It is a scene that plays out every day in many organizations across the world. An employee walks into his or her supervisor’s office (or emails him or her in the age of remote working) and lets them know that they are tendering their resignation after serving the notice period specified in the offer letter when they joined.
How the supervisor responds then shapes the employee experience to a large extent.
And, how the supervisor responds is dependent on the relationship they shared and the conversations they have had until this point.
It is often said when employees join they join organizations, but when they leave they leave managers. While that may not always be true, it cannot be denied that the immediate manager or supervisor plays an outsized role.
The importance of having an exit process that is empathetic and treats every employee as a human being is critical. When a person is heard and acknowledged on their way out they can act as ambassadors and share their positive stories with prospective candidates who reach out to them. When a person is treated with disrespect or when the supervisor or Human Resource representative lets the process take precedence over human factors it can lead to an irreparable damage to the relationship between parties
According to research by Everett Spain and Boris Groysberg, many companies don’t even conduct exit interviews. Some collect exit interview data but don’t analyze it. Some analyze it but don’t share it with the senior line leaders who can act on it. Only a few collect, analyze, and share the data and follow up with action. They suggest having interviews conducted by second- or third-line managers. Make exit interviews mandatory for at least some employees. And because standard interviews enable you to spot trends, but unstructured ones elicit unexpected insights, consider combining the two approaches in semistructured interviews.
A strategic Exit Interview program provides insight into what employees are thinking, reveals problems in the organization, and sheds light on the competitive landscape.
How should a manager behave when an employee resigns?
The first thing a manager should not try to do is make it about himself or herself. Resist the urge of saying “How could you do this to me?” Doing so makes the employees defensive and probably close up.
The manager should not, on the other hand suppress, their own emotions. Acknowledging it is important. Especially for first time manager it can lead to self-doubt. Talking to a coach (if available) or a senior professional could be a way to deal with it.
Do not blame the employee for being ungrateful
Do not treat the employee as a traitor out to share trade secrets with competitors., cutting them out of team meetings during the remainder of their notice period
Listen to the employee without judgement. Take their word at face value. In an example a startup entrepreneur shared with me, when he told his employer that he was leaving to pursue an idea to build a business, his manager did not believe him. They suspected that it was just an excuse and he was off to join some competitor. The entrepreneur shared that though his employment was okay enough, this lack of trust soured the relationship with his former employer
The manager should realise that every resignation is an opportunity - an opportunity to relook at root causes where it broke down and to truthfully share that with the organization so that such mistakes are minimised and reduced in the future. Often these will trigger a need for self-reflection and requires a degree of self awareness for a manager to reflect on his or her own behaviour that might have led to a breakdown in the relationship. This would give data for possible development needs for the manager.
Listen to the employee’s needs during the notice period. Do they want to serve out the full notice period or adjust the remainder of their leaves against some portion of the notice period. Organizations in India specifically have long notice periods of two to three months, which in my opinion is not needed for a majority of roles in most organizations. However if the employee has a rare skill that is not readily available in the market then retaining such an employee should have been the first priority. If their new employer wants them to join early and is willing to buy out the notice period, then trying to not let that happen and forcing the employee to work is counterintuitive - and yet we come across so many cases of employers trying to do the same thing. It makes the exit process difficult and leaves a bad taste in the mouth of both parties
Managers and employers should look at it as the continuance of an existing relationship and not as the end of one. If organizations look at themselves as ‘learning academies’ where people come to learn and perform - they will look at their ex-employees as alumni and brand ambassadors. This shift of thinking should be driven by the very top of the organization. Treating alumni well can lead to tangible gains like business (something that management consulting firms like McKinsey are famed for) as well as acting as referrers of great talent (hereby saving recruitment related costs) that the company needs. People tend to trust the opinion of ex-employees more than others as they are seen as more credible than other sources.
The bottom line is that managing the exits of employees is as important, if not more , as the entry of people into an organization.
One way organizations can do this is creating a cross functional team that looks at simplifying processes to make exits across the organization, and empowering managers to take decisions that are beneficial in the long term interests of the departing employee as well as the organization. It needs to comprise CXOs like the COO, the CTO, the CFO and the CHRO.
This team should also hold development sessions for managers on the dos and don'ts on dealing with their people when they submit their resignations. In fact, it should be a part of every new manager orientation and development. For that the leadership itself has to come up with a philosophy on how they view departing employees and that then can percolate within the organization.