People joining and leaving teams and organisations is a regular part of the working world. Often, there is a focus on ensuring a person’s entry to the organisation is seamless and welcoming. Yet, a person’s exit isn’t given the same level of care and attention.
When a valued employee leaves an organisation to work elsewhere or is retiring, their departure can see many years of knowledge and expertise walk out the door. Their exit can result in disruption, a shift in the team’s dynamics and impacts on organisational performance.
How you treat an employee on exit says much about your leadership and the organisation’s culture. You want to ensure the team member departs feeling valued and for the transition to be smooth, minimising impacts on the team and performance.
For that to happen, you need to think ahead and build a supportive and psychologically safe culture.
Plan careers openly
Career progression is a natural component of the working world, and so it helps to cultivate an environment where you and your team members openly discuss career goals and aspirations. Underpinning this is an acceptance that career progress is a good thing, and there will be times that such advancement can only happen outside the organisation.
In this type of culture, the team member’s success is celebrated rather than viewed as a bad thing or somehow disloyal. Sadly, I’ve seen many situations where a person has become persona non-grata as soon as they have told the leader they are leaving.
When your team member feels valued, they are more likely to trust your intent and consequently be more willing to share their potential plans and aspirational ideas. Working with each team member one-on-one, you want to understand their career plans so you can best support their realisation.
Of course, this isn’t likely to work if you’re a bad boss. When there is little trust between the employer and employee, the employee won’t express their plans for fear it will jeopardise their current and ongoing employment arrangements.
People’s life circumstances change, and there may come a time when a person needs more flexibility.
For example, as a person is heading towards retirement, be open to having a range of options available to help the employee transition from full-time to part-time working or semi-retirement to full retirement.
In all situations, discuss their needs, the advantages and disadvantages of all the options, and the associated pay and benefits attached to each arrangement. By talking through the options, you’ll uncover what works for them, you and the organisation, given the nature of their work. For example, there may need to be adjustments to the type of work they do based on the hours they want to work.
This open dialogue helps the employee make an informed choice based on their lifestyle desires and financial commitments. It also ensures that the agreed arrangement accounts for the team’s and organisation’s needs.
When a person has decided to leave or reduce their working hours, work through the knowledge and skill transfer that will be required. This process can take a while, so allocate enough time to it.
You want to leverage the person’s experience. They have worked in the role, so it makes sense to get them to document the process, including highlighting (for example) where essential files are stored and the relevant systems and techniques used. It can also be helpful to get them to outline their ideas for improvement and any key learnings, as well as support the handover of clients and critical relationships.
Where relevant, involve them in training or mentoring the person taking on their role. There may also be opportunities to have both employees work side-by-side for a time.
Before the team member leaves, take the time to get feedback. Exit interview processes often fail because they are poorly considered and constructed.
Give the employee the option of participating. If they wish to participate, ask them to nominate who they would like to run the process. The designated person, if they accept, is then briefed and given the questions to ask and the opportunity to include other questions as well.
Key questions may include:
- Why did you initially join the organisation?
- What did you like most/least about your role?
- What were your best experiences here?
- What were your most difficult experiences here?
- Did you have the resources, equipment and skills necessary to succeed in the role?
- Did you receive adequate support to do your job?
- If you could have changed one thing about your role what would it have been?
- If you could change anything about how the organisation operates, what would it be?
- Did any policies, procedures, people or any other obstacles within the organisation make doing your job difficult?
Put dignity first
Above all else, ensure the person leaving the team or organisation is treated with dignity.
Our identity and sense of self connects with our work, so there can be a significant identity shift when a person makes a career change. This is particularly so if they are entering a new phase of their working life. In those situations, it is helpful for them to feel as though they have some control and autonomy as to how that shift unfolds.
Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®
Michelle Gibbings is bringing back the happy to workplace culture. The award-winning author of three books, and a global keynote speaker, she’s on a mission to help leaders, teams and organisations create successful workplaces – where people thrive and progress is accelerated.