“There is no such thing as a throw-away person” This wisdom applies to both the coming together and the moving apart of workplace relationships.
Workplace relationships do not disappear the day an employee cleans out their desk and leaves or the last paycheck is cut. The ending of a workplace relationship may be characterized as a firing, voluntary resignation, or a well-earned retirement. But, in any of these scenarios there is value to both the organization and the individual of a good-bye that is well done.
Why does a good good-bye matter? It matters because relationships matter and continue in some form long after a formal parting of ways. An employee with whom an organization parts ways continues to have both voice and presence in the workplace and in the larger community. This ‘voice’ may be the organizations greatest promoter or its greatest detractor. When an employee leaves they carry with them the public association with the company they have left.
An employee who leaves an organization is marked by his or her time in the company of their colleagues. He or she carries your brand with them into the outside world.
A positive extreme is an employee who remains a loyal voice for what your organization stands for. They promote the product and the company mission. They may continue to support ways in which the organization has ‘given back’ to the community with their time and effort.
An extreme negative scenario is an ex-employee who trashes your organization publically. In very extreme cases, outraged employees have returned to unleash threats, lawsuits, or even violence against an organization or a boss that they feel has wronged them.
When an individual leaves an organization it disrupts not only the relationships with the people in the organization, but also with the place. The sudden loss of the familiar surroundings and routines of the workplace may be disconcerting. An employee terminated from an organization, without attention to how this is done, may suffer to some degree, similar traumas to refugees displaced from their home.
Parting ways in the workplace can be done well. This is a time for honest and deep conversations. It is an opportunity for reflection and evaluations. What is working well in the organization and what might be changed?
The 4:00 PM Friday firing when an employee is escorted out of the building and the insincere recognition of long years of service handed to an employee in the form of a plaque are both examples of workplace partings that are not done well.
The organization and the individual are both in need of closure when they part ways. There is need for good process around the event. Evaluations and exit interviews give both parties opportunities for saying things that need to be said. This is a time when it may pay to tolerate a little venting of feelings. There is a grieving process that may need to happen.
Separation of an employer and employee is a chance not only for closure but also for learning from the relationships that are changing and how workplace relationships might be done better.
An organization ought to have clear protocols for training and orienting new employees. It equally needs good protocols for parting ways with employees. This is an opportunity to build life-affirming and positive ways of parting ways.
Good good-byes are affirming of the best that has been in the organization. They are also affirming of the new chapter and opportunity for growth and the best of what can be for both the individual leaving and the organization.
My business mentor and friend, Terry DeWood—formerly CEO of Kroger Corporation—once shared at a management team meeting the reflection that “there is no such thing as a throw-away person.” That wisdom surely applies to both the coming together and the growing apart of workplace relationships.
By Dr. Samuel Mahaffy