Some organizations have protocols for communicating about an employee’s departure, but often, individual managers are left to figure out what to say on their own.
If you’re among the latter, there are a few points you’ll want to consider in formulating your response before the employee leaves. First and foremost, is the departure voluntary or a termination?
If it’s voluntary, you may want to:
- Share the news in a staff meeting. There’s nothing shameful about the person’s departing for greener pastures, either on his/her side or yours. So be up front and public about it.
- Have the employee him- or herself be the one who announces their departure. Two reasons: (1) The departure may pain or dismay the person’s colleagues, and there’s no reason you, the manager, should bear the brunt of these feelings. (2) Under the employment-at-will doctrine, employees can work wherever they choose, lending independence and dignity to their labor. And they’re never more independent than when they decide to go somewhere else. Letting them announce their departure underscores their dignity as free agents, and, by extension, the dignity of those who remain.
- Craft a message that emphasizes gratitude. When it’s your turn to speak, stress how thankful you are for their engagement and hard work. Some managers may like to wish good luck to those who are leaving. But if you believe that people make their own luck, you may prefer to describe how their specific qualities will stand them in good stead in the next chapter of their work life.
- Give some certainty to those who remain. Those who are staying will likely wonder whether and/or how the person is going to be replaced, and whether they’re going to be expected to pick up some of the person’s duties, temporarily or permanently. To the best of your ability, try to address these questions when the departure is announced.
The scenario changes when the departure is involuntary, when the person has been terminated for behavior or performance issues.
In that case, you may want to:
- Disseminate the news by memo. It’s not an absolute no-no to announce an involuntary departure in a meeting, but calling people together may risk heightening a sense of drama, and drama is the last thing you want to encourage.
- Be mindful of timing. You should tell people promptly, but this doesn’t have to mean on the spot. Direct co-workers — those who’ll notice immediately that the person is gone — should be told within an hour or two. For others, next day will work.
- Keep it businesslike and low-key. You may want to limit your message to “So-and-so no longer works here; our transition plan is as follows; speak to me or Mr./Ms. X if you have questions.” Again, you want to quash drama as far as possible.
- Avoid the F word. It’s best not to say that the person was fired. It can only create legal risks, and it’s unnecessary. People will get the message when you say the person no longer works there.
A helpful script
If you’re the one who has to announce an employee’s departure, and you want some wording to use, you might consider two useful templates from Alison Green, who blogs at Ask a Manager.
If it’s a voluntary quit, she suggests something like this:
“I’m sad to announce that Pete has decided to move on and his last day with us will be (date). Pete has been our top sales guy for three years running, and we wish him the very best. He’ll be hard to replace. In the interim, you can go to Jacki about any business you would have raised with Pete.”
If you’re dealing with an employee termination, vary the wording this way:
“Unfortunately, Pete’s last day with us was today. We wish him the best of luck, and we’ll be moving quickly to hire a replacement. In the interim, you can go to Jacki about any business you would have raised with Pete.”
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