Employees leave. They may go because you have terminated their employment, or they may resign for personal reasons, such as to pursue greener pastures. Each category presents a different set of issues.
When an employee is dismissed, whether for cause or due to downsizing, you need to be alert to the risk of various kinds of blowback. It’s no longer enough just to ask such an employee to clean out his or her desk and hand over the office keys (or key card). Of particular concern today is what departing employees can do with their access to electronically stored company data. As numerous recent high-profile data breaches demonstrate, someone with bad intent can wreak havoc.
In addition to discontinuing the employee’s access to the work email system, it’s critical to protect company data that can be tapped remotely. That includes files shared on systems such as Dropbox or Google Apps including documents, calendars and others. A global search can determine who has access to various files, but ask an IT professional to identify any areas of potential exposure that may need to be secured.
Make sure that colleagues of the terminated employee understand they must avoid sharing any potentially sensitive information going forward.
As a proactive measure, set strict policies to govern employee use of their own devices — such as laptops — when telecommuting. It’s not always possible to prevent employees from gaining possession of electronic company data, but it should be emphasized that once an employee is terminated, retaining or accessing company data could result in legal repercussions.
When an employee leaves to take another job elsewhere, it’s a whole different ballgame. “Off-boarding” these workers thoroughly, particularly those in higher-level positions, will reduce the pain of losing them — and could create dividends for you in the longer term. Your goals might be to:
- Ensure a smooth transition for the employee who will replace the departing one.
- Encourage the departing employee to spread the word about the benefits of working for your company, and
- Make it possible for him or her to return to work for you in the future if that becomes desirable.
When a valued employee resigns, it’s natural to feel some disappointment, but perhaps also some resentment if the departure creates problems for you and your staff. Of course, that’s counterproductive. Instead, consider whether your company’s policies may have contributed to the employee’s decision to move on.
It might make for a smoother transition if you let employees who are leaving know that, while you regret losing them, you’re sympathetic to the need for change. And, if you’re so inclined, leave the door open for highly valued employees who might someday wish to return to your company.
Beyond maintaining a positive attitude, it’s important first to have a plan in place for addressing the loss of a key employee and the job knowledge that person has developed. You’ll need a way to capture and transfer as much of that knowledge as possible to the employee’s replacement.
While it’s not practical to customize a plan for each employee who might resign, it can be a good idea to proactively outline the categories of knowledge and skills for hard-to-fill positions. For example, when one person has occupied a job for a long time, it’s often hard to gauge the actual knowledge that’s about to walk out your door.
As soon as an employee gives notice, ask him or her to catalog information that might not be widely known. Rather than a standard job description, ask for a list of the daily tasks (as well as periodic tasks), plus resources and contacts the employee has developed to get the job done.
You might also consider scheduling a series of meetings wherein the current employee debriefs his or her successor. That gives the successor a chance to ask questions and “pick the brain” of the current employee. Or, if time permits, arrange for job shadowing. This can be beneficial even if it’s just a temporary successor until you can hire a replacement, because the temporary successor can then pass along what he or she has learned to the ultimate successor.
By keeping everything friendly, you’re more likely to maintain open lines of communication after the employee has moved on to the next job. That way, you might be able to contact him or her with occasional questions if necessary.
Turnover is never easy, but it’s also a fact of business life. The trick is to limit the inherent hazards and costs by anticipating how certain situations will be addressed before you need to act.
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