How to Win at Work When Your Boss Bails

Whatever your relationship is with your boss, when your boss quits suddenly, it uproots positive work culture and your sense of the role you play within the company. However, in the chaotic shift, there is the possibility of professional development and climbing the ladder.

Do you feel ready to step up and show what you can do for the future of the company? You already know the ins and outs of your position, you know the team well and you worked closely with your boss to achieve a few great milestones for the company already. Why not?

Instead of wringing your hands with worry, look at your boss’s leaving as an opportunity to move up the career ladder as a leader. Here’s what to do, step by step, to make the leap when your boss quits:

1. Focus on Yourself First

Don’t make assumptions about how your boss’ resignation will affect your position, because you know what “assume” spells when you break it down. Change always brings uncertainty, but it doesn’t always have to end in the worst-case scenario.

Take time to process what’s happening, and develop professional self-care habits to help you stay on task:

  • Maintain your sleep schedule.
  • Routinely exercise at least three times a week.
  • Eat well, and don’t skip meals. Indulge in occasional comfort treats when you need a pick-me-up.
  • Ease into work, and choose simple tasks to end the day.

2. Ask What Happened

It’s OK to ask questions, because the decision your boss made affects the team, too. Ask what led to the decision to quit and how it may impact the team in the coming weeks and months. Inquire about what your boss plans to do next.

Keep in mind, your boss may not share this with you, or may not be able to, until after their official last day. If you weren’t close with your boss, the next place to turn is human resources, or to whomever delivered the message of the boss’ resignation, which may be more appropriate for such questions as:

  • What happened?
  • When do you plan to look for a replacement?
  • Will the decision have an impact on the team, bringing about other structural changes or shifts in policy?
  • Is my job secure?

Don’t venture into gossip. Asking what happened doesn’t mean you’re gossiping — you’re concerned about your job, which is completely normal. If others asked what you found out, keep your responses vague and professional. Try changing the topic or walking away, and remember, hearsay isn’t always necessarily fact. When changing the subject doesn’t work, refer inquiring gossips to HR.

3. Make a Plan B

Keep in mind the worst-case scenario is unlikely, but it also doesn’t hurt to have a Plan B if things go south at the company. Your next priority is to protect yourself if your job ends up in the line of fire.

Double-check your cover letter and resume. Do you want to apply for a similar role, aim higher up or switch industries? Update your role, duties and contact information, because those little errors are easy to overlook on your cover letter and resume.

You’ll also need to update other online profiles and portfolios, such as your website or your LinkedIn page. Now is the time to get fresh recommendations on LinkedIn, which are much better than endorsements, because recommendations are personal and reveal professional trust. When the time comes for management to hire the next boss, your LinkedIn profile will reveal all the thoughtful comments your coworkers have said about you over the years.

Reach out to trusted professionals in your network who’ve been in this situation or who will understand. Have your network put out feelers for other opportunities discreetly — and, more importantly, offer you moral support.

4. Help Fill the Gap

Over the course of the transition, there will be awkward shuffling as projects get reassigned and everyone tries to help keep the balance. Management may not know who is the right fit for what, but you do.

Talk to your boss’ supervisor about generating recommendations for which employees may be best suited to help pick up the slack. Collaborate with your coworkers to balance out the workload during the transition, and you’ll establish yourself as a leader early in the game. Let your best skills shine and reveal how quickly you adapt to changes and challenges.

Don’t forget to regularly update senior staff and maintain records of everything you’re working on, along with the results. Even if you aren’t hired for your boss’ role, your company will recognize your efforts when the time for performance reviews comes around.

5. Take the Initiative and Make Your Case

Do you deserve a promotion? You never know unless you don’t aim a little higher. During a transition, upper management typically has someone work on doing damage control, and will have a meeting with the staff. This is an opportunity to ask if the search for a replacement will include internal candidates.

Ask about plans to fill in the gap in a more official role. While everyone has to pick up the slack, is there an opportunity for promotion based on qualifications? Perhaps upper management will reach out to you.

Regardless, don’t be afraid to take the initiative and schedule a meeting to make your case. Don’t overshoot. Test the waters by directing the conversation toward your career goals, and mention how you welcome the opportunity to accept added responsibility and manage the staff during the transition. Propose a win-win solution for you and upper management.

6. Accept New Leadership With Positivity

If upper management passes you by for the position, accept new leadership with positivity. Showing resentment in the face of new leadership will impact your career negatively and start off a work relationship with the new boss on the wrong foot. Help your new boss get a feel for the company culture, and be welcoming.

Use this experience as a learning opportunity to build your skills and quickly adapt to change. A new boss will introduce fresh strategies and communication styles to the team — and some of those aspects could conflict with procedures and policies that are already in place. It’s easier to be positive and learn about your boss early on, showing attention to the details. Let management know you’re here, no matter what, to work for the greater good of the company.

It’s challenging to acclimate when your boss quits suddenly. Nothing feels certain anymore, and you’re not sure your job is secure any longer. Give yourself time to process this shift, then step up and ask questions about what happened. The worst-case scenario usually isn’t going to happen, but having a Plan B in place if job cuts do occur is beneficial to your career growth. Learn what upper management plans for the interim.

Show initiative and offer to help fill the gap, revealing your leadership skills by example. If management chooses an external candidate as your new boss, be positive, helpful and welcoming. Your contributions during the transition won’t go unrecognized, reinforcing your investment in the growth of the company and the company’s investment in you as a stellar employee poised to grow into a senior leadership role.

Has a boss suddenly quit, leaving the team askew and disorganized? Use the above guidelines to work through what you’ll do differently in this case, and share your insight in the comments. Remember, what seems negative is really an opportunity — so jump on it! Subscribe to Punched Clocks for more tips on climbing the career ladder with a positive and productive mindset.


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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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