Moving on: How to maintain engagement when an employee decides to leave


People leave jobs for all kinds of reasons. Lack of recognition, no clear path to promotion, bad management – they’re all scenarios we’re familiar with, whether it’s from our own experience, or from the mounting research on employee attrition.

However, we also know that people leave organisations for reasons we can’t foresee. Back in 2016, I left my role in Marketing and Communications to take an eight-month trip around Asia. My employers weren’t responsible for this decision; I didn’t leave because of poor management, or lack of opportunities. My employer couldn’t have predicted that one day I’d book a flight, and decide to go to the other side of the world. But I did.

The CIPD states that sometimes employees are ‘pushed’, as a result of dissatisfaction in their present jobs, to seek alternative employment – though it’s also recognised that sometimes employees leave due to ‘the attraction of a new job, or the prospect of a period outside of the workforce that ‘pulls them’. Sometimes, there just isn’t anything an employer can do to stop an employee leaving. What’s important is what comes next – ensuring engagement remains a priority during an employee’s notice period.

Although this might seem like a challenge, it really needn’t be. If an employee has decided to leave for a reason that isn’t related to the organisation itself – such as deciding to travel – rest assured that the decision to say goodbye is probably tougher than you think. Sure, they’re off to do something exciting – but that doesn’t mean they haven’t loved their time at the company. Perhaps the timing is just circumstantial; now, or never.

Engagement is just as important at the end of an employee’s contract, for everyone involved. If you’ve loved working with someone who’s leaving (and if they’re leaving on happy terms), there’s a chance they might want to re-join the team at some point in the future. It’s important that everyone handles the situation with positivity – you never know when you might be working with them again, and that’s certainly more likely to happen if they leave with fond memories of their final weeks at the company.

With that in mind, what should you take into consideration if that email lands in your inbox? How can you maintain engagement, if an employee has decided it’s time move on? It might be helpful to consider where they started…

Maintain involvement

When a particular employee joins your team, you’ll be thinking about all the ways this person can be involved in the organisation. What expertise are they bringing with them? Where do you foresee them going, and how can you help them get there?

Throughout their time, engaged employees will have been personally invested in the success of your organisation. They will have had consistent opportunities, created by management, to get involved in the company. However long they’ve been a part of the organisation, it’s important that this involvement is maintained during their notice period. Leaving isn’t always a sign of unhappiness, or of disengagement with an organisation – so ensure that they don’t feel ‘cut off’ once their notice period begins.

We’re probably all familiar with this feeling, from personal experience or from the experiences of friends or family. For example, women due to go on maternity leave will sometimes find themselves uninvited to certain meetings, or gradually uninvolved in meaningful projects they’ve been working on – seemingly because they’re about to leave for a long period of absence. At People Lab, we believe Involvement is the fifth enabler of employee engagement, and that it’s just as important during an employee’s notice period. Take a look at the five enablers here.

Remember why you hired them

When you recruited an employee, you didn’t just hire the first person on the list – you employed someone with great experience, qualifications and qualities that meant they were the right fit for your organisation at that time. You saw their potential and decided to invest in them, knowing that you would encourage them to develop their skills and become the expert in a particular role.

During their notice period, it’s essential that you listen to them and take guidance on the projects they’ve been responsible for. What advice can they pass on? What insights do they have for future recruits? What integral information do they need to share with you, before they leave? Remember, they’re the expert – they’ve lived and breathed this role for months, or years.

Learn from them

During an employee’s initial interview, you’ll have asked about their impact on the organisations they’ve been a part of previously. What effect did you foresee them having in your organisation, when they joined the team?

In many workplaces, exit interviews or feedback processes are often standard practice when an employee decides to leave. However your organisation handles this, it’s vital that you ensure your employees have a chance to voice their opinions or concerns. Although engaging managers will already have continuous dialogue in place (though regular coaching, and ensuring employees are central to organisational decisions) – now’s the time to make sure you’re capturing any final thoughts from an employee. What can you learn from their experience of the organisation? How can their feedback help you to develop and improve the way you do things?

We’ve put together a guide to running an engaging 1-1 session, which could help with this part of the process. Download it here (it’s free!)

Remember they’re your best (or worst) advocates

We’ve all left companies on less-than-happy terms in the past – and do we stay silent about it? Rarely. Some people might talk to friends or family about how an organisation treats its staff, which could also negatively impact customer advocacy. Others might leave a candid, anonymous review on Glassdoor, for the online world to see. The final weeks of any employee’s time at your organisation could compound lasting negativity, which they won’t be afraid to share!

Taking employee advocacy seriously means considering everyone in your organisation – including those who are about to leave. After all, they’re likely to be more honest about the organisation once they’ve left – and as a former employee, people will be more likely to trust in their views and opinions. They could be your very best (or worst) advocates, during their notice period and following their departure.

Appreciate them

What have they brought to the organisation during their time here? Again, an engaging manager will already show appreciation for the contributions made by employees. However, it’s important that employees feel valued during their notice period, too. Take some time to reflect on how your team or organisation has changed as a result of this person’s presence. How have they been a positive influence? What will you miss about them? Don’t forget to share this with them before they leave!

Have you got any #toptips for engaging employees during their notice period? What has your experience taught you? We’d love to hear your thoughts – let’s keep the conversation going on Facebook, Twitter or in the comments section below.

Further Reading

CIPD: Employee Turnover and Retention

People Lab: Unlock the Potential of your People Managers

People Lab: How More Than improved employee attrition by 19%

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