When an employee leaves, saying goodbye well is often not the primary reaction that we experience. First, we must work through the sense of loss or even betrayal before the goodbyes can go well. Saying goodbye is almost always challenging for both the one going and those remaining.
Let’s look at the necessary steps for setting up saying goodbye well.
When they tell you they are leaving
My first goal when an employee announces the decision to leave is, as I mentioned, to manage my emotions. Of course, I am usually sad to hear the choice. And yet, while selfishly I want them to stay, I also want the employee to feel good about their decision. And on my best days, I can sometimes enter into their joy in the new opportunity around the bend.
It is especially hard to enter into their joy when I think they are moving into a more challenging work setting. Sometimes we know things about another worksite that our employee does not. And yet, to share that info doesn’t work and is not wise.
It is times like those that I temporarily wish I had a more distant relationship with my staff. And yet ultimately, I know that heightened intimacy between the owner and staff is the best for everyone, even if it increases the sense of loss.
Nevertheless, I believe it is my obligation to support their decision as best I can.
And I do not want to end that first meeting without a schedule of future meetings to plan the transition. Typically, I wanted to meet at least every other week until the end of employment. This meeting schedule gives us the time we needed to get through all the topics discussed below.
Review the contract
Once that first meeting is over, I typically secure the latest copy of the employee’s contract and give them a copy. Doing so reminds them that we have some contractual parameters in place for this occasion.
And then in the second meeting, I at least ask if they have any questions about the contract. Sometimes they do not have any. And at other times, they try to negotiate new terms to the agreement.
In general, it is best to stick to the terms expressed in the contract. Any deviations can start a new precedent that may come back to bite you later with other employees.
Occasionally, the employee makes a good case for a variance. Talk to your attorney before committing to a change. Typically modifications can be made by agreement of all parties. Of course, these modifications must be in writing. And coming up with new contractual language takes some time.
My advice? Do not even hint that you agree with any deviation from the contract. Instead, hear out your employee and then say, “let me think about it, and I’ll get back to you.”
One of the more critical parts of this conversation about the contract is about clarifying how the money will work after the employee leaves. The agreement may address this, but often there are questions.
In many employment contracts, the employees’ salary is calculated based on a percentage of collections. (See Calculating psychotherapist pay in private practice.) This approach means that some receipts will come in after the employee leaves. We paid the employee for up to six months after the end date. The dribs and drabs that came if after that time stayed with the company.
Making a transition plan
Another part of these follow-up meetings is the forming of a plan for the transition. These planning meetings involve deciding several things:
- Which clients will transfer to another therapist. If so, whom?
- When is the actual last day of seeing people?
- How would they like to handle the goodbye events? (see below)
Our goal is to work together to support both the clients and the employees during this period of change.
Sometimes they will want to overlap working at the new site while continuing with us. We might allow this for a month or two. We prefer that they end with us and start the new job the next day. Overlapping makes for confusion for everyone.
Talk through various client reactions
In most cases, you will have more experience with the range of client reactions to a therapist leaving. In a sense, walking the leaving employee through this process is a clinical discussion. And yet, we are often the clinical supervisor, so wearing that hat seems natural.
The range of client reactions is wide. Some will not return once they learn the therapist is leaving. They do not want to work through the sense of abandonment. Instead, the reaction is, “if you are leaving, I’m leaving first.”
This reaction is tough on the therapist and sometimes not anticipated. A heads up to this possibility plus some normalizing the experience can go a long way.
For those clients who stay to the very last, the challenge is the reattachment to a new clinician. Sometimes setting up a meeting, including the client, the old therapist, and new therapist, can aid in the transition.
In the end, our goal is to help the client get needs met as best we can with the least disruption possible.
The actual exit interview
When employees leave, I did not do formal exit interviews. We met the goals of an exit interview in other ways. Typically, we had already discussed the reasons for leaving earlier. And in those conversations, we covered any disappointments that might be instructive for me as a manager. And in some cases, we made some movement toward any reconciliation that might be appropriate.
All these topics were covered more organically during the meetings that occurred during the transition.
The goodbye event(s)
We had at least two “goodbye events.” We would bring in bagels and coffee at our monthly All Staff Meeting and then add the “goodbye” to the meeting plan. The direct supervisor would collect kind comments from all the staff and then pull together some parting remarks.
Additionally, in the local office, we create a minimum of one hour for anyone to say whatever they wanted. Later in the second hour, we brought in food and ate together in the office.
These goodbye events were to affirm and express gratitude for the employee’s service. We want the send off to be positive.
After the goodbye events, the manager’s job is to care for the remaining employees. This role often means collectively grieving and processing what happened. Inevitably, the departure will stir some up. Some will consider, “If they can leave, why not me?”
The way we say goodbye might partially answer the question of “why stay.” We want this process to highlight our respect for all employees before and after they leave. Furthermore, we are emphasizing that we know your life is more significant than your role in the company.
We are hoping that how we treat people will be the reason employees want to stay. I genuinely believe that the most engaging message to employees is that of respect and kindness.