When an employee steps into your office, says those words, and closes the door, you know that something is up. And often, that something is something along the lines of, “I’m giving notice. My last day at the company will be…”
Sometimes, this can be a relief. It’s much nicer to have an employee quit than to have to go through all the steps it takes to fire him or her. Sometimes, it’s not a surprise. Maybe you’re also mentoring the employee and have discussed next career steps with him or her. Sometimes, however, it’s heartbreaking. The employee giving notice may be the lynchpin of your biggest project or the one you were grooming to be your successor.
Whether you’re hearing good news or bad, however, here are five things you must never do when an employee gives notice:
1. Take it personally.
Maybe the employee is leaving because he or she dislikes working for you as a manager, or maybe it’s something different. It could be family issues, salary, learning opportunities, or just needing a breath of fresh air. Whatever it is, you’ll find out in the exit interview. Becoming immediately defensive or taking it personally when your employee is trying to get through an already nerve-wracking conversation about quitting will leave a bad taste in the employee’s mouth. If you find yourself becoming defensive, take a deep breath and remind yourself that employees come and go as part of life in business. Try to suspend your suspicions at least until the exit interview.
2. Argue or berate.
Even if your employee has done an open job search, giving notice is still nerve-wracking. If you immediately lash out at her or tell him how glad you are that he’s leaving because he’s awful, you have just made every “bad boss” nightmare come true. If you’re prone to outbursts, coach yourself to take a deep breath when you’re confronted with the situation and make sure you have a positive response prepared (e.g., “I’m sorry to hear that; may I ask where you’re going?”).
3. Express relief publicly.
Do not–ever–immediately tell every other employee how relieved you are that the departing employee is departing. Don’t do it in one-on-ones, or even if you have a great relationship outside of work. It makes you look unprofessional and will make the other employees wonder whether you’re harboring similar thoughts about them and their performance. Even if you are positively bursting with glee that the departing employee is leaving, wait until you’re with your partner or a non-work friend to revel in your delight.
4. Play politics.
Telling the employee not to say anything to anyone until you can figure out how to spin the situation will come across as spineless and ridiculous. Chances are that the employee has already told their friends, and, by playing politics, you’ll look spineless and ridiculous to them, too. If you do need to handle the situation carefully, it’s better to say, “Let me check and see exactly the process for handling this; I’ll get back to you ASAP,” and say nothing about explicitly keeping it quiet due to spin.
Whatever you feel or whatever the next steps are, you should never just say, “Okay; thank you,” and go right back to work. Your employee likely has no idea what might happen next. Will you give him a counter-offer? What exit interview process will she need to follow? Will he be immediately walked off the premises because he’s going to a competitor or is in a sensitive role? Is she allowed to tell her colleagues or publish it on social media? Take the time to talk through the next steps and questions, realizing that you may have to admit to not knowing all the answers and will be finding out.
In case you hadn’t figured it out from the “don’ts” above, when an employee walks into your office and gives notice, make sure you:
- Acknowledge it.
- Politely ask where he or she is going.
- Congratulate him or her on the new opportunity.
- Gently express regret that you’re losing a valuable employee.
- Inform him or her about what the next steps will be (e.g., counter offer, exit interview, how to handle the news with the team, last day policies, etc.). If you don’t know the next steps, say that, find out, and get back ASAP.
Reacting correctly to an employee who gives notice will smooth out his or her experience. If the employee has a good experience with you on the way out, your other employees will know about it. This will build your reputation as a boss, and you (hopefully) will have to have this conversation fewer times in the future!
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