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Parting is such sweet sorrow.– William Shakespeare

Shakespeare clearly did not have the workplace in mind when he wrote those words because, whether voluntary or involuntary, employees’ exits from organizations today typically involve more “sorrow” than “sweet.”

Why is this the case? And is it inevitable?

Robert Glazer wrote about this topic for Inc. in July, arguing that employers have an opportunity to positively impact the way in which an employee exits an organization.

To summarize, he suggests that encouraging open conversations between employees and companies can reduce the shock – and subsequent negative outcomes and defense mechanisms associated with that shock – of the common two-week-notice phenomenon.

In doing so, he identifies some potential reasons why employee departures can be so stressful, often having an emotional impact on both parties.

Cognitive Dissonance

As Glazer describes, the two-week-notice phenomenon involves psychological discomfort that stems from holding conflicting views in one’s mind. The way in which this dissonance surfaces is likely to differ depending on whether the employee leaves voluntarily or is asked to leave, as described below.

  • Voluntary employee exits “How can I be a good boss if this person wants to leave?” According to Glazer, employers often suffer from disillusioned thinking when good employees exit suddenly, such as:
    • Abandonment – “When an employee suddenly announces he is leaving, managers can react as if they are being abandoned. For a variety of reasons, they often make the departure about themselves rather than the employee and can lash out. Years of good work and relationship-building can be lost in an instant.”
    • Culture should have retained – “Employers cling to the belief that if they create a great company culture, no one will ever leave.” Yet, as Glazer points out, even companies on the “Best Places to Work” lists have average employee tenures of 24 to 32 months. And more than half of millennials are open to changing jobs on a moment’s notice. Had transparent conversations been ongoing, employers would be less likely to find themselves scrambling to fill gaps left by the employee’s departure.
  • Involuntary employee exits – “How can this worker be such a good person and yet can’t do the job?” According to Glazer, letting employees go due to poor performance can lead to even stranger behavior from employers:
    • Distance Oneself – “They (boss) might exaggerate the employee’s faults, avoid contact and generally make the person appear worthy of contempt. They might even try to persuade everyone that the company is better off without that guy… the boss is dissociating herself from the employee to feel better about her own abilities or decision-making.”

You may be tempted to wonder why employers should care about how employee exits ultimately go. After all, whether voluntary or involuntary, the employee is gone.

According to Glazer, research suggests that “employees who feel they are treated well by their organization or their boss are more likely to go the extra mile when they quit.” Further, employees who leave may work for companies that could eventually hire their former employer, bring them additional clientele or recommend them to future applicants. For these reasons, employers can’t afford to ignore the business case for mindful transitions.

Going back to Shakespeare’s famous quote, what he is thought to have meant is that saying goodbye can be sorrowful but also “sweet,” because one can look forward to seeing the other person again. Although it was a line for one of the “star-crossed lovers” in “Romeo and Juliet,” it certainly applies here.

It’s the way employees and organizations should part – finding value in the time they worked together and looking forward to meeting up again in the future. But, for this sort of mindful transition to happen, employers will need to evolve their thinking to “create a safe environment that fosters open conversations, eliminates surprises and promotes respect.”

Rebekah Cardenas, Ph.D., is vice president of business development and assessment solutions at E.A.S.I-Consult®. E.A.S.I-Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. E.A.S.I-Consult specialties include leadership assessment, online pre-employment testing, survey research, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about E.A.S.I-Consult, visit www.easiconsult.com, email ContactUs@easiconsult.com or call (800) 922-EASI.