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Monday, July 12, 2010

companies that don't announce when an employee is leaving

In response to my last post, on how to announce that an employee is leaving, a bunch of commenters mentioned that their companies don't announce it at all. Instead, people just disappear -- leaving coworkers to wonder what happened: Did they quit? Were they fired? Have they been abducted?

And of course, this leaves huge unanswered logistical questions: Who do I go to with my questions about ___ now? What about that project I was working on with that person? Is the person being replaced or was the position eliminated? What's the timeline for replacement?

I have two questions for you guys:

1. First, does anyone want to defend this practice? I would love, love, love to hear a defense of it.

2. Have you ever worked anywhere that did this where it wasn't symptomatic of other cultural/management problems? Because I have to think it reflects a mindset that would cause loads of other issues as well.


Rick said...

It can create some amusing situations though.

An employee just melts away into the night and, after a few days, when emails and voice messages are left unanswered, someone asks, "Where's Fred?" and the person on the next desk says, "Oh, he's left."

At which point there is an almighty scream, "But he was working on some figures that I needed for the CEO today! Aaaargh!!"

It's even funnier when the person who doesn't know Fred has left is his own head of department.

Kelly O said...

What is the funniest to me is in my current company, some things are announced and some are not.

I was told that an employee had been let go. Last week she shows back up, working as if nothing happened. So the time they actually tell people when an employee is leaving, it turns out to be a false alarm, but there was no one telling us "oh, things changed and she will be staying on." (Which is great, but a bit weird when you notice someone at their usual post after they've been let go - and whether that is going to turn out to be a problem.)

Granted, if we started talking about all the dysfunctions of the workplace, I could probably give you enough for a book or three. It's definitely indicative of a much larger issue here.

Anonymous said...

At my last company, a key member of management was fired and an announcement was not made on the advice of our attorney. The manager in question had been a problem employee for many months and openly stated that she would sue the company if they ever terminated her. With that knowledge, our attorney felt that any announcement could somehow be used against us. So, the company head relied on the employee grapevine to spread the word. It didn't take long since this employee was almost universally despised. Some companies are inconsiderate when they choose not to make an announcement, but my workplace was just doing as they were told by Legal.

Ask a Manager said...

Okay, this is a pet peeve of mine, the legal thing. Because really, sending out an announcement saying "Jane's last day was today. Please see Marie with any questions about her projects" is not legal ammunition. Jane's last day WAS today. Saying it in a neutral manner is allowed.

Most attorneys will always first recommend the safest, most legally conservative course of action. That doesn't mean that it's the best one; it needs to be balanced against other competing interests -- legal interests are not the only ones in play. The company should then go back to the lawyer and say "it's not an option to say nothing, so help us figure out how to craft a message that will give employees necessary information without causing legal problems."

I say this as someone who worked closely with an employment attorney who I absolutely loved, and he was fantastic at doing this: He'd tell us the most conservative course, and if there were other priorities that needed to be factored in, he'd help us figure out the best way to proceed while still following the law and protecting ourselves legally. Companies that aren't getting this from their lawyers need to clarify their expectations, push back more, or find other lawyers.

Erica Friedman said...

At most of the companies I have worked at, it was left to the manager. Typically people who leave on their own are wished well, but when it's a person being laid off, there's no communication at all.

The best manager I ever had was always right on welcoming new employees, saying good by to people leaving on their own, wishing the best to people who had been let go. Her emails were prompt, polite, worded kindly, but in a neutral manner.

The worst manager I ever had only sent out emails to note important things related to the people he liked. The rest of us could go hang, since we were never going to get a promotion anyway. He even brought in Christmas gifts which he gave to three out of the six of us one year at the Christmas lunch he made mandatory.

Class factotum said...

Erica, did he charge you for the mandatory Christmas lunch like a VP at a former employer did? I was not in that group, but the story was (from people who attended the party) that

1. the party was in the evening
2. Spouses/SOs were not invited
3. The party was at the VP's house
4. Everyone had to pay something like $25 to attend
5. And all he had was very light snacks

FrauTech said...

As a result of these practices at my current company we have a very substantial employee grapevine. You almost always hear about stuff before the company announces it because for years the company never announced anything. So usually the only way you'd know someone was leaving here (for good or for bad) is if that employee takes it upon themselves to say goodbye or if the grapevine alerts you.

De Minimis said...

I worked at a large company and they favored the sudden unexplained disappearance. You'd only hear about it through the grapevine. News usually traveled fast. There were a few hundred employees and those who had only been there a few years or less were considered sort of like interchangeable parts.

