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Robert Glazer

Acceleration Partners


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Don’t leave me this way: why it’s time to ditch abrupt employee exits

Is there a better way to handle employee transitions than the traditional notice period?

As you read this right now, a nervous employee is giving their notice to a stunned manager. Managers have to cycle through a rapid surge of emotions – shock at the suddenness of the departure, confusion over whether there was anything they could’ve done to avoid the exit, and anxiety over how they can replace a key performer in a matter of weeks.

Exiting abruptly, while permissible, is the most awkward possible way to leave an organisation. 

As we approach a remission of the Covid-19 pandemic, we will likely see upheaval in the labor market. A recent study by SilkRoad Technology found 40% of employees are considering leaving their current employer post-pandemic. Some employees have been frustrated with their organisations’ handling of the pandemic, while others are simply deciding to move on, now that there are signs of a more stable economy on the horizon.

As we head into a period of employee transitions, it’s worth considering whether there’s a better way to handle them than a traditional notice period and offboarding process.

A broken paradigm

To be clear, the problem with the current paradigm of exiting jobs isn’t that it puts too much power in the hands of employees. Instead, this current status quo is a net negative for both workers and the businesses they leave.

It’s clear how an abrupt departure can wreak havoc for a business. Too often, companies find themselves needing to replace top employees on a fast timetable or risk overburdening other members of their team, who have to take on the departing person’s workload. It also removes any margin for error when hiring a replacement; if everyone is counting on a new employee to replace a suddenly absent worker, the incoming hire needs to succeed.

A burden on employees

This system takes a toll on employees too. Back when I was an employee, before I started Acceleration Partners, I hated having to secretly look for a new job when it was time to move on. It felt dishonest, but it was the way the game was played.

Furthermore, exiting abruptly, while permissible, is the most awkward possible way to leave an organisation. A bad ending to a professional relationship can erase years of good will and burn a bridge with a close professional contact.

Due to common recruiting tactics such as backchannel references, an acrimonious exit from a company can surreptitiously follow an employee throughout their career.

Seeing all these negative facets of the way we leave jobs today, it’s hard not to ask – is this really the best way to do this? We’re convinced there’s a better process we can all use.

A better way

In the early years at Acceleration Partners, we saw the notice period play out as we grew. We realised it was a norm that, while common, didn’t align with our company values of embracing relationships and owning your decisions. Given that we had so many client-facing roles, departures affected us particularly acutely.

We began to wonder if we could replace that broken paradigm with something better. We asked – what if we removed the taboo and made it OK for an employee to leave our business? Wouldn’t we achieve better outcomes if we gave employees the safety to come to their managers when they were unhappy and be open about when they had decided to look for another job?

As we asked these questions, I came across a remarkable interview with Patty McCord, Netflix’s former chief talent officer. McCord dismissed the use of performance improvement plans when managing struggling employees. Instead, she suggested that managers think about offering real feedback, a reference, and maybe some paid time off to find a new job. It was better in her mind to, “be generous, but be honest”.

Career engagement programme

McCord’s perspective sparked the concept for the open transition programme that we now call our career engagement programme. It’s our ‘moon shot’ to eliminate the notice period through honest and transparent conversations between employees and managers.

The programme serves two crucial purposes. First, it allows employees to come to us when they are disengaged with their work and want to do something different. If they do, we support them, offer to connect them to promising other jobs, and set a timetable for their departure that gives us time to find and train their replacement.

It is also a more humane way of managing underperforming employees. If someone is no longer a fit for a role, we have an honest discussion about why, give them time to interview at other companies, and even help them with job introductions before they must leave our team.

A fonder farewell

It’s taken a few years and some trial and error to get this programme established. While it’s far from perfect, we’ve found that having an open transition programme actually improves engagement, retention, and the company culture overall.

I am 100% convinced that this type of programme is a better path for both employees and employers than the current norm. As we near a period of post-pandemic transitions for many employees, consider how your team can benefit from this degree of psychological safety, transparency, and humanity in our employee transitions.

Interested in this topic? Read Offboarding: an overlooked step in the employee lifecycle?

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