Four Simple Steps to Ease an Employer-Employee Breakup

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Terminating an employer/employee relationship has lots of parallels to terminating a romantic relationship.

Yes, Every breakup has a dumper and a dumpee, and no one likes to get dumped.

The story usually goes something like this:

  • First, you became aware of each other or were introduced by a friend.
  • You chatted for a while, met for a face-to-face and decided it was worth a shot.
  • At first, you were into each other and you were both enjoying the relationship.
  • Then, the more time you spent together, the more you starting noticing flaws; little things you didn’t like bothered you, but you thought you could live with them.
  • But then, finally, at some point (a week, a month, or years later) you decided that it just wasn’t working anymore. Perhaps your needs had changed or those little flaws became too much.
  • Whatever the reason, you finally decided to end the relationship.

Employment relations usually don’t last forever

Pause for a moment and take a minute to reread the list above. If you read it the first time as if you were the employee, go back and read it from the standpoint of an employer/manager (or vice versa). It’s striking how exactly the same the scenario plays out from either point of view.

The reality is that most employment relationships don’t last forever and you will probably either be the dumper or the dumpee multiple times in your career.

The first step is to recognize that sometimes things just don’t work out. Regardless of who breaks up the relationship, you will both be better off in the long run. It’s a tough thing to go through for both the employer/manager and the employee. So, both sides should handle it gracefully and professionally.

Why? Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but also because people talk. Most of us work in industries with small circles of colleagues that are one or two degrees of separation from each other.

For both ex-employees and ex-employers, it’s important to keep your reputation intact. This not only applies to how well you treat each other during the employment relationship, but also how well you handle the breakup.

Employment brands matter

Your company’s employment brand is just as important as its product brand. It’s the accumulation of peoples’ perceptions about the kind of employer you are.

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Do you treat people with respect? Do you give them the tools and support to achieve their job duties and career objectives? Would they recommend you to their friends?

Hell hath no fury like an employee scorned

In personal relationship breakups, you have to worry about getting blasted on Facebook by your ex. Now, with sites like Glassdoor, corporate breakups have to worry, too.

Check out some of these quotes that certainly can’t be helping these companies’ employment brands and reputation.

  • They don’t like investing in you or in proper training.”
  • “They are constantly getting paychecks wrong even with a biometric wall clock system … all this and then you still have to submit a time sheet in an Excel spreadsheet format via email to several people. It was as if they had started the business yesterday, yet they are a huge global business.”
  •  “My first day was what you dread … no training whatsoever- no explanation of my job … half the time I sat twiddling my thumbs.”
  • “This company violates so many HR laws and regulations it’s disturbing.
  • Having to fill out three separate time sheets … this type of adminstrivia was particularly bothersome”

What’s a company to do?

Here are four simple steps to protect your brand:

  1. Get feedback. Take stock of your end-to-end Human Capital Management (HCM) processes and employee experiences, starting with their first recruiting and onboarding experiences through timekeeping, training, payroll, benefits, performance management, and compensation. Are there pain points and frustrations that you didn’t anticipate or intend? Are the actual experiences reported by employees contrary to the level of care you claim to have for them? It’s important to not only say that you care, but show it too. The only way to know for sure is to ask them.
  2. Create open communication. Develop an environment that communicates your values to your employees, acknowledges the limitations and frustrations they encounter, and fosters an environment for continuous improvement. When you honestly show employees that you care and are working to make things better, they are less likely to leave or bash your company’s reputation after they are gone.
  3. Use exit interviews. Exit interviews help find out why people are leaving and what frustrations they had. No matter how much you reassure active employees of the safety of sharing negative feedback, people are much more likely to open up about their true feelings when they know they are leaving and aren’t risking hurt feelings or retribution. Encouraging feedback from outgoing employees can help improve the workplace for current workers.
  4. Talk to new employees. Talk to people you just hired about their onboarding process and first impressions. Did they find it easy? What could you have done better? Which systems and processes seemed less than ideal compared to ones at their previous employers? You’ll learn about some best practices that you could adopt, but this interaction with new employees firmly sets the expectation that you are open to feedback and continuous improvement.

Getting feedback on HCM systems, creating open communication, using exit interviews and talking to new employees can help promote a good employer-employee relationship.

It may not prevent a breakup, but at least it could help ease the pain.

As Chief Operating Officer, Rob Leonard is responsible for the management of ongoing strategic planning and execution of key initiatives to improve quality, revenue and profitability at Sability,, a HCM consultancy. Prior to joining the company in 2009, Rob held senior management positions at Ultimate Software and Workbrain (now Infor), following a long career in professional services, business development and product management for multiple customers, vendors and consulting firms in the Human Capital Management (HCM), Workforce Management (WFM), and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) industries.

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