Three Ways To Make Your Employee Exit Process as Painless as Possible

Illustration by Dreamstime
Illustration by Dreamstime

My wife starts a new job next week, which means this week is her last with her current employer. And while I am always fascinated at every aspect of employment cycle, I have to say my least favorite is the employee exit.

There is this sense of awkwardness in the period between when an employee gives their notice and the time they finally leave. It can feel disjointed and there can be a sense of guilt or remorse for the employee as they move on. And their managers and co-workers are in a state of flux as they wonder what responsibilities they will take on and who the next person will be.

It might not be the end of the world if you stumble through an employee exit, but doing it well can make the difference between a happy employee alumnus and one who will quietly talk down the company every chance they get. Here are three ways you can improve an employee exit.

1. Be ready for turnover at any time

I’ve frequently seen past employers get caught off-guard due to a key person leaving. So they have to rush around and make a plan right at that very second about how to handle it.

Often a job description will be out of date. In fact, it was probably the same one from when they were hired and it doesn’t reflect new duties. Sometimes it will be unclear whether the person they penciled in from the succession plan is ready for the role. Or, perhaps you’ve got other important roles to fill too.

And while those may be concerns, my biggest one was always the institutional and skill specific knowledge that walked out the door with the departing employee. It may not be completely avoidable but a good departmental cross-training program, coupled with managerial knowledge, can help fill the gap.

If you want a good test to see if you’re ready for turnover, ask yourself how much time it would take for you to prepare for an employee taking a two-week vacation. If that thought is overwhelming in and of itself, it might be time to better prepare yourself.

2. Avoid counter-offers

I have gone on the record saying that counter-offers can work under some pretty selective circumstances. That being said, counter-offers aren’t good policy most of the time. And doing it on a person’s last day of work or using some other sort of strong arm tool is going to leave a really bad taste in their mouth.

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One thing I’ll add to my previous piece about counter-offers: if you care about an employee’s exit experience, you only counter-offer if you know the answer (and that answer will be yes). Having to say no to your former employer as you’re packing up your things will make an awkward experience even more awkward.

And from hearing people who have had poor counter-offers done, it can taint an otherwise good experience. They’ll say, “It was a great place to work but it was really weird when they pulled me into their office on my last day and offered a 15 percent increase.” That’s a situation you want to avoid.

3. Be happy for them

I always think the biggest emotional whiff we do when an employee departs is that we aren’t happy for their move. In some circumstances, moving on means fulfilling a dream, a major life event, or a big promotion. It might have been something you couldn’t have helped them with, but if you’ve done all of the right things as an employer up to this point, you should be happy for them even if it hurts you in the short term.

When I found out about an employee leaving, I always wanted to find out what they were going to be doing next and what excites them about the future. And if they had a good experience at my company, it was never an issue to connect on LinkedIn or give them my business card to stay in touch with them down the line.

A fraction of an emotional investment in their future success has paid off big time when it has come to rehires, or even just helping to expand our own network of former employees.


1 Comment on “Three Ways To Make Your Employee Exit Process as Painless as Possible

  1. Your three points are right on.  You never know and it always seems when you lease expect it, somebody important moves on. Also,  I’ve never seen a counter offer work even when my previous employer had a specific requirement.  I always got the question, “Why now, when I’m leaving?”  Showing your happiness for them to be moving on to something bigger and better not only helps them think better of your organization, it leaves a positive impact on the remaining employees. 

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