‘Close The Door On Your Way Out’: How Not To Manage Employee Exit

Sales Employees

Resigning is an emotional business.  How it is handled by employers makes a huge impact on both those who leave, and those they leave behind.

In some cases resignation is a heat of the moment, ‘final straw’ thing.  In other cases, it is linked with a life event unrelated to work.  More often than not, it is the end point of a more drawn out realisation that the grass may be greener in some way on the other side.  Either way, it’s a big deal, a step into the unknown, and a fairly significant crossroads in one’s life.  Added to this, there is the fact that we all have an inherent need to feel just a little bit indispensable, and to feel that we will leave even the smallest void in the workplace which will never quite be filled (come on, admit it … no one will ever do the invoice matching quite as well as you!).  All this points to the importance of one thing when it comes to the manner in which employers handle resignation and exit; the ‘human’ approach.

Taking the ‘process’ out of employee exit.

It matters whether the shutters come down the moment the words ‘I’m resigning’ are uttered, or whether an effective and meaningful relationship prevails up to and beyond the last working day.   It matters whether your employee feels ‘processed’ through the exit door, or whether their voice gets heard and they leave feeling like a valued and respected individual.

And even if sparing the feelings and emotions of those on their way out isn’t top of your agenda, you can rest assured that every resignation has its audience in the colleagues being left behind. Workmates talk; gripes are dangerously contagious, and the poison ivy effect can set in.  And on a particularly dull day in the office, the juicy details of someone’s resignation discussion can make for scintillating water cooler moments. For all you know, the same gripes and niggles that led up to that one resignation may well be forming the basis for a few more to follow.  The worst message you can send to your remaining team is that you neither have the time nor inclination to listen to, or act upon the feedback from those leaving the business.  The unspoken message will be that things are the way they are, and that voting with one’s feet is the only option.  Do that, and you may as well make a repeat booking at the local wine bar for a regular Friday night leaving do.

What are your resignation triggers?

Let’s take a look at the alternative.  Backtrack to that resignation conversation.  You’re elbow deep in workload, and in walks John, shifting nervously from one foot to another, with that giveaway white sealed envelope in hand.  Heart sinking, isn’t it? But, right at this point, very few things should matter more than giving him your undivided attention, preferably in private.  Step one is to find out what’s pushed him to the point of resignation.   Don’t simply assume you know the reason.  However transparent your relationship with John to date, there may be valuable feedback and insight he can offer that you did not expect, regarding his own engagement levels in the workplace.  Crucially, these may also reflect the views of his colleagues, and these are views that you brush under the carpet at your own peril.

Relationships of any sort tend to break down for a range of reasons, and the employee / employer ‘separation’ is fundamentally no different:

  • ‘We should never have got together in the first place’.  In business terms, this clearly reflects a flawed recruitment process.  If you’re attracting and hiring the wrong profile of candidate, you may as well fix a revolving door to the office reception.
  • ‘You’ve changed’.  Sometimes, even a match made in heaven can go wrong.  Whether it is people or circumstances that change, we don’t live in a static world, and occasionally we have to recognise that things veer off course, disagreements and misunderstandings happen, or things just don’t pan out exactly as all parties expected or intended.
  • ‘It was never a long term thing’.  People accept job opportunities for different reasons, and in some cases it is a means to an end, rather than the end itself.  A law student paying her way through college by working in a retail sales role, for example.
  • ‘It’s just not enough for me anymore’.  Often the case for smaller organisations unable (yet) to offer the dizzy heights of promotion, pay and scale that bigger competitors can provide.  You may have hired from the ground up, trained your people well, and then lose them to bigger players.
  • ‘It’s not you, it’s me’.  It is not always about the job or the people.  Sometimes life events unrelated to work (such as ill health, caring responsibilities, or partner relocation) lead to resignation.

Whether or not you can make any significant and rapid enough changes to encourage John to retract his resignation will depend largely on the above categories.  Let’s assume the unfortunate; it’s over and he’s leaving you. You’ve established what the resignation trigger was, but, since many resignations result from a build up of many factors over time, you’re still only part of the way towards gathering decent, actionable insight that could prevent on-going turnover.

Moving on : reducing turnover and raising engagement.

That’s where we come in.  At great{with}talent, our employee exit questionnaire, LastOpinion, is just one of the tools we provide for increasing employee engagement and reducing turnover.  It’s designed to delve into the real detail behind why your people are leaving (not just the final straw), with the added benefit of actionable, solution led reports.  You can break the data down in any way you like, so that you can zone in on particular employee or business groups and really get to the heart of what is driving resignations and, crucially, what you need to do to break the pattern.

We believe that well managed exit is important.  But it is about more than just data collection and ‘process’ (exit questionnaires, admin and reporting).  It is about creating an environment that embraces feedback and delivers positive change (meaningful conversations with your employees, and managing organisational change).  It is about placing as much importance on the ‘human touch’ at the point of exit, as you did during the process of recruitment.  We believe firmly that your energies should be focussed on the latter, so we’ve developed the tools and services to take the former off your desk and into our capable hands.

For more information on LastOpinion, or our new mobile enabled version, LastOpinion+, visit our website www.lastopinion.com 

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