The Break-Up: Managing Employee Departures

employee departures

The way in which an employee is treated when departing your company is just as important as how you handled the process when they joined.

Remember that intoxicating time? You wooed and courted and promised them the moon. You shared your hobbies (“look at all our ‘employee engagement activities!!’”) and pet peeves (“please read our HR policies”). And even though your out-of-date and heavily photoshopped profile picture (“branding”) didn’t resemble reality (“actual culture”) in any way, you managed to convince them to come aboard.

But now they’ve decided to leave. The romance has soured or a more attractive suitor has arrived and lured them away. When an employee tells you “It’s not you – it’s me” (even though it may, in fact, be you) there are a few situations to avoid as you work through the break-up.

The Bloodletting

Asking an employee to leave immediately upon resignation is at the top of the list for inane moves. Granted, this may seem sensible for a salesperson who’s not going to be filling the pipeline with new leads if he’s walking out the door in 2 weeks, but what’s the point of tossing Carol in Accounting out the door the moment she gives notice?  Yet there are companies who apparently assume all resigning employees are going to gather all the corporate intel they can and sell it to the highest bidder. I’ve joined organizations where this was such the norm -and expectation – that resigning employees who had to work out a 2 week notice were actually offended they weren’t asked to depart forthwith.

The Shunning

Bob tenders his resignation and is immediately a pariah. He’s no longer invited to meetings and his name disappears from email groups. He can probably live with all of this but it pains him just a bit when his boss, the division director and, so it seems, the entire leadership team don’t even offer greetings in the hallway. One step removed from Hester Prynne. Poor Bob.

The Cortege

For those working on-site, a resignation (yes, even a voluntary one – see “The Bloodletting”) may result in a Security Guard (or HR staffer) materializing in one’s office door with a box. The box is for packing up photos of kids and assorted office knick-knacks (“Ma’am – is that YOUR coffee mug or does it belong to the company?”).  The Guard is the accompanying attendant for the mournful procession out-of-the-building while everyone in the building furtively avoids eye contact.

The Farewell Party

This is nice, right?  Sally gets treated to cake and punch and her manager gives her a gift card to Outback Steakhouse after he makes a speech about all her contributions and how she was an integral part of the team’s success. Her co-workers sign a card (funny and slightly ribald because Sally has a sense of humor) and wish her the best of luck. There are hugs all around with promises to stay in touch and get together for the occasional lunch or happy hour. But Sally feels a bit sad as she wonders “why didn’t they say these things and treat me this way during the 4 years I worked here?  If I knew this is how everyone felt I might not have looked for another job…”

Break-ups are hard; they tear off a little bit of your heart. And when an employee decides to move on and enter a relationship with someone else you may not be ready to say “I’ll always love you.”

But you can surely tell them “I hope we can still be friends.”

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The Road Untraveled

road untraveled

I have several friends who are avid hikers. They love nothing more than strapping on a pair of boots, grabbing a backpack and heading out for a long and vigorous walk criss-crossing the local trails.  

I understand the allure as some have described it; setting out in peaceful solitude through a tranquil and unspoiled forest. Traversing a windswept dune adjacent to a large body of water. Climbing rugged hills and descending into wild flower filled ravines with only the sounds of chirping birds to break the silence.

Yet, even in these seemingly pristine landscapes, they may come upon, quite unceremoniously, a discarded beer can.

The thought the hiker had, when setting out in isolation, was they were the sole human in years and years to access this pocket of nature. I would imagine there’s a bit of a letdown, even sadness, as they can’t ignore the irrefutable evidence they are not the first person stepping foot on uncharted land.   

After all, we like to think that our choices – the paths we view ahead and upon which we choose to walk – are unique. We search for importance and meaning. We don’t want our decisions to be trivial; we want the weighty choices in our life to have significance. 

It’s part of the human condition, isn’t it, that we inevitably find ourselves wondering at later times in our life… What if I had…” “Would it have meant more if I had done…?”  “Why didn’t I…?”

Yet we are forced to make choices. We must determine which road we shall go down even when we have neither guidance nor enough facts upon which to base our decision.

So choose a path we must.

There is, at the end of our days, no need to look back (perhaps with a sigh of regret) and wonder what we missed. It’s fruitless to speculate on the unknown that we never encountered.

While there may not be one right path there is, inescapably, the path we choose. And then there’s the other path.

Not better. Not worse. Merely untraveled.

The Road Not Taken

(4th stanza)

(by Robert Frost)

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

*****

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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Death to Shorthand

shorthand

“I hate dealing with Joe; he never remembers anything I tell him.” (“Oh… you didn’t know that Joe has hearing loss in his left ear?”)

