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The Exiting Employee

by Apr 20, 2010, 5:46 am ET

In a recent article published by Forbes, “Keeping Ex-Employees Brand Loyal,” 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. This article really resonates with me because it speaks to why brand reputation is such a tender, yet volatile, facet of the employment value proposition. That article makes me think about how organizations manage not only their brand, but how they handle their employees, and with that, certain procedures they use when someone chooses to discontinue his/her employment.

For the sake of this article, I will address the topic of exit interviews. To start, why do companies conduct exit interviews and not 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 has to be this one. Employees must be provided 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. Another action that is at the very least unprofessional is be treating a soon-to-be former employee like she has the plague. This means avoiding her all together and placing the coins on her eyes before she has performed her last job duties. 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.

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 have to mean more to an organization than just being a number that will no longer exist. I know there are companies that 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.

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 about the employment value proposition and then a black mark against your employment brand. Companies that “get it” believe that the employment brand is as important as the corporate brand. Along with the corporate brand, your employment 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.

Organizations need to do a better job at recognizing that an individual who is leaving their organization may still value, and may be a 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. Sometimes I wonder if companies think about that, or even care. I liken this to sending a canary into a mine. If it doesn’t die from the toxic gas, it’s safe for others to follow. Think about this in terms of the former employee. She leaves and spreads the word that it’s safe “out there” for others to follow. Not only that, but you know that potential pool of good candidates from your top competitor? You need to believe they too will get wind of this and continue the conversation with their peers. So do you really want that former employee to tell her friends about how much better is it now that she’s gone? The obvious answer is “no,” but it does make me wonder, nevertheless.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

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  • Christine DeVore

    Cynthia-Insightful article! I enjoyed reading it and look forward to future posts.

    Christine DeVore
    Genentech Talent Acquisition

  • Sridhar Iriventi Ism

    Cynthia,

    You have chosen an oft neglected space in the talent acquisition space. How an employer handles talent exits shows the quality of the organisation. And it holds the key for quality of talent acquisition in future.

    Ostracising an exiting employee often happens when there is a chemistry mismatch between the hiring manager and the exiting employee.Though there are many other reasons. It only indicates the extreme controls on self expression. Any company who does that is indicating that the meaning of “Alignment” is not with the business it is being yes man to the boss in power.

    Sridhar.Iriventi@gmail.com

  • http://www.nasrecruitment.com C.T. Trivella

    Thank you Christine and Sridhar; I appreciate you taking the time to make comments.

    Sridhar, you bring up some very good points which add to the conversation.

    This is a very “touchy” subject and one that needs serious time and attention.

  • Kathy Lori

    My previous employer started to do less exit interviews because they already knew why the person was leaving and didn’t feel the need to actually hear those feeling from that person. Since it is a buyer’s market from the employers standpoint, they can easily go out and replace this person, if need be. I think companies go through the motions on the exit interview because they’ve done them for years and it’s routine. It may also be part of some legal cya just in case there are problems later.

  • http://www.nasrecruitment.com C.T. Trivella

    Thank you, Lori. I agree with your point about how companies go through the motions. This saddens me. It just supports that the exiting employee is a casualty to be soon forgotten. And yes, I would venture a guess that there is some legal cya involved.