Rand posted last night about his thoughts on firing employees and how SEOmoz handles it. Having managed teams and left companies of my own choice, I found it to be an interesting read. On one hand though, talking about the financial, emotional, and team impacts of firing leaves the picture incomplete if you don’t look at how someone choosing to leave a company also affects everyone.
Companies and individuals are rarely transparent about the reasons people quit though, which I honestly find disturbing, but I think that too many employees are concerned about slander, libel, defamation, etc and are simply unsure about the legality around sharing information about why they left a company, so they keep their mouths shut.
I’ve never been averse to leaving a company – or any relationship for that matter – when I believed that it was the best thing. That being said, leaving a company at the first sign of disagreement or problems is counter-productive as well. It leaves you without the ability to deal with complex personal and professional conflicts, a track record that might make you look like a mercenary, and a lack of experience in being part of a company for a long period and everything that goes along with growing and changing with it.
Running away versus walking away
A former manager of mine once made a clear distinction between leaving a company because you need to get away and leaving a company because there’s something they can’t give you. He called it “running away versus walking away.” The difference between the two is this:
- Your friend tells you he’s going to start looking for a new job because he’s unhappy at his current one.
- Your friend tells you he was approached by a new company with a really interesting position, or really great pay, or something else enticing.
In the first case, there is a 90% chance that your friend will find he’s still not happy at his new company. Why? Because he didn’t go to the new company because of something about them – because he loved their mission or because it was always his dream to work there. Instead, he went there to get away from a problem. In the second case, there’s a 90% chance that your friend will find happiness because he’s not running away from something and is able to better decide what’s right for him, if the new company will give him what he needs to leave somewhere that he is already happy.
When an employee tells me they have a problem, this is a sign that I have a chance to fix things. If he doesn’t like working with me, I can attempt to change our relationship, have him report to someone else, or make some other change. If he doesn’t like working with certain coworkers, I can try to limit their contact or can facilitate repairing a damaged relationship. If he wants to leave after giving me a chance though, running from the company almost certainly ensures that she’s not going to find happiness, so I always recommend that you be as open and honest as possible with your management along the way, and if in the end there is still a problem, they should help ease you out of the company and into a better situation. Sadly, I believe that most people do not feel they can trust their management enough to be open with them and this is one reason that so many go running from rather than walking from or running toward.
I have in the past sent job openings at other companies to my own staff members when I knew they could make more money somewhere else, they would be happier there, or they would get something they needed that I/we could not provide. I have also introduced them to hiring managers and recruiters looking for their skills. Being able to be open, honest, and helpful with my teams has ensured that as few gaps as possible were left when they departed and that they found what they were looking for. Unfortunately, I have also had employees leave without me having the opportunity to fix problems and/or support them in their search, and sadly in every case, I’ve found out later that that next job they took wasn’t right either.
Guidelines for employees before quitting
- Talk to your boss or her boss if you’re not comfortable with your boss. This can make you feel very vulnerable. I know. I’ve been through. “What happens if he tells my boss? Are they going to talk? Can I trust him? If I tell him I hate working for my boss, they’ll probably just get rid of me, right?” Honestly in most companies, firing a good employee that just has a few problems is greatly frowned upon. Not only is it bad for the manager’s and company’s reputations, it’s also terrible for morale. Managers know this, and if you tell them that you have a legitimate problem, they will do their best to address it.
- Make sure you’re safe if the worst happens. It’s rare, but it does happen that you’re open and you get fired, so before you speak to someone that you’re not sure you can trust, make sure you have your finances in order and know what you would do for work if you were to suddenly lose your job. This could be reaching out to contacts and saying that you’re looking to consult, getting your resume out to prospective employers, or simply checking that your bank account has 6 months of expenses to get you through a period of unemployment.
- Put in the time to fix the problems. It’s not enough to talk to someone. You have to work on yourself to make things better. I remember listening to an audiobook a while back in which the author stated that only 6% of relationships that become condescending ever get turned back around, and while you can think that’s a sign that it’s not worth working through problems, I interpret it as the exact opposite. I think that only 6% of condescending relationships get better because one or both parties don’t work on themselves to find the solution.
- Look elsewhere in your company for opportunities. If you’re part of a big enough company, it’s very likely that you can more from one department to another to get the pay you want, no longer report to a bad manager, or otherwise get what you need.
- Don’t be a dick when you quit. Having been on both sides of the quitting desk, I can tell you how much it sucks for the manager, the employee, and the other team members when someone quits without giving the company a chance to address the problems. Don’t tell your manager on the day you give notice, “I’m leaving because I hate that you do X, Y, and Z.” She can’t fix anything at that point. Be as open as possible, but don’t damage relationships anymore than they might already be. If you have to bite your tongue, just tell her that it’s time for you to move on or that you have an opportunity you can’t pass up.
- Keep your formal resignation simple. HR people and experienced managers know that, much like when you deal with the cops, anything you say, write, or otherwise communicate when quitting can be used against you in the future, so don’t put that you’re leaving the company because of disagreements with management if you never talked to them about the problems because they might decide to share that little tidbit of information with a potential future employer that calls to check your work history. Of course, most companies are concerned about potential defamation issues and so shy away from this, but some aren’t, and you don’t want to be their victim.
Just as Rand says that SEOmoz’s firing process is amazingly hard, giving your company and boss a chance to rectify things, while as well working on your own responsibility and reactions in these situations, is also extremely hard, but being both an employee and a manager, I’ve found that you get so much more out of working with people to find solutions than you do out of avoiding or otherwise not addressing problems.