“Jane always looks so mad; she’s just unpleasant to deal with.” (“I guess you hadn’t heard; Jane’s husband has terminal cancer.”)

“Carmen is pretty rude.  Do you know she’s the only team member who didn’t come to the baby shower the team hosted for me?” (“Maybe you didn’t know this but Carmen had a miscarriage last year; she finds it difficult to attend baby showers.”)

**********

Ah yes.  Who among us doesn’t jump to conclusions based on an interaction (or several) with another person?  We use mental shorthand to quickly categorize someone’s behavior and then we toss Joe, Jane and Carmen into one of the filing cabinets in our brain that we’ve labeled –“the difficult one” – the unfriendly one” – “the bitch.”  Task completed, they’re neatly labeled, and we decide that’s all we need to know about them. 

But in the workplace further problems arise when we neglect to review and examine those categorizations down the road. When a manager, co-worker or (heaven forbid) an HR professional keeps an employee in one of those file drawers and doesn’t attempt to gather more data or develop greater understanding.

I’ve known people who’ve worked together for over a decade who still rely on initial cataloging (and assumptions) from 2010. This is disappointing amongst peers but downright damaging and destructive when it occurs with managers or HR practitioners. (“Oh; I’m not interested in Susie for this internal opening. I interviewed her when she applied 3 years ago and she wasn’t a fit.”)

Shorthand is a dying skill.  Mental shorthand needs to follow.

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There’s Nice. And Then There’s NICE.

service

Last week a video was posted of a customer’s drive thru experience at a Popeye’s here in Louisiana. It captures one of the most joyous service experiences ever; even without considering the customer also got to leave with some delicious chicken.

Ms. Cynthia (just “keepin it real over here!”) needs to be promoted to the customer service hall of fame.

But Ms. Cynthia’s exuberant spirit and warmth (I just want her to envelop me in a hug!), while registering at a 15 on a 10-point scale, is fairly representative of what I often experience in service interactions. Whether at the gas station, grocery store or a restaurant there’s a natural human element to the simplest transactions. At the corner gas station the patrons and store clerks always catch up – “how’s your daddy doing Mr. Jimmy?”. A quick trip to grab some snacks and adults beverages on game day often includes a discussion about plans – ”now you have fun today baby! Who dat!” A trip for an oil change will lead to a group discussion amongst the mechanics and customers in the waiting room about everyone’s favorite seasonings, preferred ingredients (artichokes always a plus IMO), and methodologies for a crawfish boil.

When we moved to Louisiana I was initially taken aback at how interactions seemed to be on a whole new level here. I was accustomed to “midwest nice” which was all about efficiency and (stern) politeness. Were people friendly in the midwest?” Yes. Was it customary to help others? Absolutely. Was it ingrained to apologize (“Whoops! Sorry!”) when one happened to bump into a fellow citizen in a crowd? You betcha. But the “niceness,” I decided, felt different here.

And I become more cognizant of it whenever I return home after a trip to the land of my birth.

I recently spent a week in Wisconsin and experienced surly staff at a restaurant when I went to pick up dinner. (After I had to practically climb over rude patrons sitting at the bar to even reach the server and get her attention). I found myself being the only person in the checkout line at the grocery store who said “hello” to the cashier who then, after not making eye contact, mumbled a reluctant “oh… hey” before glancing back down at the conveyor belt.

Do I have shitty customer service experiences close to home? Of course I do; I run into my share of sullen service workers. But, in general, I give them a modicum of grace and don’t question why they are cranky. At all.

But the Ms. Cynthia’s of the world? They do exist and we need to celebrate them

You already know.

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City Livin’

city of Milwaukee

I spent the last week in Milwaukee, WI with my daughter (thankful yet again for my 100% work-from-anywhere company!). She lives exactly 5 blocks north of the hospital at which I was born. That 38-bed hospital is long-closed although the building, originally built by a lumber baron and listed on the historic register, still stands.

Talk about a “we’ve come full circle” moment.

