Pro HR

The art of letting go

When the time comes for employees to make a change and resign their employment it generally occurs under a shroud of secrecy. People go to great lengths to ensure their current employer is the last to know.

This isn’t an ideal scenario for any of the parties. The employee has to sneak away to interviews, they can’t use the current organisation as a referee and they angst about their boss finding out. Their employer doesn’t get a chance to address any issues that might be influencing the person’s decision to leave and has minimal time to plan for the change. Other team members get taken by surprise and are unsettled. Customers wonder if something untoward has occurred. The new appointee may not get the opportunity for an effective handover with their predecessor.

In the less common scenario where there is transparency, everyone tends to be a great deal more comfortable and the whole process operates with goodwill. This tends to happen when there is a specific reason for the move which employees feel they can be open about such as personal health or family circumstances (for example their partner transferring to another location). But surely we should aim for this open approach more of the time?

There are some organisations that have strict policies requiring employees to leave immediately on giving notice, particularly if there they are moving to a direct competitor. In this context secrecy is perhaps understandable but still a disadvantage to all parties.

There is no doubt that staff turnover is a disruption to business and managers would generally prefer not to lose current expertise and have to spend time and money recruiting replacements or arranging temporary cover. However, we are also realistic and accept it as part of the normal employee life cycle. We can reduce that level of disruption if we encourage employees to be transparent about the process.

So how do we create an environment that encourages people to deal with leaving more openly? It needs to be something that is reinforced as part of our structured HR processes as well as our informal communication with people.

• I have seen some great Employment agreements and policies that accept resignation as normal and encourage people to discuss possible changes with their Manager at an early stage, so they can plan the best possible transition for everyone. These documents specify the minimum amount of notice but encourage employees to give as much prior warning as they can. The key element is the positive tone.

• Career planning and performance review processes are a good opportunity to talk about future plans with employees, to understand their aspirations and provide guidance. Be clear about development opportunities and progression the company can offer – opportunities not being clear or not being delivered on is a common reason for people leaving their job. If they are valuable talent and you have plans for them make sure they know it. However, we should also acknowledge that experience outside the organisation can be a beneficial part of someone’s career path and discuss how the organisation will accept and support that.

• Provide regular opportunities for real dialogue about how things are going in the current job – any frustrations, concerns, workload issues, and the things people love and want to do more of. There may be simple things you can do to retain the employee.

• In your informal communication and one-to-ones with team members make sure they know you are committed to being a mentor and will support their career, wherever they choose to take it. Share examples of how you have supported others in the past through your networks and as a referee. Let them know they can seek your advice about changing jobs without fear of any awkwardness or disadvantage.

If organisations handle the leaving process well it makes the change easier for everybody, and it also improves the potential for the employee to refer future recruits to you or to perhaps return when the time is right.