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Employee Departures

When a Good Employee Moves On

While it should be your goal to keep your employees as long as possible, be aware that there will always be a “changing of the guard.” Employees will come and employees will go. You can slow the process down, but you probably can’t stop it. Today, the average person goes through at least three career changes in a lifetime.

This does not need to be as bad as it may first appear, however. An outstanding employee who stays for only a few years, for example, is probably better than a terrible one who never leaves. If someone contributes to the overall development of your company, then they were worth the investment.

Exit Interviews

When employees leave on their own accord, always conduct an exit interview. They may say some things that are hard to hear, but you need to listen. Even if they are leaving for strictly personal reasons, they're likely to be their most candid at this point. If you really want to know how you can become a better employer, this is one of the best ways to find out.

"I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism."

- Charles Schwab

Problems with Employees

If an employee is performing below standard, try to see the situation for what it really is. Poor performance is rarely self-explanatory. It's usually a symptom of some deeper problem.

Let your employee know you're aware of the situation and offer your support to find and solve its cause. You may discover that the problem lies outside of the job. You may even find that the problem has to do with you. Whatever you discover, don’t take it personally. If it's valid, offer your support.

When you understand the root of a problem you have a fighting chance to solve it properly, maybe even permanently. If you attack the symptom, you will get only temporary results. Train every one of your employees to think this way and you will have a spectacular business.

This is not an excuse for your employees to allow every little problem to affect their work. There are times when work must be done in spite of our immediate personal needs. Just remember, if your people are your number one asset, treat them that way.

Letting Employees Go

Before letting an employee go, give him the benefit of the doubt. If he's a loyal, well-meaning employee, he might simply need a little more training. Alternatively, he may be better suited to a different position within your company. Rather than letting a problem employee go, if he fits well with your corporate values, it may make sense to explore your alternatives first.

Occasionally, you will need to ask an employee to leave. Your reasons may vary anywhere from unsatisfactory work, to illegal activities but whatever your reasons, make sure they are well documented in your employee files. Old problems have a way of coming back to haunt you when they are not disposed of properly. For example, you may let an employee go because of the poor quality of their work, but they may take legal action, claiming they were let go due to discrimination. Clear documentation will help to support your decision, should the need arise.

Unless your employee has engaged in illegal activity, it's usually best to follow the “three strikes you’re out” method. Give your employee at least two written warnings related to the same problem before letting him go. Copies should be kept in his file, preferably signed by both the employee and his manager.


Once you have decided to rid yourself of a problem employee, do it as soon as possible. Ask them to leave, no matter what the cost. In the long run, avoiding the issue will be far more costly.

If you must let someone go, but are concerned about possible legal repercussions, speak with your attorney first. He or she will be able to advise you of your possible risks and how to minimize them. This is especially important if you're letting go of a position that is high up and involves stock options, etc.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you are letting an employee go:

  • Do it quickly - Postponing, or dragging it out will not make it easier on you or the employee.
  • Stick to the facts - You don't need to explain further.
  • Don't argue - Your employee will likely be emotional. Nothing good will come from an argument.
  • Have the employee's final cheque (including severance) ready if possible.
  • Gather your team directly after to inform and reassure them, but don't explain your reasons for letting the employee go.
  • Make sure you have one other person in the room to act as a witness.
  • Do it on Monday morning, or as early in the week as possible.
  • Do it after holidays, rather than before. - You'll be tempted as a manager to get it out of the way, but from the employee's position, the reverse is true, and he or she is less likely to cause legal trouble.

Create your Employee Exit system, covering both situations that may arise: an employee who quits, and employee termination. Review this system with your lawyer before implementing it.

“Employees are most apt to deal with their problems when they believe that they will be helped in good faith.”

- Paul V. Lyons - Partner of Foley, Hoag & Eliot