me wanna leave more than I already do.

    1. une autre Cassandra*

      Yeah, that’s really not great. Scary, even. Ugh. I hope Bob and his family aren’t further targeted.

  28. TootsNYC*

    I say this often: a good manager is always prepared for someone to leave.
    They’re always asking and answering the questions: where would you recruit? what interview questions would you ask? how might you change the job?

    I think that anytime you are anxious about something, you should lean into thinking about what you’d do if it happens. Think of it as a vaccination, or sorts: you’re giving your “immune system” some practice in dealing with it.

    And yes to everyone who says that, while people do absolute quit bad managers, sometimes they quit great managers and great jobs. They want more money, and you can’t provide that; they want greater growth, and ditto. They get bored.
    They move; they have kids; they start a side business that grows; they go back to school.

  29. Two Chairs, One to Go*

    Please don’t assume a day off on a weekday is for a job interview. There are LOTS of reasons that people take time off. Part of being a good manager is giving your employees the time they need to take care of their lives. And if they do an interview so what? Your employees might pick up on your anxiety each time they request a day off.

  30. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

    I especially love this bit:

    “My job is not to keep everyone forever; my job is to manage well, retain my highest performers when I realistically can, and respond with good grace when people decide something else makes more sense for them.”

    If I had magical powers, I would print this out in a nice font, make tons of copies, and give one to every new manager (and some not so new ones) everywhere, to serve as a reminder of what a manager’s job actually is (as opposed to what some managers seem to think their job is).

  31. bumbleblue*

    Someone leaving isn’t always a bad thing (though, make sure you have documentation for everything that needs to be done). We had a lot of turnover in the last few years (a few people moved into other departments so the transition was smoother, but some were let go unexpectedly. From the sound of it, the “unexpectedly” was the result of unethical behaviors that came to light). In 2020, people left within only a few months of each other while we had a hiring freeze, so for 9 months I was doing the work of three.

    My workload was stressful but it meant that I was able to review their processes and modify them for improvements. Our efficiency has improved and I’ve been able to standardize the quality of our work, which was very helpful when we eventually did have replacements. For those of us still here, our teamwork and communication significantly improved. We realized that there had been ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ previously; in response, we tiered our responsibilities and the authority level we each had for making decisions. It also forced my workgroup to have a conversation about what is actually sustainable for our department versus what our clients demand of us. From what I can tell, this had never been done before in the 60 year history of this department.

    When I started, we had 12 people in my department. We’re able to be far more efficient and proactive with 6, and with a higher quality output. There’s a certain degree of opportunity with change, even if it’s unwelcome when it happens.

  32. Jean*

    My advice is to seek some sort of therapy. You are over-the-top anxious about something that is a perfectly normal part of being a manager and of work in general. This is like being eaten alive with anxiety that people will call in sick, or that you have to schedule meetings. Best of luck OP. I hope you get some help and can approach this in a healthier way for yourself.

  33. singlemaltgirl*

    i really do believe it’s mindset here. i think it’s about how you frame and think about this. like others have said, maybe get therapy to work through why the anxiety and stress? where is that coming from? and definitely letting go of the idea that you can hold on to employees even if you do all the right things. people have autonomy. they don’t owe you or belong to you. so how do you let go of this fear and just accept what may come or may be inevitable as people grow and develop? also finding a way to re-frame things so that you can feel good about the support you provided to allow your employee to seek better opps, growth, new challenges. you helped them with that. rather than thinking of it as a loss or that you did something bad.

  34. LB6*

    I suspect the reason for the anxiety is that this team is actually understaffed.

    If you have a great team who can handle the work, but only because they’re very knowledgeable in their roles and everything would fall apart if one person leaves, it’s not a sustainable situation. Someone will leave and yes, it can be a disaster because it can easily snowball to where the rest of the team is overloaded, morale tanks and now you’re trying to fill multiple vacancies and unable to complete critical work.

    At least, this is the case on my team currently after our company “right sized” last year. I like my boss and my team and have good pay, but now I feel like I can’t use my vacation time because I have too much on my plate and if I or another team member quit, things would quickly fall apart. Not only that, but you aren’t in a position to do a thorough search for a replacement – you rush to fill the vacancy in the hope the whole ship doesn’t sink.

    If your team can’t readily absorb the turnover of one person (or an extended leave), you’re setting yourself up for disaster. Turnover is inevitable. The manager may not be at fault for the staffing situation, but if this is what is going on, they are right to worry.

  35. MyDogIsBradleyPooper*

    You cannot control when one of your employees decides to leave. So focus on what you can control: 1) How you treat your employees so they don’t have you as the reason they are leaving, 2) You can setup systems to ensure that work will continue when a key team member leaves, 3) You can manage the transition on how you will find a new team member and get them up-to-speed.

    Also if some is leaving its not always a negative thing. Maybe someone is getting married and relocating to be with their partner. Maybe someone is going back to school for finish their degree. Maybe they are starting a family. Maybe they are going to your competitor for an opportunity you cannot offer. Try to be happy for them and support them they going through a stressful transition too. How you handle the transition is part of how they will remember you.

  36. Paul Pearson*

    Ultimately, you can’t be this anxious over something that WILL happen. And it will – not through any fault of your own. You can’t offer infinite opportunities to all your employees. You can’t help if an employee becomes long term sick. You can’t manage one of them suddenly deciding to move to the top of a mountain and seek oneness with the universe.

    I think you need set in your mind the inevitableness of this, make sure you have your ducks in a line and contingencies in place. Hopefully that acceptance may reduce the anxiety- but it may always be there until it actually happens and everything doesn’t fall apart

  37. Deebee*

    You know what I love about my current manager? That she helps me look beyond my role and into growth and development areas as well as other roles (within our company of course). Her care on this topic makes me more loyal and feel valued as well as that I’ll never be stuck feeling unchallenged. I only started 6 months ago and I foresee staying at least another 1 to 2 years in this role but by that point the ‘build’ part of this role will have switched to ‘create’/‘innovate’ which I like less.

    It couldn’t speak more positively to her reputation than us growing into other roles in other parts of the business.

  38. TeapotNinja*

    Apart from all the advice already given I think what you’re also doing is catastrophizing.

    You’re thinking about the worst possibility out of all the choices of what could be happening with your team. Lots of people do this with all kinds of contexts, myself included. Might be worth looking at what you’re doing in that light. Merely recognizing that you’re doing that will help, but there are also plenty of effective techniques you could employ to manage it.

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