Exiting Employees: Gone Today, Here Tomorrow

In a 2016 article published on SHRM.org, Stay in Touch with Former Employees; One Could Be Your Next Hire the author describes some of the dos and don’ts as to what companies can and should do to protect their brand image when employees leave an organization and further why there is value in keeping a line of communication open… in some instances. Further, this article stresses the importance of conducting a proper exit interview and the myriad possibilities for outcomes down the road.

In large part, when employees leave an organization, leadership’s radar should be highly attuned to why someone is leaving and focus on why their brand reputation is such a tender, yet volatile, facet of the employment value proposition. The SHRM article makes me think about how organizations manage their brand, the employees, and what processes they use when someone chooses to discontinue his/her employment.

So why do companies partake in this exit interview exercise? This is a question I’ve heard many thought leaders in the field of human resources challenge for years. Maybe it’s the company’s way of maintaining control or having the last say in how someone may exit the organization. I would hate to think it’s just for the sake of finalizing the paperwork, or that it’s because “this is the way we’ve always done this, so why question it.” People should mean more to an organization than just being a number that will no longer exist. I know some companies recognize the importance of a well-designed and meaningful exit interview. They gather the answers, sift through the fluff, and isolate the nuggets of gold they can profit from knowing. I applaud them.

On the opposite side, a poorly delivered exit interview will undoubtedly affect the morale of the existing employee population, denigrate the exiting employee, and ultimately place a black cloud of negativity over the culture within an organization. At a higher level comes the perception of the employment value proposition and then a black mark against your employer brand. Companies that “get it” believe that the employer brand is as important as the corporate brand. Along with the corporate brand, your employer brand is the epitome of your organization’s humanity, the essence of your culture, the bench strength of your outreach to the community, and supports the ambassadors you place in front of your customers every day.

Some companies conduct exit interviews and don’t use that information to the company’s benefit. If you really don’t care about what exiting employees think, why go to the trouble of asking them, “What could we have done better?” By the way, this is way too ambiguous a question and one that when posed even with the best of intentions can make the exiting employee feel cornered. There are also questions like, “What did you like and dislike about your job?” This one makes me cringe. If ever there was a question that begged to be asked during the active employment lifecycle, it should be this one. Employees must be provided an opportunity to speak and to be heard while on the payroll. This means that waiting until someone has one foot out the door is tantamount to a missed opportunity.

As a sidebar, another action that is at the very least unprofessional is to be treating a soon-to-be former employee like she has the plague. Understandably, if there is a proprietary project looming near, it is perfectly acceptable and sometimes necessary for the manager to keep it out of this person’s hands, but please don’t act uncouth about it. People will notice, and I mean all people, not just the exiting employee.

Generally, organizations need to do a better job at recognizing that an individual who is leaving their organization may still add value, and may be an ongoing source of value for, that organization. When someone leaves, that individual may be leaving the organization, but she is not leaving the friendships built during her time spent with the company. Also, without fully understanding why someone is leaving, organizations are at a disadvantage at knowing if the exiting employee would consider re-employment. Today with it being a candidate’s market versus an employer’s, closing the door on communication to former employees is a mistake no company can make. Of course, there will always be those individuals who are not on the “call back list,” so they should be separated out from the other former employees who are desirable.

Don’t wait to ask people what excites them about coming to work every day, ask them while they are still on the payroll and take heed of their comments. If someone is leaving, show genuine interest in understanding why. Employees are like customers, the minute you acquire a new one is the first day you begin to lose them. Cultivate your relationships.

Previously posted on ERE.net