Exiting Employees: How HR can Minimize the Impact
By Erez Harel, CPHR
Never is there a more daunting time in an employee’s life than when he or she is about to announce to their employer that they are leaving the company.
The uncertainty of starting in a new location with new people and expectations, and having to prove oneself all over again, is compounded by the loss of long-standing relationships with colleagues. While feelings of confusion, doubt, and guilt are legitimate, this entire process needs to be handled strategically and in good faith to avoid some preventable but damaging pitfalls.
We’ve all seen articles and books focused on the importance of making a great impression, landing a job at a desirable company, working effectively with teams, and moving onto more significant and influential roles, all while maintaining a positive brand and reputation. In fact, isn’t that the point of every MBA or professional school around: to open doors to new and increasingly exciting possibilities at a great company?
While all of this is critical to ensure that we are growing our careers and maximizing our potential, we can never lose sight of the way in which we end one journey before we begin another. Years of goodwill and a positive reputation can come crashing down in a matter of days, if not hours, if a resignation and exit isn’t handled with grace and good faith. While the focus of this article is about exiting to another company, internal movements can go just as badly if employees don’t think about the consequences of their actions during this important time.
As HR professionals, thinking about how one exits a company is important to us not only from the perspective of managing our own career, but also coaching managers in dealing with this difficult situation. To illustrate the challenges that a departure can bring, let’s review the following scenario and tease out some of the key learnings:
Julie is a well-respected senior finance manager at a global coffee distributor that’s going through financial difficulties. Julie’s contacted by a recruitment agency, interviews and has a job offer in hand. She goes to her boss Frank who is the finance director for the Americas and tells him that she’s got an offer on the table from another company. She says that she will stay for more money and tells him what the amount is. After a great deal of back-and-forth between Frank, his manager and the director of compensation, Frank finally gets approval for the exact figure that Julie requested. Frank enthusiastically calls Julie into his office the following Monday to give her the good news. Julie thanks him but states she’s going to take the new job anyway. Julie sheepishly leaves a resignation notice with Frank on his desk while reminding him of some upcoming vacation that she has planned. After Frank reads the note he realizes that Julie has given him only eight working days of notice despite the fact the department has an upcoming audit and no one else around who understands what is required. Frank then goes into Julie’s personnel file and sees that her employment agreement has a one-month minimum resignation notice. At this point Frank gets on the phone and calls Julie back into his office…
Key learnings for Julie (the employee):
- Don’t negotiate unless you are willing to make a deal.
As we saw in the scenario, and what realistically does happen in companies, a valued employee who puts their manager on notice and threatens to leave unless a dollar value can be reached consumes a lot of calories and time for the company. Senior leaders and HR professionals need to have conversations around budget, internal equity, succession planning, and other considerations. For a manager to have to set these discussions in motion only to have the employee decline the demanded offer is the most direct way to lose credibility and leave with a tarnished reputation. Be ready to make a deal if you demand a deal.
- Know your obligations to your employer.
When Julie went to Frank with her resignation she should have known her contractual obligation for the length of stay at the company after resigning. Now Julie is in a situation where she no longer has a job at her current employer and jeopardizes successfully transitioning to her new company at a time they need her.
- Wherever you can, tie up loose ends before you leave.
Providing sufficient notice would allow Julie the opportunity to document processes, work with colleagues, and make attempts to transition as much knowledge as possible. While critical items like an audit are always happening, Julie could have made more supportive overtures to help rather than simply focus on upcoming vacation time.
Key learnings for Frank (the employer):
- Understand what your employees are doing.
As strong and important employees like Julie have options, it’s critical that Frank understands what Julie does in the event he has to take over a project or understand who he needs to engage and when to shore up a critical gap. In the scenario we heard about an audit, but how critical is that audit, who initiated it, and what are the requirements? It’s quite clear that Frank does not have a good handle on the situation.
- Put a succession plan in place.
Similar to the first point, strong leaders have a pipeline of succession. This is not only important from a business continuity perspective, but from an employee engagement and development perspective as well.
- Ask for help.
From the reading, it seemed that Frank was stumbling through this difficult scenario by himself. With a strong HR business partner who understands his business, Frank could have benefited tremendously in a number of key areas, including facilitated conversations with the compensation director, earlier succession planning, and even an exit interview to unpack Julie’s decision to leave, because many times it’s not about the money.
Erez Harel, MBA, CPHR is a senior HR business partner with CHC Helicopter, a BC-based company with a talented and passionate global team providing offshore transportation to the oil-and-gas industry, flying search-and-rescue and emergency medical missions, and delivering maintenance/repair/overhaul and support services. He can be reached via LinkedIn.