Leaving a Company the Right Way

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how-to-leave-a-company-the-right-wayIt’s every manager’s worst fear:  an employee has given notice he/she is leaving the company.  If handled correctly, an employee’s departure doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

But how did the employee break the news?  How did the manager take it?  How will the company react?  What made the employee want to leave in the first place?  These are all valid questions to consider.  Only when employee and employer partner as they did before notice was given can the outcome be good for both sides.  Whether you are on the employee or the employer side, here are some guidelines for success.

For the employee:

  • Start with your mindset. A good employee will seek to not burn bridges, knowing that most employers these days operate on an at-will employment basis.  The company made an investment by hiring you in the first place.   Remain professional and constructive, whether the experience was good, bad, or just mediocre.  Hopefully you have been genuine in your tenure with the company.  Stay genuine until the end.
  • Give proper notice, and start with your direct manager. Two weeks is customary.  More time may be needed depending on the nature of the role being vacated (i.e. executives, field role, etc.), and certainly can be helpful in facilitating a smooth transition.
  • Be honest with your manager about your reasons for leaving. Were you offered a dream job?  Did you grow beyond what your role at the company allows?  Is the only way for you to move up the chain to move out of the company?  Are you making a career pivot to do something completely different?  Make it clear that you are not looking for a counter offer.
  • Find out the protocol for letting others know you are leaving. Perhaps your manager or an HR representative will send out an official statement, or you may be asked to send an e-mail announcement.
  • Don’t walk away without appreciating the relationships you’ve made with coworkers. Give them some time to wish you well.   Leaving doesn’t mean goodbye forever.  Stay in touch with coworkers using social media platforms like LinkedIn.  Keeping that connection takes effort but is a currency you may need to spend later during your new adventure.  Remember, you may be in a position to help coworkers through networking, introductions, or volunteer efforts.
  • Stay engaged until the end, and do what you agreed to do. Give your current employer your full attention to push any last minute projects across the finish line, transfer knowledge to your replacement, and document processes/information only you might know.
  • In the exit interview, be honest but constructive with feedback about your experience with the company. Give factual information without being negative.
  • Instead of dwelling on things left unfinished, focus on what you were able to accomplish while working at this company and the lessons learned from those experiences.
  • Be thankful. Let the company representatives know you appreciate them taking enough interest in hiring you in the first place.  Thank coworkers for the things they have done for you and the things you have learned from them.  Be specific.
  • Be available for a time. Chances are, there will be a question someone at your previous company has after you have left that only you are qualified to answer.  Let them know you will be available for questions even after you are gone, and let them know how you’d like them to contact you.

For the employer

  • Consider the impact radius of the employee leaving (both inside and outside the company). Communicate the personnel change and transition plan to external customers quickly, and don’t forget to let internal customers (employees in other departments) know too.  Don’t be the company that sends out an announcement e-mail to all personnel the day after someone leaves.  It creates a culture of fear and negativity; employees will wonder “what happened?” and may fear for their own jobs.
  • Don’t write off the individual leaving as having no value. Take the Jack Welch approach, and love them on the way out like you loved them on the way in.  Each former employee is a living, breathing reviewer of your company and its culture.
  • Is the job description for the departing employee up to date, or is the role they are leaving very different than the one you filled when they came on board with the company? Have the employee help update the job description to ensure a holistic picture of the role that needs to be filled in his/her absence.
  • Corporate review of job descriptions is easily tied to employee evaluation and goal setting, and may be done gradually rather than in a panic when someone is about to walk out the door.
  • Replacing an employee can be expensive, but before you decide not to replace someone, make sure all internal parties know what the role being vacated entailed and if other internal team members actually have the capacity to take on extra work. There was a reason the position being vacated was created in the first place – provide value to the business.
  • If you find yourself scrambling because the employee was the sole owner of a particular project or process, consider the need to cross train other team members in the future. Building in some redundancy can help lower the business impact of a key employee leaving.  If customer service dips to an all-time low when someone resigns, it is only a symptom of the root problem.
  • Communicate the “offboarding” process to the employee shortly after notice is given. Let him/her know when benefits coverage dates end, options for 401(k), when the final paycheck will be issued and if remaining PTO (paid time off/vacation time) is paid, and how to access their W-2 form when the time comes.  Offer a specific contact (perhaps a member of HR or the Benefits team) for any questions that may arise after the employee leaves.
  • Make sure access to all systems is disabled and any company property such as keys, access cards, computers, phones, etc. are repossessed by the end of the employee’s last day. Consider things like where incoming phone calls and e-mails need to be routed moving forward.
  • Allow an employee to give constructive feedback during an exit interview, and take the feedback from the exit interview to heart. Were there things the company could have done to retain this employee, or was it best for them to move on?  If you see a trend in employees leaving due to a lack of career progression, consider ways to combat this by creating new leadership and growth opportunities, even if it isn’t a promotion to management.  Being part of a cross-functional team or committee for example can give someone additional learning experience and the ability to lead in other ways.

Turnover is rarely pleasant, but it can be a valuable learning process for the employer and employee alike.  Consider the information gained as an investment in your recruiting process, orientation/training procedures, and company culture, and you’ll take a positive step forward with current and future employees.