If someone were higher up they were more likely to be given the courtesy of sending out a farewell e-mail, when it was my time to go the HR person [who was actually really kind and courteous throughout]confiscated my computer almost immediately.

Kind of went hand in hand with their "military tribunal" style of performance evaluation, where you're judged by an anonymous panel. BTW, this place is routinely in the top 10 [sometimes even top 5] on the various "Best Places to Work" surveys, which gives you an idea of how much those type of ratings are actually worth!

GeekChic said...

At my current place of work, the organization says nothing if the employee leaves (or is away for a long time) voluntarily or for medical reasons. The only time an email goes out by the company is if the person was fired or encouraged to resign. They don't mention that the person was fired or forced to resign (it's actually a perfectly fine email) - but everyone knows the pattern.

If the person has worked here a long time (more than 10 years usually) then we might see an email from a supervisor or coworkers about a retirement party (if the person wants one). We also sometimes see email from the staff member themselves in this case.

The reason given for this is disparity is privacy. People who have been "involuntarily separated" lose their right to full privacy according to my bosses (though, again, no one ever comes out and says why they left). People who are leaving (or on extended leave) fully voluntarily have the right to full privacy - so nothing is said by the company or management.

I can understand this to a certain extent. In fact, when I was away on leave some time ago I was actually happy about the policy of nothing being said unless I said it myself. That said, it can make things somewhat awkward if people leave voluntarily and choose to say nothing - which has happened before.

Henning Makholm said...

All of this sounds most like Orwellian "unpershonhood" to me.

Ree said...

In my last position, I worked for a large organization where they definitely adhered to the 'melt aways into the night' policy, as Rick said. In my division of about 50 people, there was very little turnover, but the comings and goings were all very hush hush.

There were several somewhat/entirely involuntary departures and those were handled more candidly via e-mail than the voluntary departures, just like GeekChic mentioned. Voluntary departures usually were only revealed two months later in the e-newsletter or when the replacement was hired.

When I left (entirely voluntary), my supervisor, who was ALWAYS eager to avoid any direct conversation, told me, "It is up to you how you announce this." He didn't mean to my teammates or to my immediate clients. It seems he meant he wasn't telling anyone, because it turns out that he didn't tell a soul I was leaving other than our boss. If anyone else found out, they had to find out directly from me and I had to handle everything related to my transition without any support. For voluntary departures, denial can be oddly powerful, it seems.

Emily said...

I work for a large company that takes a stance close to GeekChic's company - but it's ALWAYS up to the employee to announce their leaving. Most people give at least a month notice (even if they've actually been fired - the company usually lets you tie up loose ends as best you can), send out an email to the "need to knows" a couple weeks before leaving, and a final "it's my last day tomorrow" email to everyone they've known at the company.

It seems fair and even nice when said that way...but it's still unsettling to get a bunch of "it's my last day" emails without prior warning. I'm not sure how management would let us know that people were leaving in such a large company (I work with people from many different divisions daily), but I wish they'd make it more public instead of leaning on the "privacy" thing.

Anonymous said...

My former employer was also of the "disappear" variety - all the way up to the senior VP level. It was strictly "don't ask, don't tell" when anyone left. It was even claimed by some managers that employees could get in trouble for even asking. Saying "hey, where's the VP of marketing? The office is empty!" was evidently a breach of "confidentiality" equal to broadcasting around someone's salary.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, those last 2 were from the same computer made it look like the first one didn't go through. Not trying to be redundant.

Anonymous said...

At my company, the only people who are announced to be leaving are higher ups (upstairs people, to be exact.. us minions are downstairs and the "suits" are upstairs). It just shows how divided the higher-ups think the company is.

Cassie said...

I don't know if anyone has been fired from our dept. For us, it's mostly people leaving due to retirement or going to another job - it's really kind of hit or miss when it comes to notifications about employees who are leaving. Sometimes there is a going-away/retirement party (so we are informed that they will be leaving on such and such date), but for others, we don't get any formal announcement.

I remember there was a string of secretaries over the course of maybe six months (think Murphy Brown) and it surprised the people whom that position was supposed to support. They would walk to the cubicle and the staffer was no longer there! No word as to who they were supposed to go to, either; that is, not until they needed something and then they would have to find the manager and ask.

