Does this story sound familiar?
Employee: I’m giving my two weeks notice.
Employer: What? How can you do this to us? We had a whole career path planned out for you!
Employee: Well, nobody told me about it…
I was recently told the story of a hybrid employee who was dissatisfied with the career trajectory of her current job. She decided to take a job at a different company, and wanted to do the right thing when it came to giving notice. Instead of delivering the news via email, she went into the office on a day she typically did not have to be there, so she could meet with her boss in person and discuss appropriate transition steps. She did everything she could to make the conversation as respectful and as appreciative as possible.
However, rather than being grateful that the employee had delivered the news in a respectful and timely fashion, the boss treated this woman as a traitor. She was grilled on what her new job would be, what the salary offer and benefits were, why she was leaving, and made to feel awful for leaving her colleagues and her company with a giant mess to clean up. She left the meeting stirring with emotions, feeling like she had been slapped in the face.
The fallout from reacting badly to employee resignations
When employees leave, it is common for employers to feel defensive and perhaps a little hurt. However, an outward negative reaction can do irreparable harm both in terms of your relationship with that employee and with regards to your company’s image.
Employees are consistently told not to burn bridges when they leave a company. Common refrains include “you never know when you’re going to need a reference,” and “you may very well return to that company someday.” Yet when employees try to do the right thing and provide ample notice and communication about their resignation, they are often met with outright hostility and anger. Regardless of the employee’s experience during their tenure with your company, the last thing they remember – and the one that will stick in their minds the longest – is how you treated them on their way out. This experience may make them less likely to want to return to your company in the future, but the effects can be more widespread than just that single employee.
Your current employees will see how you treat employees who leave, and it likely won’t sit well with them. This can create a culture of unrest and unease, two factors that decrease job satisfaction and productivity. Additionally, most businesses exist within small industry ecosystems — and word travels fast. Negative treatment upon a resignation may prompt employees to leave a review on a site like Glassdoor detailing the experience. If this is a trend at your company, it will quickly become evident on job review sites that your company is not a good place to work. Potential job candidates may decide not to apply to your company at all once they’ve heard how you treat employees who leave.
Employees want to feel seen and respected in their workplace and want to feel valued for more than just their output. Resenting your employees who leave instead of celebrating their successes and advancements reinforces the idea that you only care about your people when they are productive for the company.
The forward-looking value of treating resignees with respect
There are ways to help an employee gracefully exit, beginning with your initial reaction to their news. Rather than viewing an employee’s decision to leave as a personal insult, make a concerted effort to celebrate their success and view this development as a positive. You can tell your employee that you’re excited for them, and let them know that they will always have a home at your company. It costs you nothing to tell an exiting employee that they are valued, but it could pay huge dividends in the future.
A good employee leaving can genuinely be a positive for your business. Perhaps that employee is leaving to work at a company who utilizes the type of services that your company provides. Maintaining a good relationship has the potential to develop a new and loyal client. Or perhaps that employee is leaving to take on a new role and develop a new and higher level set of skills. An employee who leaves on good terms may be interested in returning to your company in a few years in a different position, and will come back with valuable new skills to drive your company forward.
In any case, regardless of whether you will benefit directly from that employee ever again, it’s important to note that people leave for all sorts of reasons. Some are driven by circumstances out of their control, like health or family. Rather than assume a “me vs. you” mentality, try to understand their situation. Perhaps you can even come up with an alternative solution, or make a counteroffer, or even just keep the door open for the future.
Avoiding the great resignation altogether with the foresight of stay interviews
At Flynn Barrett Consulting, we are big fans of the ‘stay interview.’ Basically the opposite of an exit interview, these one-on-one meetings allow an employee to speak candidly with their boss about their position, their day-to-day experience, and their career goals. Oftentimes, employees leave a company because no clear path to advancement has been communicated to them. Stay interviews can be extremely useful in planning a career trajectory at the company and setting milestones to create accountability along the way.
It is important to create an environment where employees feel comfortable being open and honest in stay interviews without fear of retaliation for negative feedback. Stay interviews can be a crucial piece of the employee satisfaction puzzle, and can lead to higher retention, fewer instances of employee resignation, and less resentment when people do decide to pursue other opportunities.
Call Flynn Barrett Consulting for help designing a stay interview strategy or to help conduct stay interviews directly. When done proactively and consistently, stay interviews can keep your workforce content, motivated, and with your company for a long time.