An old Buffy Sainte-Marie love song crooned about staying until it’s time to go.

That applies to the work world, too, when a longtime, valued employee, seemingly out of the blue, announces he’s quitting because, "it’s time to go and move on."

Why, you ask, stunned? Because it’s just time, is the vague answer.

When is it time to go, and is there a way to delay that time, and should you even try?

It might not necessarily be another job offer that sounded enticing or exciting. It might be an internal restlessness, boredom, or feeling that he’s missing out on something bigger, more important. It might be some personal crisis that is prompting him to re-examine his goals and priorities in life. It might simply be some vague, nagging dissatisfaction with everything in his life, and the job is the easiest thing to get rid of.

Nevertheless, no matter how much you appreciate this employee and can’t imagine the office without him, he has signaled that in his heart that he feels it’s time to move on and sever the relationship.

When this happens, should you attempt to negotiate a higher salary to entice him to stay? Possibly offer more perks, a promotion? Should you try to give him whatever he feels is missing, if he can even articulate such a thing?

Putting aside damaging repercussions for your other employees for the moment, let’s say you give him a small raise. Now your company is hostage to future pay demands.

You give him a promotion, and now he has leverage over you; he can threaten to leave and get another promotion. You give him a few extra perks, and suddenly more perks are needed to keep him motivated and in your employ.

Basically, once you have to offer more in bribes to keep his loyalty, the balance in your relationship has become inequitable and unsustainable. It won’t work; you’re only delaying the inevitable until he announces once more, at some future date, that it really is time to move on.

You can’t fill an emotional vacuum with tangible gifts. When one party has decided that the relationship has ended, it’s ended.

And that reminds me of an old Gordon Lightfoot song, "I don’t know where we went wrong, but the feeling’s gone, and I just can’t get it back."

Graciously accept his assessment that it’s time to go, and let the both of you move on.