Breaking up is never easy. We’ve all often heard the analogy of the employee/employer relationship as a marriage, and much like many divorces, when/if the time comes for one of the parties to leave it usually is messy and emotional, with lots of collateral damage even to friends and colleagues afterwards about whose “side” to take. It’s no wonder then that most organizations find themselves in messy “divorces” when one of their employees decides to leave for a new opportunity. Believe it or not, how a company exits an employee can have MAJOR ramifications on your employment brand and your ability to attract great talent to your company. “Ed – you crazy man – that makes no sense” you say? Read on my friends. As someone who has seen this saga play out countless times over the years, I find it is really rare to find companies that actually get this scenario right. Of course there is always two sides to every story, but more often than not, what happens is the following:
1. Employee tenders resignation
2. Company either asks for employee to leave immediately or have them do a “transition” period
3. If employee is asked to leave immediately, employee allowed just enough time to pack up his/her things like a “traitor” and then escorted out of office
4. If “transition” period, employee stays on in a weird “limbo” where he/she is half checked out, doing what he/she can do to make sure his/her duties are handed off to person who will be filling in, counting the days until said “transition” period ends
5. While in “transition”, the soon to be ex-employee’s role is posted and recruiting begins immediately – message delivered that you are VERY replaceable and your role was “just another job” in the company
6. Several awkward conversations start to happen around the office – some involving the soon to be ex-employee, but most not including the person but definitely about said soon to be ex-employee, often behind closed doors
7. Smear campaign usually begins “he/she was not really performing at the level we needed”, “this is a chance to upgrade!”, “his/her heart wasn’t in it” – you get the drill.
8. Exit interviews happen – usually very cold and formulaic
9. Maybe (if lucky) a goodbye lunch with some team members
10. Last day comes, employee exits with bad taste in his/her mouth about how it all goes down – in essence forgetting all the good that person might have experienced prior on the job.
11. Now ex-employee goes to a site like Glassdoor.com and writes negative review, or tells friends/family about how it all “went down”, goes to new employer (probably a competitor or at least relevant to your industry space) and continues to have not great things to say to potential people you might like to recruit from that company, tells peers in your industry space about his her “experience” there, etc.
12. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
As I write this I can imagine a lot of my HR friends and colleagues out there are either nodding in agreement or calling me something unmentionable right about now and saying that “OK – maybe you are right, do you have any ideas how to make this not suck”? Funny you should ask, yes I do! First off, let’s put out there the biggest factor behind all of this nonsense – emotions. The employer/boss usually feels “betrayed”, fearful (“crap – what do I do now!”) or hurt when an employee leaves (of course only if that person was performing). Much like in the divorce analogy, there are feelings that naturally come into play when a relationship ends. While natural, as the wise Yoda said:
What I am suggesting is to look beyond the immediate scenario and think bigger picture. Sure – that employee leaving will suck in the short term and make your job harder. Maybe the employee had some areas for improvement but guess what – until he/she resigned you seemed to be OK with those things. Maybe he/she is leaving at a bad time or perhaps going to a competitor. Deep breaths. Now think – what are the pros and cons here. Pros of doing the common scenario above:
1. You feel better – cathartic to make yourself feel in the “right”
2. That’s it
Now, let’s look at the negatives:
1. Sending someone out in to the world angry or hurt about you and your company
2. Basically destroying any good will/relationships/work that person did for you during their tenure because of a decision to advance themselves personally
3. Creating an “anti-advocate” of your company in the marketplace
4. Ruining a relationship that down the road you may wished you hadn’t
5. Sending a message to this person’s co-workers in your company that this is how it goes down when you leave- Fredo Corleone style.
6. Potential negative reviews in a very networked world and having them be online – which means forever.
7. Do I need to keep going?
My advice is this – celebrate them leaving. If you did your job well as a manager, chances are you developed and trained an employee to move on to bigger things in that person’s career. Why punish them for it? People leave companies all the time. Guess what boss-man or boss-woman – you did too. And I bet when you left your prior jobs you were most likely doing it for a reason that made good sense for your career, family, personal life, etc. Step back and realize that is what your employee is resigning for is to do this too. Now there are always circumstances that may be a bit different and somewhat out of this scope, but on the whole the best strategy is actually celebrating and being happy for that person in their next move. Treat them with respect and thanks for the time and work they put in, recognize their accomplishments and be proud of them in their next move. The first example that comes to mind for me of a company that does this well is LinkedIn with their “next play” initiative. Both internally and externally, they go out of their way to actually celebrate and acknowledge their employees leaving for their next move in their careers. Not surprising, they get TONS of outstanding reviews online from their former employees about how great it was to work there. See what I am trying to say here? Don’t be typical. Flip the scenario on its head and you send a happy former employee into the world and show your current employees that you actually are invested in them and their careers. This will undoubtedly also help your employment brand in ways you could never do with content. In keeping with my Star Wars references, as Lord Vader said: