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Exiting employee vs HR department

exiting employee

Treat exiting employees with respect. It is a reflection of the company as much as it is the HR person conducting the exit process

How HR should treat an exiting employee

Exiting employees and how companies treat them is a phenomenon we have all witnessed in the workplace. We have all seen the HR department turn teenager petty when an employee leaves a company for a new opportunity. The HR department is the group that can set the tone both positively or negatively for both the employee AND the company’s reputation with an exiting employee. I believe we can turn any message into a neutral to positive one without looking petty. Bashing an exiting employee is not the way to encourage the employee to change their mind.  

I have a friend that is in the midst of leaving her current job for a new gig. She is VERY gracious and when I say she doesn’t have a mean bone in her body, I mean it. She is always smiling, always has something nice to say, and makes everyone around her feel welcome. FULL STOP. This makes sense as she makes her living being a gracious host. She is in a high-profile job that connects her with anything and everything related to fashion, restaurants, entertainment, and retail in the Pacific Northwest. You don’t land or keep this job by acting like a biatch. She isn’t a person that is going to take revenge but she holds a position that businesses should not piss off.  

HR’s actions are a reflection of the HR practitioner, not the exiting employee               

It scares me for the HR community when I hear she is treated like doo-doo as she moves on to her new gig. We wonder why HR has a bad rap? Short-sightedness people, short sight-ed-ness. I am here for the long game and invite another HR Pro/Am’s to play the full 18 holes, and not just the front 9. Win the battle, not the war. HR reputations are not shared to our faces but AFTER we leave the room.

Unless the employee works in the HR department, in most cases, HR didn’t have a direct effect on that employee leaving. HR shouldn’t take an employees exit as a personal insult. Even if the exiting employee lacks graciousness, HR should take the high road. The company will see the public side of how HR messages and conducts business. It will hear about how we conduct ourselves behind closed doors because the exiting employee is also behind that closed-door.

Employees are going to move on, it’s inevitable  

Here’s the dillio. As employers;

  • We are not going to retain everyone and we should accept that.
  • Companies shouldn’t want to hang onto everyone forever and HR shouldn’t take it personally when employees leave.
  • We shouldn’t be jelly, we shouldn’t be pissy, and we shouldn’t be childish. We want our employees to grow and experience new experiences.

I am not saying I am a fan of the 18-month average tenure in tech as it is here in Seattle. We should accept that employees grow and change both personally and professionally. We should be OK and self-reflective when employees leave for ANY reason.

It’s not the policy, it’s how we message the policy

The company my friend is leaving does not pay out for unused PTO. She has 2 weeks of unused PTO and they are not going to pay her for that. It is company policy and I get that. Working in tech, where so many technologists do not take a vacation, I like the policy. Not paying out for PTO is a forcing function and works in a couple of ways.

  1. It strongly encourages the employee to take a vacation. Use it or lose it, and this is a good thing. The company wants its employees to take breaks and ensure they have the opportunity to spend quality time outside of work.
  2. The employee doesn’t have an opportunity to save up PTO with the mindset they are going to be fired or laid off. We don’t want employees taking this sort of defensive posture. This is a mindset that either has given up or assumes the company (or individual employee) is going to fail. “I better put some PTO in the bank so I can walk out of here with a couple of weeks of pay.” Uhh, no, that is not what PTO is designed for.

The rub is that this employee does have a couple of weeks of PTO and politely asked for it when she turned in her two weeks. What she got was a scathing reminder that there is a policy in force and PTO is not paid out.

It’s not what we say, it’s how we say it

I agree with the response, but I don’t agree with the way the response was delivered. They could have apologized for the situation, explained why they have the policy in place and maybe split the difference with her. My advice was to take the next two weeks off. Unfortunately for ME, the company had a big release of their product coming up and she wanted to ensure her customers were going to get the features they wanted. She decided to stick it out.

Reasons exiting employees leave an employer

If our company doesn’t have the growth for an employee and the employee leaves for a larger position in a different company, I should celebrate that. More than likely, the exiting employee was not able to land the more senior position without the experience gained at our company. I should be proud that our company helped them on their journey. 

Employees don’t leave a company; they leave a manager

It’s the employer’s responsibility to create a great opportunity

By the same token, it’s the employee’s responsibility to take advantage of that opportunity. If an employee leaves for a better manager, employers should take a hard look at their managers. If an employee is poached by another company, that is a reflection on the company left behind as much as it is a reflection of the employee. I understand breakups are going to happen. If there is a trend and folks are exiting a single department/manager or we keep hearing about a lack of benefits, we shouldn’t make excuses. If any of us were offered more money, talked to a more inspiring manager, had a shorter commute, we would all consider the new opportunity and shouldn’t be chastised for exploring opportunities.

Business reasons for treating exiting employees with respect

Of course, the employer should be gracious. Yes, an employee may be abandoning us, but I have experienced plenty of employees that have left and returned to us when the exiting employee discovered the grass wasn’t greener. Short-sighted HR departments don’t usually reap the benefits of a referral from an exiting employee. I have had the fortune to work with employees who have been laid off and returned to reunion parties. I believe this happened because regardless of whether the decision to leave the company was the voluntary or involuntary we treated the employee with respect.

Requisite dating example

When a couple breaks up, there are good breakups, there are bad breakups and there are ugly breakups. Regardless of the breakup, no one wants to be remembered for having a fight at Wal-Mart or watching our personal belongings thrown out the 2nd story window with neighbors watching. When we see the word “ASSHOLE” scratched in a car, as much as I am confident the owner of the car probably was an asshole, I also think that the owner of the car is better without the artist. If we are with someone who is going to key a car, there is a problem. If a company is trying to ruin our reputation when we leave them, we are working probably with the wrong company.

HR shouldn’t be the petty ones berating an employee for simply asking for PTO. I am personally encouraging this employee to leave her company and their short-sighted HR department. I think she is better without them. We should never be stressed out trying to balance the care of her clients and the daily dysfunctional treatment by the HR department.

Bridge was burned

Bridges are built to connect people and walls are built to separate people. I am NOT saying that the company should have a party every time an employee leaves the company. But the behavior demonstrated by HR was the building of a wall. A lack of manners and professionalism is a reflection of the person conducting the exit process. It will be a reflection of the company when the exiting employee shares their story. An ex Significant Other keying a car is a problem. HR causing drama with the exiting employee is also a problem.

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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ps. My friend listed above left the company because promises around pay were not being delivered. Graciously, she did stay for the entire two weeks to ensure her clients were taken care of. She didn’t receive any payout for PTO.