Picture this: you’re in a committed relationship and have been happy with your partner for years. One day, your partner surprises you by announcing they’re leaving you for a new partner and moving to a new city with them in two weeks.
That sounds like an outlandish scenario, but it happens in the professional world constantly. As you read this, people in all industries are exiting their jobs the same way: a surprise announcement; a difficult, awkward conversation with a supervisor; and two weeks’ notice in countries where it’s not legally required to provide more.
It’s an abrupt end to a professional relationship that may have lasted years. Often, the employee is even asked to leave that same day. And, when a company decides an employee is no longer working out, that person is let go without much notice or warning, with just a few weeks severance pay, if he or she is lucky.
This whole two weeks’ notice paradigm is due to be replaced.
It doesn’t make sense for employees to apply for other jobs secretly, or to silently grow unhappy without voicing their dissatisfaction to a supervisor.
In many cases, this system of employee transitions stems from real issues. Some people fear that speaking up about issues will break trust with managers or even lead to dismissal. Conversely, too many employers think people will spend their entire careers with them, and think exiting employees are aberrational situations that can be handled as they’ve always been done.
But the new generation of employees is more mobile than ever, often choosing to pursue the best opportunity over the stability of staying in one place. Businesses have not adjusted to this reality, and the need for change is more urgent than it appears.
The continuation of the status quo is damaging for both employees and companies.
As it stands, businesses have the impossible task of recruiting and hiring replacement employees in just a few weeks. In service fields, a sudden departure can even jeopardize client relationships.
An abrupt exit can follow employees throughout their careers. Social media platforms like LinkedIn make it easy for hiring managers to conduct back-channel references with a candidate’s old employer, which means a poor departure can haunt a person without her even knowing it. On the flip side, employees who feel they were mistreated flock to social media and job boards to share their negative experiences, making hiring infinitely more difficult for their former companies.
Four years ago, our team at Acceleration Partners decided to create a more transparent, respectful system of employee transitions. After years of hard work, we believe we have developed a better way, something we call Mindful Transition. This program acknowledges that departures are inevitable and provides everyone with tools for parting ways on terms that are good both for the employee and the company.
Creating this program hasn’t been easy, but the benefits are clear. Since starting Mindful Transition at AP, we’ve seen improved employee engagement and happiness, and our unwanted turnover has been below the average for our industry.
Here are the vital components of a successful open transition program.
1. Recognize that employment is not for life.
We’re long past the days when employees spent their entire career in one job. Sixty-four percent of employees today think job-hopping is an acceptable or beneficial practice. Rather than ignore this shift, managers need to create environments where employees can be open about their interests and ambitions. When it’s time to move on, managers and employees should be able to have an open conversation about conducting that transition on a mutually beneficial timetable.
The subject of leaving a company should not be taboo. When I was an employee, I hated the secrecy of changing jobs and often felt disingenuous sneaking off to job interviews. And as a manager, I’ve learned it doesn’t feel good to discover a member of your team has been secretly planning an exit strategy for months or years. Once we acknowledge that employment is not for life, employees and managers can have transition-related conversations in the open, which is better for everybody.
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2. Treat employees with respect.
The best teams are built on good relationships, which means it can be hard to separate personal feelings from professional judgment. If a manager has someone on her team who’s a great person, she feels conflicted about addressing performance issues with that person. But this is a disservice to the employee. It’s possible that he isn’t doing well simply because he wants to or should be doing something different.
At AP, we strive to create an environment of psychological safety where employees feel comfortable speaking up if they’re unhappy or have concerns. To support open communication, we have pledged not to dismiss anyone for bringing issues to the surface. Instead, we try either to fix the problem, or to determine a mutually acceptable timetable for a transition to a new role, either at AP or outside of the company. This policy supports the idea that it’s possible to care about somebody and treat him or her respectfully while still meeting high-performance standards. The two are not mutually exclusive.
We don’t dismiss the personal aspect of our work—in fact, one of AP’s core values is “embrace relationships.” But we train our managers to separate their personal feelings from professional performance in order to get to the underlying truth, identify issues early, and address problems directly and openly.
3. Welcome feedback and foster transparency.
Given the “two weeks’ notice culture,” it’s not enough to wait for employees to speak up. Leaders need to seek out feedback from their employees. Start difficult conversations and use feedback systems to identify small issues before they become unfixable. At AP, we call these efforts “early warning radar.”
When employees feel safe speaking up, problems are often solved early. When that’s not possible, managers at least have advance notice that an employee might be moving on—which gives them a chance to start the search for a replacement.
There are many exercises and tools for feedback. We regularly ask employees what we do well, what we need to change, and what practices we should discontinue. We use TINYpulse to take monthly and quarterly engagement surveys to track employee morale. And we run regular town hall meetings, where we encourage employees to ask difficult questions of leadership.
Join me in making this change.
The two weeks’ notice paradigm is outdated and harmful to both employees and businesses. Eliminating this practice won’t happen overnight, but it’s worth the effort. Building empathy and humanity into the workplace is a vital part of building a better workplace and world.
I hope you will join me in trying to make this change in our workplaces. My recent TEDx Talk digs into what we have done at AP to successfully launch the Mindful Transition program, and my recent article in Harvard Business Review examines how others can create similar programs in their own businesses. Let’s move toward a better, more empathetic system.
Robert Glazer is the Founder and CEO of global performance marketing agency, Acceleration Partners.