One of the managers in our dept said that she wanted to send out an email announcing that one staffer was moving to another dept, but another manager asked her not to send the email. Doesn't make any sense to me - what's the harm? (And this wasn't a situation where the staffer was terminated, or any kind of sticky situation - she took a promotion).

Ask a Manager said...

I am completely stunned by the number of people saying their companies don't notify people when someone leaves. What is going on out there?

Okay, so I need to know for my own personal satisfaction: Those of you whose companies engage in this weird game, do you find that they're highly dysfunctional in other ways as well? Or are these fairly well-managed companies that are just handling this one thing badly?

Obviously, my hypothesis is that this is a symptom of something much worse. Confirm/deny?

Revanche said...

As a hiring manager, I'm responsible for making all announcements about hirings, firings and promotions in my department as are all other managers.

My company is only about decently managed (there are things that need improvement) but they recently had to fire an employee who wrote emails of a threatening nature. I knew why he was fired because I was in the thick of things, but they didn't share the real reason publicly.

They didn't say that he was fired or the reason why, citing privacy, but did send an email a few days later acknowledging the unexpected nature of the departure as well as the fact that they couldn't state the reason for his leaving.

I guess that's ok, though I think they should have sent the email immediately after the firing.
I saw that it really affected everyone, making others in his position worried about their job safety and performance.

Piper said...

My company sporadically notifies us of departure. Generally, it depends on the manager of the person who is leaving. And it has nothing to do with whether they are quitting or being let go.

To answer your question AAM, my company as a whole is not dysfunctional, but the departments with managers who fail to notify everyone of a departure are pretty terrible. So yes, this ridiculous practice is a symptom of other problems and the suffering departments really, really suffer. Guess which kind of department I work in?

Anonymous said...

Someone else mentioned this company isn't allowed to mention promotions either. When I mentioned to my boss a colleague's new title she was outraged that the promotee had spoken of this "confidential" information. But you would think that her new title would show up on the org chart, right? Wrong - those are banned too.

Rebecca said...

"Those of you whose companies engage in this weird game, do you find that they're highly dysfunctional in other ways as well?"

Absolutely yes. I think I posted sometime before about the place I worked where we actually started keeping records to see if we could predict whether the next person out would get a party, a personal e-mail, a terse professional e-mail, or nothing.

We did figure out that you got a party if the managers either loved you or feared you... as of the time I left we hadn't yet determined a pattern for the others.

Anonymous said...

I currently work for a company that doesn't notify. When they let go of most of one department there was not notice. Even for the people let go. They showed up for work had a meeting and then were immediately escorted off the property and told to make appointments to get their stuff. The women even had to ask to have someone go get purses and keys so they could leave. Sad and in this instance does reflect a dysfunctional work environment.

From a safety point of view I think notification (in a neutral way) is very important. Like in the case above, if one of those let go has the potential to come back and do harm who is going to stop them? All they have to do is say they forgot their badge and piggyback in to the building.

As an HR professional, I believe notification is very important. Being low-man on the stick, I don't get that choice always.

GeekChic said...

@ AAM: I'm one of the people who work at a place that doesn't generally notify (only if "involuntarily separated" is a company email sent out). You wanted to know if I felt that the company was badly managed in other ways.

In general I would say no - the company tries hard to do the right thing. Some departments are not well managed - but that's been true of every place I've worked. I also can understand why they don't do blanket notifications (they cite privacy issues) despite the occasional hiccup this can cause if an employee that is leaving voluntarily chooses to say nothing.

Anonymous said...

At my old company when we had layoffs, it was a guessing game to figure out who was let go. Horrible company all around, hands down.

De Minimis said...

My former employer just wasn't a people-oriented company, I don't know that I would say it was poorly managed, but it was one of those places where everyone in the field wants to work there so they can pretty much do whatever they want because there will always be people clamoring to get in the door. It's understood that 75-80% of new people will leave one way or the other within five years, so long term relationships are not a priority.

I think it's the industry itself that is dysfunctional, at least for the global companies.

Cassie said...

I posted earlier that our dept is hit and miss with announcing departures. I feel that our dept is quite dysfunctional. It's not for lack of trying, though. The managers try to develop new policies but there is no follow through and nothing changes.

Instead, we seem to be focused on "fun" stuff, like halloween parties and movie viewings during lunch time (to boost morale), and a tendency towards gossipy/clique-ish behavior (the managers are involved in this).

So I guess the lack of announcing departures is not that out of character for our department. Sadly...

MrsPost said...

I'm trying to remember but I think my last company was hit-and-miss depending on the manager.

