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Tim McDermott “When Terrible Things Happen”

What To Do if a Staff Member is Unexpectedly Out  

It wasn’t on anyone’s radar.  Our very healthy overnight announcer had a heart attack.  He would be out for weeks, maybe months, if he even would come back.


Although he was very popular and a fixture for years, replacing him on the air for a short while would be a challenge but one we could meet.  We had several weekenders who could cover this for an extended time.   The difficult part was what to do for his financial needs.  As a ministry, we have said that although we minister to our audience, we also minister to our own team.   We could pay him his salary for a while, but how long could this go on?  Are we establishing a precedent for others who may have similar situations down the road?  What do we do when there are so many uncertainties and yet a decision needs to be made?


Are you prepared for a situation like this?   It might not be an air personality.  It may be someone else on your team who unexpectedly needs to leave the station for an unknown period of time.  Here are ideas:


-Succession plan. Every person in every position should be training the next person.  People who are secure can do that.  People who are control freaks and are afraid of losing their jobs have a hard time with this.  Good leaders hire people who are better than they are.  Hire someone great.  Train them.  Empower them.  Pour into them. When they are on vacation let the team know they should contact that person and give them authority to make decisions.  The last thing a successful organization needs is a bottleneck when a key person is out for an extended time. Create a succession plan across your organization so when a time like this comes, you are ready.

-Long-Term Short-Term Disability insurance. We didn’t have this at the time and only started this after our colleague had the heart attack.  The cost of it is so inexpensive and it covers a large portion of someone’s salary.  If you don’t have it, then get it today. I wish we would have had it.  We had several staff use the short-term disability insurance for medical absences.  Plus, the long-term disability starts when the short-term ends.  This means continuous coverage and the long-term goes on and and on – up until retirement if needed.

-Staff sharing PTO. Another creative way to help is to have staff donate their time-off to another person.  This is sometimes called a “leave bank” or “leave sharing.”  Although the concept is simple it can get complicated so you may need some help.  Some of the professional payroll processing companies can help get these established.

-Grace at the CEO’s discretion. This is where the CEO makes up what she or he thinks is best based on the circumstances.  If the CEO is the one who is out, then the board makes this decision.  Often, the HR Policy manual includes a statement about time off being approved and given at the discretion of the General Manager.  Of course, once again this really is a delicate area and could give rise to comments or even claims about not being fair.   I tried to keep all these situations private and used judgment based on the facts and circumstances.  I would give at least 30 days and, in some cases, longer.  I would even offer a transition phase of half time until they were able to resume full-time duties.   At the heart of the matter, it’s based on compassion for that person’s situation.  It’s always a good idea to run any ideas you have past a good employment attorney. 


Probably the most painful thing I have ever experienced was the death of one of our staff members.  The person did their air shift, got in the car, and passed away on the way home.  There really isn’t a manual to follow here.  As a staff we wept on and off the air.  We reached out and loved the family.   We honored him and his legacy at the station.  And we didn’t hurry to fill his position.  Some things take time and in this case it’s better to take things slow.  The best advice here I can give is allow everyone at the station a time to grieve.  This is one situation where the only answer really is Jesus. 


With over 40 years of broadcasting leadership experience, Tim is now helping radio and nonprofit organizations grow.  He can be reached at Tim@TimMcDermottconsulting.com

2 thoughts on “Tim McDermott “When Terrible Things Happen”

  • So aptly written, Tim. Some situations can be more predictable than others – and you covered them all, even incorporating the grace of Jesus.

  • Tim McDermott is a precious soul. He does lead with compassion. I know this firsthand, because we were fortunate enough to work with him in Houston, TX. God bless you Tim. May The Lord continue to use you, and bless you.


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