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Who's in Charge? Productivity Drops When the Boss Quits

Who's in Charge? Productivity Drops When the Boss Quits
Credit: Brian A. Jackson/Shutterstock

Changes in leadership at the top of your organization can significantly disrupt the amount of work that gets done while the position remains unfilled, new research finds. 

A study from the staffing firm Robert Half found that both workers and executives believe that, when someone in a senior management role is fired or leaves the company voluntarily, productivity takes a hit across the board. 

Specifically, 70 percent of executives and 59 percent of employees think the departure of a top leader negatively impacts team efficiency. Just one-third of those surveyed don't think a boss leaving hurts productivity.  

"When there are changes in management, employees often feel distressed by the unknown," Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half, said in a statement 

The staffers and executives surveyed said decreased morale and motivation and increased workloads were the main reasons for the drop in productivity. Fear about job security or the relationship with a new boss and internal competition over who will move into the vacated position are among the other reasons executives and employees say efficiency is diminished. [See Related Story: 12 Easy Ways to Be More Productive at Work]

"If a senior manager leaves a company, the focus should be on keeping teams motivated and engaged while quickly staffing the opening," McDonald said. "Employers who don't address workers' concerns risk a decrease in employee performance and an increase in turnover."   

To help employers, Robert Half offers several tips to keep productivity up while navigating a senior leader's departure: 

  1. Have a succession plan. It is important to prepare for the loss of a senior leader. You want to always be evaluating your employees so you know who could move into a bigger role when the time comes. 
  2. Put someone in charge temporarily. Instead of keeping a position open while looking for a full-time replacement, put someone in the job on an interim basis. This will help keep projects moving forward and give you someone who can keep an eye on workloads. 
  3. Move fast. The worst thing you can do is drag out the process of finding a permanent replacement. Moving quickly to fill the job will reduce uncertainty among employees. The key is moving swiftly, yet also being smart by making sure you go through all the necessary hiring steps.
  4. Communicate with your staff. You want your employees to be informed of what's going on while the vacated role is unfilled. Keeping them updated on the progress of finding a replacement can improve morale and prevent rumors from spreading. 

The study was based on surveys of 1,000 U.S. professionals age 18 and over and employed in office environments and 2,200 chief financial officers from companies in more than 20 of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas. 

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.