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by Laurie Murphy | March 10, 2009

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As job opportunities increase and competition for talented resources intensifies, your company may not be likely to retain every employee for as long as you might desire. But, by treating individuals who choose to leave your organization with respect, by maintaining positive relations with them, and by regarding them as valuable resources for information and referrals, you will help to ensure that departures from the company will not be a total loss.

Exits are not always as graceful as they could be. Many times when an employee provides notice of his or her intent to resign, management "writes off" the individual, reacting somewhat spitefully as if they had been snubbed, and possibly by seeking revenge. Other reactions may include ignoring the individual or treating the person as a "non-employee" (such as excluding him or her from meetings or events) during the notice period.

Employees treated in this manner typically feel used and betrayed, and these final memories of employment are bitter and lasting. This also creates uncomfortable tension among co-workers who feel their loyalty is divided between their manager and the resigning employee. To make matters worse, employees who leave with bad feelings will often complain to many other people about the way they were treated, and they are more likely to file charges or lawsuits involving claims of discrimination or mistreatment against the company, resulting in potential reputation issues and financial loss.

In an attempt to facilitate the transition, some companies have an "Exit Interview" process, which may involve asking the departing employee to complete a questionnaire and/or participate in a one-on-one interview, usually conducted by a member of the Human Resources department. In many cases though, the employee may regard this process as a pointless effort because the HR representative may have had little knowledge of or involvement with the employee's situation (or may have been aware of the employee's issues but was not able to resolve them). Also, many companies do little or nothing with the results of exit interviews and this may be well known among employees.

~ Today, more than ever before, companies can't afford to disregard or alienate departing employees, and must ensure that positive relations are maintained in spite of individuals' decisions to leave. Here is a list of suggestions for making employees' exits productive and graceful transitions:

  • Do not regard an employee's decision to leave as a personal affront and/or treat the individual in a negative or obviously different way simply because she/he has resigned. Even remarks that are disguised as teasing can create a damaging backlash with the individual and his/her co-workers.

  • Make it a point to publicly recognize the individual (in a staff meeting or other gathering of employees) and to say thank you for what she/he has accomplished and contributed to the team and the organization. This provides the person and his/her co-workers with a sense that the company appreciates them (even if they decide to leave).

  • Both the employee's manager and the HR representative should participate in the exit interview process (separately or together), to allow the employee to address issues and ideas with the most appropriate individual(s). This is a good time for the manager to ask for candid feedback about what changes could be made to improve overall management of the work unit, and whether the individual knows anyone to recommend for the position being vacated. The HR representative can assess the individual's morale level and ask for ideas about improving overall employee relations and organizational effectiveness. Individuals involved in conducting exit interviews must resist any tendency to become defensive about or attempt to refute what the employee may say.

Some of the most important questions to ask the individual:

  • "What (if it would have been possible to change) would have made you stay?"
  • "What are some positive aspects of working here that we should try to promote or do more of?"
  • "What are some negative aspects of working here that we should try to eliminate or do less of?"
  • "What are some changes we could make that would have the greatest positive impact on employee morale, commitment and retention?"
  • "Who do you know that might be interested in working here?"

  • Periodically analyze the results of exit interviews to identify negative trends or critical issues and develop recommendations for their resolution.

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  • Maintain appropriate personal confidentiality of exit interview results, but communicate changes that are made in response to feedback obtained in exit interviews (and/or other surveys) to employees so that they will understand that management is interested in and responds effectively to their suggestions and concerns.

  • Consider a potential benefit of resignations. Many employees leave to go to organizations that will develop their skills and competencies and promote them into jobs with expanded responsibilities, and this may actually make them more attractive prospects for future re-employment with your company. Turnover may be the "price" your company pays for not addressing employee's career development interests, but you may also be able to "gain" from it as well.

Make resignations "win/win" instead of "win/lose". Do all that you can to enable employees to leave with dignity, feel good about the company, speak well of the organization to others, refer others to the company for employment, and to seek reemployment in the future.

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Filed Under: Workplace Issues
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