Photo: Adobestock

Relationships go bad, and sometimes they just fade away. Sometimes the breakup is dramatic, sometimes it’s subtle and drawn out. Often, it’s for the best. No matter how or why someone leaves you, or you leave them, it’s how you handle the situation that creates lasting perceptions and memories about you — and your company. Nothing seems to make management more uncomfortable than when an employee resigns or is fired. Often, the ball gets fumbled when it comes time to communicate details of the departure to the rest of the team.

Leaving isn’t a bad thing. When an employee either chooses to leave, or is moved on by management, it’s usually for the best. A departing employee may be moving on to a better opportunity they couldn’t achieve with you, or you may be making working conditions and profitability better by removing someone who isn’t a good fit for your company. Nevertheless, departures seem to get everyone upset and expose sensitive insecurities — especially on the part of managers.

Sour grapes

A common behavior — one that most of us who’ve managed people are guilty of at some point in our careers — is defaulting to negative comments about the departing or departed. What message do you send about you and the company to your existing staff when you bad-mouth a departing or ex-employee? It’s easy to focus on someone’s character faults when they leave you or vice versa. But in a work environment, it’s important to remember that there are a lot of people you’re still in a relationship with looking to you to see how you’ll behave in that moment, especially if the departing employee worked hard to make your company successful. Your behavior will serve as a predictor for them of how things might play out if they ever choose to resign; and, more importantly, give them insight into whether you truly value current employees’ efforts.

The grapevine

Your job is to inspire confidence in your employees in these moments; not make them nervous. Chances are, you’ve left a job or been fired at some point in your career. You may have personally experienced what it was like to be disparaged by management during or after your departure. The green industry is incestuous — if you will — when it comes to connections. Chances are, such disparagement will make it back to you, or the departed employee, through the industry grapevine. This kind of gossip leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, and it’s never good for a positive company PR culture.

When they leave

What should you do in these situations? First, remember that personal feelings about the departed don’t have a place in your communications strategy. Focus on the facts. Your protocol for discussing departures should vary depending on how a person leaves. Also, do it quickly. Waiting to announce an employee departure typically results in gossip getting around to do the job for you. Control the conversation.

If an employee is resigning voluntarily for their own reasons, let them announce it themselves in a group or staff meeting setting. Have them follow up with an email or memo to the rest of the staff who isn’t able to be at such a meeting. It’s their decision, not yours, and they have the right to leave whenever they want. It’s good to subconsciously reassert this for everyone that works for you. Also, it makes the employee accountable for directly communicating their reasons for leaving, and answering questions, so that you aren’t putting words in their mouth or creating a false narrative around their departure. Your job after they have made their announcement is to thank them for their service and contribution to the team and company. Wish them the very best and keep a positive attitude with them until they have moved on.

At the time of their announcement, you should also clarify a plan to the remaining staff on how you plan to replace the employee or handle their duties until you do. After they leave, don’t go down the path of pointing out their flaws, diminish their work contributions, or tolerating negative talk about them amongst other employees. It just makes you look petty and will also plant a subconscious seed of doubt in the minds of the rest of your staff.

When you make them leave

If you’ve had to terminate someone, be it for poor performance or policy violation, you should be the one to make the announcement to your staff. In this situation, send out a written memo or email to the staff to minimize drama. In terms of timing, you should immediately notify any employee who will be directly affected by the departure first. The rest of the staff can be notified the next business day. When you have let someone go, be mindful of the language you use to make the announcement. Simply stating that the employee is no longer with the company, along with wishing them the best, is appropriate.

It’s best not to go into much detail when you’ve let someone go, although there is value to a certain level of transparency to calm fears. In your announcement, you should encourage other employees to come directly to you with questions and concerns they have about the departure — at that point you can determine which details to share if they are pertinent to the individual. If the employee was let go for a specific policy violation, it’s a good practice to review this directly with managers and supervisors so they understand the importance of policy education, enforcement, and documentation.

Change is hard — harder for some than others. Most of the time, change is good. Embrace staff changes in your company with professionalism and positivity and you’ll be well on your way to creating a culture of confidence.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies.