When employee turnover escalates, leaders often focus on controlling direct costs like rehiring and retraining. However, they miss a more insidious cost that's even bigger.

According to the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), the average time a white-collar position sits open is now whopping 68 business days--26 days longer than it was in 2010.

AT&T Vice President of Human Resources, Keith Jackson highlights what's often missed.

"Leaders usually see direct costs like staffing and training. They leave out productivity costs -- time to proficiency backfill, loss of productivity, and sales while a job sits vacant."

So what happens to team productivity and morale during those 68 days?

When a job sits open it damages team productivity. Initially, the work gets redistributed to the manager and the rest of the team. This redistribution is often poorly managed if at all. It's just left to whoever "steps up" whether that's the best idea or not.

The quality of the work decreases as the work is handled on the fly and without the efficiency and know-how of the previous employee. The work quality of the team takes a hit as they struggle to absorb the additional work load while continuing to handle the rest of their responsibilities. This translates to issues with customer turnover, supply chain disruptions, and project deadline misses.

Sometimes the impact to the team is even more catastrophic...a team death spiral. The manager taps the team's top performer to do the previous person's work, then the top performer's effectiveness declines due to the new responsibilities, the team's performance declines, morale drops, more people leave, etc.

One of my clients has seen this first hand. My client had two top employees quit in the same week. While busy hiring replacements, the work was carelessly redistributed to the other team members. They became overwhelmed, and within three weeks, another top performer was lost. Finally, when new team members were hired, management was distracted, spending their days onboarding the new employees with little time for the rest of the team. Within a couple more weeks another employee quit.

The good news is that the impact can be mitigated, and your team can even come out stronger. Try one of the five strategies below:

1. Plan the plan

Losing top talent a long the way is inevitable. Invest a little time up front to develop a plan, so you're not piecing it together on the fly.

Here are five steps I recommend you include:

  • Evaluate the departed employee's workload by first reviewing the position's description. Recognize that's probably only 25% of what he/she actually does every day....
  • Interview their top 3 stakeholders about the employee's highest value added activities.
  • Use the high value activities list to prioritize tasks to get distributed to your team or yourself in the interim.
  • Avoid redistributing busywork or low value tasks because someone "has" to do it. Instead, only redistribute high value activities. Use this as a chance to let the low value activities go, and see if anyone complains.
  • Use the feedback to reshape the job and come out with a better fit for the needs of the team and organization.

2. Get creative

Explore to see if the team is up for absorbing the new job, splitting up the new salary, and still generating an overall cost reduction for your budget.

3. Share your rehiring timeline

If there's an end in sight, your team will be more likely to stick with you.

4. Work smarter, not harder

Teams rarely focus on "how" they work. Use this as an opportunity to discuss your team's workload and how they address their priorities, as well as those of the organization. This new conversation will help your team feel more in sync and more productive.

5. Develop a high potential employee

If the work load is too overwhelming, consider bringing in a high potential employee who may not be entirely ready but is ready and willing to learn quickly. This can be an incredible opportunity to develop your leadership pipeline and help them build rapport with a different group

Now write down one of the strategies above on a post-it note or another reminder method readily available. Leave it on your computer monitor or another accessible location, and you will be more prepared if and when your next employee quits.