I’ve left jobs I loved and jobs I hated. Leaving both types sucks, but leaving a job I love makes me feel sick. I remember coming to the decision that it was time to leave a great job for a new opportunity and really feeling pained. It got even worse when I told my boss.
The questions and self doubt:
- Am I making the right decision?
- Did I just burn my bridges?
- What happens if I’m wrong?
It’s terrible. It really is.
Being on the other side is really weird too though. I’ve had people that work for me quit and nearly quit for heaps of reasons:
- A better opportunity came up.
- They weren’t happy about something with their current job.
- Something in their life changed and they couldn’t keep their job anymore.
Sometimes, you can keep people from leaving.
But, why do it? In the case that your employee found a better opportunity, it’s good for both parties to wish them well and end your working relationship on a good note. Sure, it’s flattering to them if you try to keep them, but if they decide to stay and then realize that they made a mistake, you’ve got a problem.
If your employee isn’t happy about something with their job and they gotten to the point they’re willing to quit, this shows at least one of two things and possibly both.
- Whatever it is is so bad that you won’t be able to satisfactorily change it.
- Your employee waited so long to bring it to your attention (or at least bring the dire nature of it) that this might show you that you don’t have a relationship where they’re willing or able to speak openly with you.
In either case, it doesn’t matter whether it’s compensation, management style, cultural fit, growth opportunities, or anything else. Your employee has chosen to leave in order to get away from something rather than to get closer to something, and trying to keep them is no guarantee that things will change no matter how hard you try.
In the third case, there are few instances when you can keep an employee that chooses to leave their job due to a life change, and the only legitimate one that I’ve ever encountered is an employee relocating for their spouse. That one was easy, “We’d love to keep you if you’re okay with working remotely.” “Yeah, that’d be great.” “Awesome. Consider it done.”
In all other cases I’ve encountered though, how can you keep a mother that wants to be homes with her children, a son that wants to take care of a sick family member, and so on from doing so without feeling bad and potentially engendering some ill will? You can’t.
My preference is to avoid the conversation altogether.
If you think your employee is considering leaving, talk to them about it. This is the time to find out if you need to let someone go or make changes to keep them. It’s too late when they’re the one to approach you.
If you’re the one leaving, talk to your boss early. Telling them about problems that you have with them, the company, or your position on the same day you say that you’re quitting is really crappy. You don’t give them any opportunity to change. If you’ve made the decision to go, make it clear to them that, while you would love to stay, your decision is for the best, and you’d like to be clear. You’re leaving.
Not being open and honest early can burn bridges and cause a lot of bad decisions down the road. Once your or your employee have made a decision to leave though, the decision has been made. There’s almost no talking to be done. Just make the parting as easy as possible.