The Exit Strategy

How Leaders Should Handle an Employee Leaving

Photo by Bram Naus  on Unsplash

When we hire new people, we take them under our wing, enfold them into our circle of trust, and work hard to ensure their future success. Yet when they resign, many managers become distant and isolate their once beloved employee. Losing people can feel deeply personal and it is easy to let our emotions over take our mind. But good leaders must resist the temptation to shun the outgoing employee and instead make their last days as memorable as their first.

This is an unconventional approach, but what we should be doing is spending their last days with us acknowledging the great work they did, sharing what will be missed about them, letting them know that they will be always be supported, and gaining as much knowledge from them as possible. This is not only the right thing to do, but it will also keep the employee motivated to pass on critical information to help the team continue to succeed. And it leaves the door open for the possibility to return to the company one day. Even more important, by treating the employee well, they’ll become an ambassador for your company.  

“What if we created companies that were great places to be from, and everyone who leaves you becomes an ambassador for not only your product, but for who you are and how you operate,” said Patty McCord, former chief talent officer at Netflix, during The Way We Work segment by TED. “When you spread that kind of excitement throughout the world, then we make all of our companies better.”

If all leaders embraced this philosophy, imagine the network we would build that is built on encouragement and empowerment. We shouldn’t question their loyalty or doubt ourselves as leaders if they decide to leave to better themselves. If they go on to do something that helps them progress in their career and if it makes them happy, we should be supportive. The purpose of leadership is to serve others and by leading the way, you are modeling the behavior of someone that truly cares about your people.

According to Kathryn Minshew, co-founder and CEO of the Muse, research has revealed that 58 percent of the next gen workforce plan to change jobs in coming year. While it is true that some people leave companies due to their relationship with their boss, the other main reasons include the ability to learn and grow and work-life balance. The truth is sometimes people out grow the job and the company doesn’t have opportunities at the right time to provide the next step in their career. As leaders, we shouldn’t fault others for wanting to improve and progress in their career. If you treated the person well, gave him/her stretch projects, allowed for autonomy, challenged him/her to take risks, provided useful feedback, then you likely played a role in this new opportunity and you too should feel proud.

As McCord said, “careers are journeys,” and the best journeys require us to step outside of our comfort zone by trying new things. As leaders it is okay for us to feel sad and disappointed when you lose a great employee, but just remember you should feel proud, knowing that you contributed to their journey and help set them up for the next step in their career. Don’t burn a bridge due to ego, instead work hard to rise above the negative feelings. Show them the respect they desire by continuing the relationship, keeping lines of communication open, and genuinely wishing them well.

Author’s Note: It is completely acceptable and understandable to cut off ties quickly if the employee is going to work for a competitor. However, leaders should still act with grace and wish the former employee well. If you remain focused and committed to your people and your core values, you will continue to succeed, and hopefully your former employee will too.

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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