Crickets. That's kind of what it was like after leaving the organization.
Crickets. It reminded me of how media sometimes uses the sound of crickets to imply a lack of response to a stimulus--a question, a statement, anything that you would expect a verbal response..
Despite the fact that I had spent as much time working for the organization as I had raising one of my children, it didn't really bother me. In fact it was kind of expected--yet illogically it was still a surprise.. More than anything it was a curiosity. How, and why, does this happen? How is it that organizations fail to acknowledge the significant change of a long-term employee leaving? I'll tell you my story in a minute, but first, I want to emphasize that it's not just my story. Too often I hear others tell me very similar experiences; to wit, they decide to leave an organization and as one person described the experience "it was almost like I'd died" as everyone ignores, withdraws, or simply moves on with their work lives. Worse yet, I have had people, upon giving their notice, immediately dismissed or formally monitored and escorted off the premises on their final day, despite, by all external measures, never having been a problem as an employee. Don't think the other employees don't notice. (Sadly, for some managers that may be the point--that other employees see their power.)
I personally find it strange that some leaders demonstrate a lack of appreciation, or even a resentment, about employees who leave their company. (Perhaps it comes from growing up around a family-type organization in the "fish-bowl" of a small town.) Yes, I do understand that in a competitive environment it may seem to some that it is prudent to avoid "rewarding" anything that detracts from succeeding, but still . . . . the world has gotten "smaller" and information is far more readily available. I especially don't understand it if the company appears to care about their brand. Former employees can make or break how you are perceived by the marketplace.
One manager I worked with, and who, admittedly, was a terrific manager in most ways, actually told me that he would not ever have a "going away party" for an employee because he was "not going to celebrate them abandoning us!" Wow. Leaving a company as "abandonment." Wow. Sorry, but I just can't reduce the world to that myopic or self-centric view. In contrast, I can, even as a leader, imagine a world in which it is in that employee's best interest (for personal, financial, of family reasons among many) to leave my team. But even more importantly, to not be appreciative of the work they have done and supportive of them personally is . . . dare I say it? . . . a stupid business move. How you treat an employee who leaves reveals a lot about you as a leader.
I personally experienced this when I left a job where I had worked for over 15 years. My direct supervisor expressed appreciation for the work I had done and in fact tried to convince me to stay. But, that was it. There was no official "thanks for your service" appreciation from the organization itself. In fact over the next six to nine months I found out that some of my colleagues in the department did not even know that I had retired. I personal email with some of the CEO's staff revealed that they also did not know that I was no longer working for the organization. Although it was a family based firm, who constantly talked about their appreciation for the employees, I did not officially hear a word from family members about the retirement despite having worked for them for more than a decade and a half. Crickets.
Don't misunderstand, I'm really not complaining. My psychology doesn't include a high need for "inclusion" in the workplace and really didn't miss the attention of a more public event. I also was not overly surprised by what happened because before I even took the position with the organization many years earlier I had talked to a friend who had worked there before I had and he had warned me that, in his view, the organization only focused on what was good for them in the short term . . . which is one of the reasons he left and the point of this blog--but more about that later.
One could ask the question, "What does the organization lose by not appreciating publicly a departing employee's service?" I my case, not much. My sphere of influence is small. I have no political or economic power that they could "fear," they certainly don't need my good opinion or approval to continue to succeed. But I think, organizations who operate this way lose far more than they are aware of in the long run. Once again, in my own case I had people warning me about the organization before I even accepted the position. Despite being generally a "company man" and trusting of leadership I was careful to not put to much trust in the organizational leadership due to the personal experiences colleagues reported to me. Even today, current employees of the firm have asked to switch our conversations over to non-organizational email servers for fear of the possibility of their correspondence becoming problematic for them. In short, there is little trust.
Contrast this with the owner of a local IT company who employed my son. When he decided to leave his job to travel they celebrated his contributions to the company. The owner personally emailed me, his father, to tell me how much my son had helped the organization and to reassure me that he would have a job whenever he wanted to return. When I thanked him for hiring a 19- year old self taught homeschooler, he turned it back and replied with "Thank you for raising such a son!" As a father, he had me right there. My gratitude was sealed.
But it didn't even end there! The owner, who knew I was doing some consulting with a local company around leadership issues, even offered to give the leaders I was working with a personal tour of his operations predicated partly on my son's contribution to his business. Later, he proved to be true to his word when my son returned to work for the company again. In the mean time, this good will and appreciation has resulted in almost everyone in my extended family talking amongst themselves and to others about how lucky my son, and now his cousin too, is to work for this organization and actively recommend the company to others.
You see, decisions that leaders make, especially ones "when the leaders have nothing to gain," reveal the core of what is really important to the leader.
Do you tout your organization as a great team, call them a family, tell employees that they are the most valuable resource the organization has? When one of your team leaves then the rest of your employees are likely to evaluate how you treat them . . . you see, it really is all about you. Do you act like they are valuable? If you believe they are, then your actions should match your words. To do less will convince your employees that, to use the old adage, you only "talk the talk" but don't "walk the walk." Then, they will not entrust you with their full effort or support.