Oddly enough they didn't send one out for me even though I was critical to several enterprise level projects. They never even informed those business teams I was leaving.

No wonder I'm still on the books as an on-call employee.

Anonymous said...

I work for a large fortune 100 company. My company leaves the announcement up to the manager. If people leave as part of a layoff, they don't announce it. You only find out when someone is unresponsive or your emails bounce back to you. Of course this is very counterproductive.

Anonymous said...

I was working as a contractor at a Japanese gov't research agency. I saw when contractors left no organizational announcement were made. When non-contractors (fully-employed staff) left, the detailed reasons were announced. I think this is a discrimination and I don't know why it has been going on this way. Recently I find not all Japanese gov't employers follow this way so YMMV.

HM said...

At my last position, if you resigned, there was an announcement, if you had written it up yourself and wanted to encourage coworkers to keep in touch.

If you were let go, (whether termination or layoff) there was no announcement other than to your immediate coworkers. And I completely believe this is indicative of the highly dysfunctional work environment.

Anonymous said...

I'm a nurse, and I've spent most of my career working in hospitals. Most bedside nurses don't have access to company email (at least at the places where I've worked -- you only get email if you're on some sort of committee).

Most of the time, you find out someone is leaving because they aren't on the schedule anymore. This is usually before they're gone, but not always.

The one job I've had where I was in more of an office setting and did have access to company email (still working as a nurse), announcements of resignations were usually sent out via email.

When I left that job, my boss sent out an email telling everyone I was leaving so I could go back to school. While it was true that I was going back to school, that isn't why I resigned, and it wasn't something I was telling people yet -- I was still deciding if it was what I wanted to do.

Not only did she do this without checking with me first, she didn't even tell me about it. Although she did at least include me in the email, I was frequently out of the office seeing patients, and didn't check my email all that often -- generally once a day.

It completely took me by surprise when coworkers started asking me about my (still very pensive) future plans -- causing me to say things like "well, yeah, I'm taking classes, but that isn't the reason I'm leaving" until I finally read her email.

Anonymous said...

My current employer 'disappears' people. Those leaving voluntarily usually post on their last day (not terribly convenient if someone took a day off that day and needed to talk with them). Occasionally, folks that have been let go are able to send out a one-liner with their contact information, but usually their workspace is just suddenly empty.

I've described it as similar to Watership Down: colleagues disappear, but no one talks about it. I wish they'd fix this, because apart from that, it's a really great place to work.

Worst was a team-mate I'd known for a couple of year who was brilliant, but not very productive. I could just see termination clearly in his future, and when one of the big bosses came by one day to ask him for a few minutes, I thought, Uh-oh. Yup -- he came back with some paperwork and his workstation was locked down by IT.

And I'm posting anonymously for obvious reasons. :)

Anonymous said...

You'll know when they make you cross train and take on that individual's workload for free.

Anonymous said...

We recently had someone leave our department who was asked to write their own, somewhat auto-biographical, departure memo, including saying how much she'll be missed! The department head simply pasted into an e-mail and sent it to the rest of the group. It certainly didn't make her feel very appreciated.

But this seems to be a problem in the department on both ends. When a new person is hired within individual groups or someone leaves (regardless of the reason), it seems only the group is made aware of this. This means we're constantly seeing new faces pop up in the department (less than 50 people, all on one floor)and only those people who work with them directly have any idea who they are. Even after they start, there's no effort made to introduce these folks to someone outside of the specific group, even though he or she may be sitting a few feet away and have to work with this person in the very near future!

Anonymous said...

I was actually let go from a job in a similar manner. I had a meeting with my supervisor and HR, and was told to pack my things and leave. It was in the middle of the day, and the entire office was evacuated out of the front lobby so I could get my things. I got several texts from co workers that day asking where I had gone. And I was told by a co-worker a week later that my supervisor continued to blame me for unfinished projects even after I was let go! Horrible way to do things.

Anonymous said...

This post struck a nerve because my previous workplace always did this. I joked that people who left just 'vanished into thin air' or else 'walked into unmarked buildings and were turned into food a la Soylent Green.' I thought it was so creepy, as did everyone else. Whether or not someone was fired or left of their own accord, why not say 'Bob is no longer with the company, we wish him well.' At least give his co-workers (some who may have worked with Bob for decades) some notice that he's leaving! I think it shows a disinterest and lack of concern, not only for the departing employee but for the rest of his/her coworkers. I think it is just awful and inexcusable.