How to say goodbye to your employees

Your send-off of departing staff conveys a clear and lasting message about the company to those who remain, and ripples well beyond the boundaries of the organisation.

Managing for profit by Peter Hughes

Barry worked for a company that provided water and refuse removal services to a small rural community.

He had been with the organisation for close to 20 years, and had worked himself up from a lowly clerical position to middle management. He enjoyed his job, was well-liked, and was a steady, effective and loyal employee.

While he was in his office one morning, his boss, who had been with the company for only a few months, walked in.

“Morning Barry,” she said. “Sorry to bother you, but I’ve a bit of bad news. The bosses upstairs have decided to restructure, and we won’t be needing your services anymore. Of course, you’ll be getting all the notice period pay and terminal benefits. I’ll drop you a line to confirm these in a day or two.”

As upset and angry as Barry was by the news and the casual manner in which it had been delivered, he could not bring himself to condemn the organisation publicly. He responded to anyone who questioned him with a curt “It’s their prerogative to decide”.

At the end of the month, he packed up his office and walked out. No farewell function, no public thanks, no good luck wishes. The news of his callous retrenchment spread far and wide in the company and community.

Sensitivity and empathy
Contrast this with the case in a similar organisation, where a valued employee,
let’s call him Joseph, resigned to move to another job. His boss was upset by
the news.

Joseph had been with the company for only a few years, and the boss had personally put a lot of time, effort and money into the training and development of the employee.

“How could he do this?” he asked himself. But after having got over the initial shock, and having had time to cool down and think more deeply about the contribution Joseph had made to the company, here is what his boss said to him:

“I’ll miss you tremendously. Not just your talents, but your attitude, dedication and positive influence on me personally.

“Whoever has hired you is a lucky person, and I’m sure they’ll appreciate you as much as we did. All the best, and perhaps one day I’ll have the privilege of working with you once again.”

When an employee leaves you, whether due to retrenchment, resignation, or some other reason, it’s a time for cool heads, sensitivity, empathy and integrity.

Deeply upsetting
Being retrenched is a highly traumatic experience, and needs to be communicated with sensitivity, care and concern to protect the self-esteem of the person concerned.

Retrenchment is almost always due to factors beyond the control of both the employee and the boss, and does not reflect on the performance of the person concerned. This is one of the points that the boss needs to emphasise to the affected employee.

A resignation is also in no way a disloyal act. We should be happy for those employees who find something that suits them better. A warm goodbye, with good wishes ringing in their ears, is what’s required.

Apart from this being the right thing to do for a loyal employee, it makes sound business sense; after all, you never know whether or not that person might want to come back to you, better trained, more experienced and more valuable to you than ever.

Good relationships
Whatever the reason for the departure of an employee, how you treat this person during the exit process affects your company’s reputation, the morale of your staff, and the future attitude of the departing employee.

In short, you owe it to everyone to give your departing employee a positive and generous send-off. After all, good relationships have no ending.