The Real Reason Employers Should Treat Departing Employees Well

quitI just finished reading a LinkedIn article with a long chain of comments about why employers should be nice to employees who have just given their two-week notice. There was a carefully reasoned rationale, that included thoughts about how your paths may cross again someday, how the person who’s leaving may one day be your boss, and how being horrible could affect the employees who haven’t left yet. Some of the comments argued that people on the way out act awful too, and perhaps they deserve the shunning.

Of course, all those points are valid in some circumstances – things I’ve seen from both sides of the two-week notice, as the employer and the person leaving. I can honestly say that I’ve never left a job without being absolutely beside myself about ensuring that my coworkers not get left “holding the bag” as I leave – almost every time (with a notable exception or two) this sentiment has extended to my employer, too. I am sure most people feel the same.

However, having run my own business for nearly 30 years, I have far more experience with being on the receiving end of the two-week notice.

As an employer, the truth is that “being dumped” by an employee hurts. It may seem like a silly analogy, but a lot of the less dignified behavior we hear about — from both sides — really sounds like a bad break-up.

We think we can create the greatest workplace ever and may even put our hearts and our souls into developing our employees, doing our best to help them manage their work-life balance or discover new talents. In fact, many of us are truly good people to work for.

And then they leave.


But there is a great answer to this that has nothing to do with what’s-in-it-for-me or how bad behavior could affect me some day when I least expect it. The secret is this: Those of us who have developed our employees well, may have done a really good job of helping them grow into the next great opportunity. They are people who we have taught and mentored.

Take our wounded egos (and temporarily scrambled operations outlook) out of the picture, and it may mean that we have actually done our job very well. At the end of the day, isn’t helping our employees advance in their lives one of the highest goods we can do? “I will sure as heck miss you — but I am happy for you” is a valid and noble response to the two-week notice.

When we truly prepare someone for his or her next success and they stay in house: fantastic! When it means they will go elsewhere to continue to grow and we’ve given them tools to help, that’s pretty good, too.

I still receive notes from people who worked for me even 20 years ago. Their babies have graduated college — one with a PhD, their own careers are booming, they are looking forward to retiring by the lake. I happen to think what little part their tenure with my company played in helping all those things happen is just plain awesome! (… No matter how terrible it felt they day I heard they were leaving!)