03.08.2011
Punishing employees simply because they have chosen to take their career in another direction has a very negative ripple effect

The manner in which a company treats employees who leave the company, especially during the resignation period, is often more important than how new employees are welcomed into an organization.

Even after 19 years of recruiting I am still surprised, especially here in Europe, about otherwise smart and wise senior business managers who devolve into petty vindictiveness that absolutely has a damaging effect on their organization and company goals.

Often I just cannot understand what they are thinking but I have concluded nasty behavior towards an outgoing employee in essence is more about the personal ego of the manager(s) than it is about how an individual’s exit will affect the organization as a whole.

As a recruiter, I simply introduce candidates to career possibilities and opportunities; nobody puts a gun to anyone’s head, and nobody forces a job seeker to consider another job, much less accept a new offer. Or, in the majority of cases a candidate makes a conscious effort to look for new employment.

For whatever reasons a person chooses to leave a job and seek a new one, surveys show an individual begins a proactive job search efforts 5-6 months after the initial consideration. Changing a job for most people is a serious consideration and for many it can be a most stressful transition, especially for a person who has been a conscientious, good and valued employee.

There are 3 primary reasons people who are gainfully employed choose to look for a new job:

  • Dissatisfaction or unhappiness with their role, management or direction of the company
  • Limited or no future career growth opportunity
  • Boredom, they no longer feel challenged

As it regards the third reason, between the seventh and the twelfth year a person generally reflects on their past and potential future with a company and determines they must either make a move to a new opportunity or remain where they are long term. And it is these people who experience the most stress during a transition.

In the United States, for example, with very few exceptions the resignation period is 2 weeks, regardless of whether you sweep floors or have a large windowed office in corporate HQ. In my opinion this allows for a nice clean break that benefits both sides.

Of course as we all know here, with few exceptions it is a 2 month resignation period if you resign at the end of the month. So when a senior manager, for whatever reason, chooses to make an employees departure difficult during the final weeks, it is usually for nothing more than personal reasons of ego and vindictiveness with almost nothing to do with the person’s choice to depart or the effect their departure will have on the organization. Sometimes there is a weak justification that an example must be made of the person so others stay in-line. This almost always backfires.

Sometimes there is a weak justification that an example must be made of the person so others stay in-line. But most often this is just silly because the attempt at intimidation almost always backfires and instead of keeping people in-line it creates the opposite effect. It is ironic when the day before a person resigns they were considered a model and valued employee, but the day after they resign they are suddenly portrayed as being a traitor of some kind, a burden or worse.

Unless a person has indeed intended to cause harm to their company, this kind of treatment is childish and less than professional but nonetheless it occurs often. In most cases it is a matter of acting before they think, in others the senior manager simply doesn’t care what others think. In either case, it damages the company environment and just creates more opportunities for recruiters and competitors making it much easier to extract other good employees.

For example, when peers and co-workers of a departing employee observe someone who has done nothing wrong, being treated badly upon announcing their departure, does anyone really think other employees are going to be cowed into being more obedient? No.

That kind of logic does not work in a kindergarten, a prison or even the military much less a company. It only demonstrates that regardless of whether you were a good employee or a bad, when you will try to leave the company, you will be treated just as poorly. It actually fosters a culture in which people become more duplicitous in the manner in which they leave a company, and why not? They are going to be treated badly anyway. It is not much of a reward for your hard work and service to the company, is it? So believe me after that, as a recruiter I do not have to call anyone else within that same company organization, they call me.

Last year, I recruited a manager level professional and after they resigned this person was treated very poorly and was made to spend the 2 months sitting at their empty desk having had their computer, notebook, mobile phone and email address removed from their possession and access. Before captive employee’s last day on the job, 2 of his 3 team members were so disgusted at the managers treatment they called me.

The end result was they followed their manager and moved to the new company as a team. Of course, I was blamed by the top management as the perpetrator responsible for stealing, their employees when in fact I had them to thank for the additional result.

I completely understand a top manager’s responsibilities and the difficulty to retain and maintain good employees. On the other hand, people chose to move to new companies for their own reasons; it is part of the business cycle. It is not necessary to have a party honoring them when they leave, and I am not suggesting that employees who leave should be unnecessarily praised. However, punishing them for no legitimate reason simply because they have chosen to take their career in another direction has a very negative ripple effect on other employee’s loyalty and at some point in time it will indeed cause a chain reaction most employers would cringe to think about. And it is even worse when they have only themselves and their rash behavior to blame.