Employee Separations Can Open New Doors

Most Federal leaders agree that hiring the right talent is a top priority for their teams. And, there’s a continued focus on improving employee engagement, the topic of our last blog, as well as job satisfaction. Yet, one underutilized opportunity pertains to understanding why employees leave agencies when they do.

When an employee resigns, do you think of it as a door closing? Most people do. But, a departure doesn’t have to be a closed door. When handled well, it can provide you with important information. And, it can provide tremendous opportunities to open new doors for your agency and your future hiring.

We all know that not all turnover is bad and not all retention is good. Either way, turnover is a fact of life. In a 2014 article, The Washington Post highlighted that of those leaving jobs in the Federal sector in 2013, 34 percent were resignations and 54 percent were retirements. Resignations reflect those workers who typically leave to pursue opportunities elsewhere. The question is whether you’re losing people you’d rather retain – and are you doing everything you can to make each departure a positive and informative experience, both for the departing employee and the agency?

Why Does It Matter?

When someone leaves, it may be due to a combination of reasons – issues with the workplace or management, mismatch in skills or fit, better opportunities elsewhere, and/or other reasons that the person gives upon departure. The employee may have positive or negative feelings about their time at the agency. Regardless of the separation reason and any negative or positive feelings involved, a departure experience can have a significant impact. And, if the separation experience is positive, people are more likely to come back for the right role in the future, refer candidates to the agency, or speak positively about the agency and their work.

So the key is to ask yourself if you really know why someone is leaving and are there things that you could have seen and addressed? Does the offboarding process you currently have help you gain important information so you can strengthen your existing workforce and generate a strong, positive agency reputation among potential talent?

3 Tactics for Positive Employee Separations

There’s a common saying that much harm has been done by things left unsaid. You may already do exit surveys to obtain data about job satisfaction and separation reasons. Best practice also gives an opportunity for the departing worker to be heard and for some “back and forth” with a member of your team to gather input. With this in mind, the following steps are recommended:

  1. Someone other than the person’s direct supervisor (e.g. human resources) should conduct the exit interview.
  2. Conduct an exit survey a week or two after the exit interview.
  3. Automate your offboarding to streamline the process for the departing employee and the agency.

Automating the process can make it easier for exiting employees to get all their benefits paperwork in order, return assets, and obtain other information needed about their separation. And, the agency gets improved tracking, time savings and better asset retrieval. Stay tuned for more information on this topic in the future! Read on for are more ideas about effective employee separation strategies for agencies.

3 Key Things To Know About Every Employee Separation

  1. Why is he/she leaving?

You may think you know why someone is leaving based on stated reasons, but there are typically unstated contributing factors that build up over time. Doing exit interviews is a great way to get more information in addition to providing a survey. Here are a few tips:

  • Make sure you provide a safe environment, with someone in human resources or another neutral team outside of the person’s work area.
  • Ensure that the interviewer is well trained in how to gather feedback without reacting or shutting down the conversation if it is negative.
  • Ask open-ended questions and/or probing questions. Here are a couple of examples: “If it weren’t for the fact that you feel you cannot grow anymore in your current role, would there be any other reason that you would leave at this time?”; “If you had been able to see a salary increase of that amount, what other reasons would impact your decision about leaving at this time?”; “So I understand you feel that [insert what they’ve said]. What other factors would impact your decision to stay or leave at this time?”
  • You can soothe difficult situations without implicating yourself. The experts advise that exit interviews include mirroring techniques and using key phrases to communicate that you heard what they said (e.g. “So you felt your circumstances were not taken into account when decisions were made, is that right?”, “That must have been difficult…”, “I appreciate your honesty…”). We suggest training in this area to ensure effectiveness and avoid any legal concerns.
  • Make sure you get advice from the right human resources and/or legal advisors on the tools that you use, the questions you ask, techniques such as those mentioned above, as well as about how the team should handle any legal or ethical concerns that may arise.
  1. Would he/she refer someone else to you?

Think of your employees as consumers of your culture and environment where they have options to make other job choices. Long before the invention of social media and social networks, it was often said that a dissatisfied customer would tell 10 others, on average, and a satisfied customer would tell only 3. In today’s highly connected world, that is only a small measure of the magnified potential for harm or good based upon your employees’ experiences.

If they do leave and the reason is negative, you can still achieve positive outcomes. Surveys tell us that employees want to be heard and that they would be happier if their ideas were listened to. When they are leaving, you have a unique opportunity to help them satisfy these needs. They are also more often inclined to speak freely when there’s less to lose.

Consider this: When the emotion is drained out of negative situations through an effective exit interview process, what will the departing employee be left with? What will he/she say? The chances are that, with the right process, they can remove the emotion and focus on the positives – or at least a neutral view that it is time to move on and the agency they are leaving might be right for someone else. They may not be ready during exit interviews to say they’ll make referrals – but asking will give you an important discussion topic and a later exit survey will tell you more.

  1. Would he/she consider rehire in the future?

It is often said that people leave a manager, not an organization. Sometimes it is due to a combination of the manager, the organization, the role and other opportunities or life choices. If the person is someone you’d like to retain in the right role, keep the door open by asking, “If the circumstances driving your departure were changed, would you consider returning in an appropriate role?”  Alumni networks – formal and informal – are powerful tools for future talent acquisition.

A Closing Tip for Federal Leaders

We wrote in our last blog about vehicles like Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) that are designed to get employee input with a focus on improving the factors that result in higher employee engagement and job satisfaction. Effective exit processes and interviews give you some more important information. Make sure you do something with the data to address issues that arise and continue to improve your culture and processes, as well as how you lead. This will make all the difference in your ability to attract and retain the right people in days and years to come.

Thank you for reading and we hope you’ll come back again for our next blog! Please contact us if you’d like more information about HRworx and how we help Federal agencies automate and streamline their talent processes, from onboarding to offboarding!