Bon Voyage: How to Deal With Employee Exits
What is the "right way" to handle employee exit procedures? The spectrum of answers is going to be as diverse as they are divisive, but this week I’m going to chime in with my thoughts on how this process can be effectively handled to the benefit of everyone involved. In my career, I have seen many different versions of the employee-exit story: I’ve seen laughs, hugs, and farewell parties. I’ve unfortunately also seen tears, public yelling matches, and a couple of ghostings.
Timing & Transparency
The first thing to think about is notice periods - what are they actually there for? For the most part, it’s because you need enough time to find a suitable replacement or train an internal candidate to take over. You should never create a punitive notice period just for the sake of making people think twice before they leave. This works in no one’s favor because it’s common for someone to work a resentful 3-4 months just cause they feel trapped and their heart isn’t in it any longer. They may even ask for a shorter notice period, a definite red flag that their commitment to serving their notice faithfully and productively is in question.
This brings us to the messy issue of buy-outs. When you place an excessive notice period on an employee (anything in excess of two months, in my opinion) you exponentially increase the risk of their new employer saying “you know what, why don’t you come on board tomorrow and we’ll just pay off your contractual notice period”. Competitors need your star employees for a reason and paying three months at their old salary isn’t much of a price to pay at all.
In short, movement of talent around the industry is commonplace today and is only natural. Companies shouldn't impose punitive notice periods and would do well to remember that someone who has opted to move on voluntarily as not 'the enemy'. Share the news with the wider team as soon as possible and start preparing for the next step: The Handover.
Handovers should be formalized into a four-week cycle, covering identification of outstanding tasks and their project statuses, followed by discussions with line managers about assigning out these tasks, and finally scheduled sessions for knowledge transfer with the appropriate documentation (including files, permissions, and passwords!). The ugly truth is there’s little time here for documenting processes that live in someone’s head within a four-week notice period and it shouldn’t have to be done if getting the job-aid documents and SOPs are done right from day one. If you’re figuring out ‘what they do every day’ only after they’ve submitted their resignation letter, then you’ve got bigger problems than one person leaving.
I have also noticed it’s also common practice to give someone who’s on their way out a brand new project and ask them to ‘finish it before they go’. Again this is a mistake as not only are they going to rush the project, but they’re also not going to be around for implementation and troubleshooting. It’s unnecessary stress on the person leaving and unnecessary risk on the part of the company. I’d much sooner recommend getting someone else in the team to start the project and use the exiting team member for consultation only. Better yet, keep them completely out of the loop if it involves sensitive strategy or intellectual property. You want to be sure that their last project at your company doesn't become their first project at your competitor's.
On the last day, try to plan the agenda for the employee. This would include setting time aside for surrendering company assets with facilities and IT, and the infamous exit interview with an impartial third party (likely a HR business partner but better yet if it’s someone from senior management but from a different working group). Part of this interview would be to go over things the employee has said/raised in the past. The session should be more about confirming or denying known facts rather than collecting new information which an exiting employee would most likely not raise on their last day to avoid any delays or drama.
Speaking of goodbyes, there are two things that contribute to a cordial sendoff. The first is rather high involvement but can be effective in anchoring your company as a great place to work. This involves organizing an in-person farewell announcement with a reasonable crowd (i.e. the floor they work on) with well-wishes and the sort. It serves to inform remaining employees that the person is leaving and thus they have an opportunity to reach out to the affected department to establish new interdepartmental stakeholders, or better yet offer their candidacy for filling their old position, where appropriate. The second would be to set aside time (and permission) for the exiting employee to take 2-3 people out for coffee over the course of the day. While this is a great experience for the person leaving, it mainly serves as a method for them to express their gratitude to their colleagues which instills a sense of closure for the ones being left behind as they often feel shortchanged when a person they committed so much project time to suddenly disappears without a trace. Lack of closure results in remaining employees wanting to contribute less and less over time to the ‘thankless job’ of interdepartmental collaboration - never good for you in the long run.
Doesn’t this sound more like I'm trying to win someone back?
Well in a very twisted sense, yes it might. This article is more about giving companies that already have happy and fulfilled employee experiences a chance to get all parts of the employee lifecycle right. If employees change their mind about leaving while on the way out just because of how supportive the exit experience is, it can only result in the creation of lifelong brand ambassadors, a high Glassdoor score, and perhaps yes some measure of employee retention.
If you're confused about where to start or what this all means, drop either Navvir or me a LinkedIn DM for a casual chat. If you'd rather have a formal conversation about how we can help reinforce this philosophy in your operations processes, contact us today.