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Much like the song “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” by Paul Simon, there are many ways for employees and employers to part ways.

And much like the song “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” by Neil Sedaka, whether they leave us, or we leave them, it’s tough and how it happens matters.

For the employee, telling an employer you are leaving feels awkward. Much like a breakup with a loved one or partner, you are telling the employer that you don’t want to spend time together anymore, they aren’t fulfilling your needs, you don’t find joy with them, and you don’t see a future with them. You are moving on to something better with someone else. Ouch!

For the employer, terminating a relationship with an employee comes with a multitude of issues. There can be a conflict between doing what the company needs from a business standpoint and acting with empathy toward the employee. Terminations are fraught with emotion. It can be everything from you aren’t a good fit (aka, you aren’t what we thought you were) to the job changed and we need someone stronger, smarter, faster, more tech savvy, etc. Bottom line: We don’t’ see a future with you anymore.  Ouch!

How does it usually go down?

Employees can resign on the spot, give two weeks’ notice, or sometimes they just don’t show up to work at all. Employees get terminated in various ways, as well. Sometimes it’s an arduous process of performance improvement plans and painful discussions leading to termination. Other times, employees are completely blindsided. What they thought was a company that valued them turns out to be a company that doesn’t see a future with them. They feel dropped, and on top of the rejection, they have bills to pay and a family to tell. This is devastating.  

Of course, with a suffering economy, many employees are worried about their jobs and many businesses have struggled. They are having to be creative with staffing, and this has resulted in some downsizing and right sizing. Whether it’s a fit issue, position elimination, or corporate restructuring, the more open the employer can be, the smoother the transition.

We know employees leave in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons and we often think of this as a negative transition, but does it have to be?

As a career coach, I see many ways that separations occur. One trend I’ve observed is companies having those “fit’ discussions earlier and being more transparent about what the needs of the organization are. Some clients are allowing the employee to look for a new role while still employed, and they are offering career transition assistance and severance as well.

If an employee wanted to quit and came to you or your leadership asking for some time and space to look for a new role, what would you do?

Would that be viewed as a positive?  We fear being transparent about our feelings because we don’t want to get fired or experience retaliation, but what if, instead, we could make it a win-win? What if we could find a more satisfying role that’s a better fit and help the company with a seamless transition? What if we could collaborate with our employer or employee on how we “break up”? I’ve recently heard from people who have done this very thing. They want to move on and are able to have a frank discussion with their employer about leaving. They agree to work hard, conduct their job search with transparency, and part as friends. The employer sometimes even offers career transition assistance to help them. This allows the employer to recruit at the same time and for there to be a peaceful transition of work. It sounds so simple, but trust me, this can happen and does.

If you have to part ways with any employees, either in a group or just one individual, please reach out to learn more about career transition assistance or outplacement. I’ve worked with so many employees, and I’ve heard the relief in their voices that they will have some guidance for their search. It shows empathy from the employer, and there’s a business case for it, as well! Not only can it reduce unemployment costs, but it also makes it less likely that the employee will take legal action. Perhaps most importantly, the remaining team will see your compassion and feel more engaged in their jobs, which results in higher productivity and longer retention. There’s no great way to end a working relationship, but with more communication early on and more empathy, it really can be what’s best for everyone.

Peggy Hogan
Peggy Hogan
Peggy is the Vice President of Talent Services at Purple Ink. Peggy enjoys connecting the right person to the right place, whether she’s career coaching, recruiting or working on-site with a client. She is motivated to help create positive workspaces by offering creative solutions to problems in the workplace, resulting in reduced turnover, higher employee engagement and increased productivity.

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