What’s the right way to exit an organization? More importantly, is there anything an HR pro can do about it before it happens?
Those are the things that went through my mind as I read this piece from The Wall Street Journal about an intern who was leaving to go back to school. He is contemplating what to write in an email to his fellow employees before he leaves.
In places where I’ve worked, the norm has been nothing. But is that the right approach and should we look at alternative ways of telling people about an employee’s departure?
Reactions about leaving
Being in HR, I’ve seen probably every reaction to leaving an organization that you can imagine. You’ve probably seen them, too.
Whether it be a teary-eyed hugger who wants to say goodbye individually to all 248 employees in the local office, the guy who screams obscenities at you and flips off the receptionist on the way out the door, or the lady who skipped out of my office happy as can be, everyone’s reactions to leaving are different.
For emailing out the news of a departure, some people only want to communicate with a handful of people they were close to and let their manager communicate it to the rest of the company. Some want to give the equivalent of an Oscar speech via email to the entire company, board and customers.
And while that’s not surprising, what might catch you off-guard is how the people left behind react to the news. Some won’t want to receive any news about people leaving. Others feel like you have something to hide if they don’t know who is coming and going. It’s seemingly a no-win situation until you figure out the right way to handle it.
Of course, there are a couple of variables.
For one, if you broadcast when people leave and that works for everyone, you don’t need to change anything. For smaller organizations, this seems more typical and it can work. But don’t be surprised if you eventually outgrow the practice.
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A second variable is that you do different things when an executive is leaving the company (especially if leaving to go to a competitor). For example, if the CFO was leaving the company, I would expect a company-wide communication about that, what the transition period was going to look like, and if they were going to promote internally or go outside to hire for the position.
While not knowing that Rick from Accounts Payable is leaving might pique curiosity or create some hassle, an executive leaving is quite another thing all together.
I don’t think you need a formal policy specifically for exits (especially if you already have a policy that deals with communicating to the company or office-wide directory) but the HR person handling the exit can help set the expectations up front. It was a pretty simple conversation too that basically entailed saying this:
- Feel free to communicate with your department colleagues, those you have close contact with as part of your job and (obviously) co-workers you’re friends with.
- Your manager will send out an email to company leaders to let them know you’re leaving and what your department will be doing in the transition period so they can tell employees on their teams who may interact with you. Your manager will also take care of informing any clients, too.
- If you have any concerns beyond that about how your departure is being communicated, please speak to me.
Probably 99 percent of the people leaving don’t have any hangups about this method, and the other 1 percent who do would have to be dealt with anyway.
What should the intern do?
Now if you have the option (as I am assuming the intern does), should you send a note about your departure to the entire company?
Here’s a better option: instead of stressing over an email that will be deleted by most people, pick the five people who impacted you the most during your time and write them a real letter saying thanks and reaching out to keep in touch. Those are the messages that I always appreciated receiving.