Don’t Burn Your Bridge

I placed a candidate recently who was struggling about how to give proper notice to his employer. He is an incredibly loyal person who was terrified that he was letting his manager, team, and company down after spending the last six years trying to impress, support, and inspire them. He asked me for many different drafts of resignation letters, advice on whether he should take his boss/team out to lunch to tell them and lost a few nights sleep over giving notice the right way. This candidate was doing everything in his power to be a professional and to be a team player, and to avoid burning a bridge.

It ended up happening at a lunch with his boss and while the candidate was incredibly appreciative to everything that the manager and company had done for him, the manager didn’t even finish his lunch and walked away from the table after a curt: “Yeah, great.”

Much has been made about not burning bridges with your employers and about how you should be a professional when leaving a job, but how many times is an employer or manager held to the same standard?

Face it. Eventually your star employee will quit on you and leave your team. How do you handle it? Do you really need to ask? Be a professional.

For the same reasons a candidate doesn’t want to burn a bridge you shouldn’t as well. Don’t think that because you’re in a higher role that you’ll always be there. Some of your “star” employees leave your team to spread their wings in another opportunity that offers a faster growth path, propelling them to become your peer or even a superior if you were ever to look for a job yourself.

With all the talk about brand awareness and social media, what do you think former employees will say about their experience with you and your company if they’re treated like yesterday’s news? In the old days, there was Fucked Company, and in the old OLD days, there was word of mouth. Today, there are countless ways of spreading negative press about a company or a manager via Twitter or Glassdoor as two examples.

So when a star employee comes to you and gives his notice what do you do? Chances are he’ll give his notice verbally out of respect for you. You need to appreciate this as a professional gesture and react accordingly.

  1. Thank him for all his hard work while you worked together.
  2. Talk about his next role and be empathetic with him on how it will be good for him.
  3. Always leave the door open. Things can change, and you’ll want to keep the lines of communication open down the road.
  4. Don’t counter offer him – have more pride in your management style and respect for your employee.
  5. Don’t talk about you, the company, or the team, other than to say that you will miss him, and that you would appreciate the time to conduct a proper knowledge transfer to make sure that nothing gets lost in transition.
  6. Have a dedicated team member(s) be in charge of tying up all loose ends especially if he is client facing.
  7. Notify the team and company of the news so that they can say their goodbyes in plenty of time and so the employee can see/hear/read your thoughts on what they did while they were working for you. This also shows your current employees how much you care about them.
  8. Throw a going away party if possible and have people say goodbye in a way that you’ve encouraged. They’re going to do it anyway, so having this event come from you makes you look exceptional.
  9. Let the rest of the team know what your replacement strategy is and how to make do in the interim until the team finds a suitable replacement.

The funny thing about a bridge is that it connects two separate landmasses together and if that bridge ever is “burned,” it no longer offers that connection no matter which side starts the fire. You know what side you’re on at all times and the bridges that lead to you are valuable, but don’t forget about the other end of that bridge – you’re going to venture that direction at some time or another.

(originally posted for Hiring Juice) 

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