People are like elephants

Recently, a candidate I had recruited gave notice to his current employer to take a position with one of my clients. Like most candidates, he was nervous about giving notice.

Handing in your resignation is rarely an easy event. Anyone who has ever resigned will probably tell you that. It was a big move. He wanted to make sure he handled it in a professional manner, so that he would be viewed in a positive light and not burn any bridges for the future.

I told my candidate that he may get a rush to convince him to stay – or, potentially, the cold shoulder. Maybe even hostility. He got the latter. Actually, he got the cold shoulder and then hostility. This was precisely the wrong approach for the employer to take. Had they responded with the same level of professionalism, they would have been viewed with respect by the resigning employee. The employer would have sent the message that they were a class act. The employer gave themselves a self-inflicted black eye!

As an organization, ask yourself this question: How do you treat people when they resign to take another job? This sends a powerful message to everyone else in the organization about whether or not you respect people. I hear from candidates all the time that people become lepers upon resigning or, worse yet, are treated poorly. Managers, take note: Your remaining people are watching your every move and absorbing how you treat the departing employee. Treating the departing employee shabbily is often the deciding factor for other people in the company who are wondering if they should stay with your organization.

Your actions as an organization may push remaining employees over the edge from wondering about leaving, to actively looking for another job! More importantly, people are like elephants – they never forget. They will file the memory of how you treated the departing employee, and use it as another reason to rationalize why they should leave your organization when the right opportunity presents itself! I emphasize this point when giving my “Give Your Employees C.R.A.P … and 7 Other Secrets to Employee Retention” presentation to organizations. Always treat a departing employee with dignity and respect, wish them the best, and do what you can to make the transition as smooth as possible. The departing employee will appreciate it, and the remaining employees will see it as a positive reflection on the organization.

Treating someone like my candidate was treated reinforces to the departing person that they made the right decision. As a professional recruiter, I get very nervous when people are treated really well during their notice period. Why? Because they often start to feel bad about leaving an organization and their good relationships with co-workers. This makes them vulnerable to a counter offer, or more easily enticed back later if the new organization does not live up to their expectations.

You have two choices: Treat departing employees well and be viewed as a class act, or treat them shabbily and give yourself a self-inflicted black eye.

This issue will grow in importance as the economy accelerates. Managers are hurt when someone leaves. Sometimes their initial reaction is to lash out. This is the last thing you want, because all the remaining employees will paint the entire management team with that same negative brush. They’ll start to wonder if this is the type of organization they want to remain with. When deciding how to act when someone tells you they are leaving, remember: People are like elephants … they never forget!

Jeff Kortes, a Franklin resident, is a nationally-known speaker, writer and consultant on employee retention and engagement. He has published two books, “Welcome to Dodge – Tales From the Frontiers of Business” and “Employee Retention Fundamentals – No Nonsense Strategies to Retain Your Best People.”

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