This trip, beyond providing me with the opportunity to indulge in Wisconsin delicacies like walleye, cheese curd and czarnina at Polonez, (so so good; I simply refuse to think about the duck’s blood part) really put me in a contemplative mood about the different places I have lived in my life. Not so much “where” I have lived (Wisconsin vs. Louisiana) but more so the types of environs in which I have found myself. I realized my life has been split fairly neatly into thirds:

  • one-third of my life in the suburbs
  • one-third of my life in a city
  • one-third of my life in a town

The ‘Burbs

For the bulk of my childhood my family lived in a pastoral (at that time) suburb of the greater Milwaukee metropolitan area. We had big yards, wide streets, and minimal traffic. We took the school bus every day and my best friends lived, on average, 5 – 10 miles away from me in their own suburban idyll. Across the street from my family’s home were several empty lots overgrown with shrubs and trees in which the neighborhood kids carved out a baseball field (I generally was relegated to the outfield) as well as a few hide-aways (under those canopies of trees) where we experimented with cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana (pilfered from the supplies of parents and siblings). To travel anywhere outside the immediate confines of our neighborhood required either a car or, for us kids before we had driver’s licenses, a bicycle. I truly don’t remember actually “walking” anywhere except for strolling through a few back yards as the short cut to my friend Lisa’s house down the street.

The Big City

When I returned in my early 20’s, post college in small-town Wisconsin, I settled in an apartment in the city of Milwaukee. Suddenly I had sidewalks and streetlights and a bus stop right outside my front door. Across the street was not only a grocery store but an actual by-God department store! I could walk to my hairdresser’s salon (4 blocks), my bank (6 blocks), the corner store to pick up a Sunday paper (2 blocks), innumerable restaurants, and my auto mechanic (3 blocks) if I needed to drop-off/pick-up my car for an oil change. I lived in the city (with a few address changes) for close to 20 years and while, obviously, used my car, I always enjoyed being able to head out down the sidewalk to take care of a few errands or walk to a friend’s house.

The Town

Technically, Baton Rouge, LA where I currently live, is a city. Yet, with a population just slightly over 225,000 people it “feels,” to me anyway, like a small town. Our downtown, at just over 1 square mile is the very definition of a commuter destination; workers (the vast majority state government or the businesses that support them), drive in from far flung parishes in the morning and then head back out as the sun sets. Of course there’s plenty to do in BR of if one is willing to get in the car and traverse the sprawling metropolitan area while battling with the nation’s 4th worst traffic according to February 2022 rankings. Oy.

And while we live “in” the city in a centrally located neighborhood (with sidewalks! and streetlights!) we go everywhere by car. We may walk around the block but there is no way to take a stroll to the grocery store or a restaurant or even a coffee shop. I could just as well live 30 miles out in the country.

*****

So I realized, while spending the week in my daughter’s top floor apartment just several blocks from the shores of Lake Michigan, that I miss – and actually crave – the hustle and bustle.

  • It was energizing to be surrounded by people whenever I wanted; even an elevator ride downstairs to check the mail was an adventure. (And after doing some back-of-the-envelope #HRmath I figured out the population density within a 2 block radius of her building alone far exceeds the approximately 3,400 people (1,428 households) in my neighborhood.)
  • It was delightful just to take a walk up the street, shopping list in hand, to grab some groceries. To a store where, accustomed to walkable customers, the cashiers automatically asked if I wanted to double bag heavy items for carrying. I was able to walk to the store, complete my errand, and return home in less time than it takes me to navigate an automobile trip to make groceries in Baton Rouge.
  • I found it thrilling to order from a restaurant and, instead of relying on Waitr delivery, taking a 5-minute stroll to pick it up myself. Naturally I felt it was my duty to uphold the Milwaukee Fish Fry tradition.

Was it loud? A bit. But I crave some noise when settling into bed at night. In the big city I simply found myself heading into slumberville to the sounds of street traffic and patrons at the corner pub rather than nodding off to my “Distant Thunder” sleep app.

Was it inconvenient? A bit. It does require more planning to maneuver purchases or packages from the parking garage (or the street) as opposed to pulling into one’s garage and just carting items into the house in a few trips. And I literally cannot fathom the thought of my dogs having to go down an elevator and out for regular walks as opposed to their existing life which consists of their doggy=please of “please open the door and let us out to run around the yard and bark and do-our-business whenever we want!”

Was it sensory overload? A bit. The lights were, well…BRIGHT; I found myself fervently wishing for some black-out shades at night.

Did I love it? Yes.

It was fully immersive. I found myself back in the city of my birth and in close approximation to a previous way of living. Would I live in the big city again? At this stage in my life? I don’t know. I’ve grown accustomed to quiet at night (and in the morning) with wandering neighborhood cats and the occasional possum showing up in the back yard. I know I will never get overnight (let alone same day) Amazon delivery which, quite frankly, I can easily do without.  All things considered I imagine I am destined to stay in “The Town.”  

But I am willing to try some Beach Livin.’

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