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"How to Help An Employee to Quit"

By: Dr. Patrick Leddin

This week I had the pleasure of speaking with my friend, Chris Stemp. Chris hosts the Smart People Podcast and works at Nestle in Learning and Development. He has two small children and a beautiful home – he seems to have it all. But at one point, he was passed out in his boss’s office from an anxiety attack. What followed was an incredible story of following your heart and making your dreams a reality: he quit his job in commercial real estate, moved to Arizona, and started his podcast and a new career. That’s not what this letter is about. When telling me the story, he mentioned that he loved his boss. Yes, the guy who was in charge when Chris had such a bad anxiety attack that he ended up in the emergency room. Chris had hated his job from day one – but he loved his boss. How could that be? A bad boss seems to be an indispensable part of the “I hate my job” story. If his boss was that great, wouldn’t he have found a way for Chris to be happy? The truth is that Chris would have never been happy in that job, even if he followed my advice in last week's letter.

In fact, it’s a testament to his boss that he was able to get Chris to stick around for as long as he did. But is that really what would have been best for the team? While Chris was a top performer, he was wildly unhappy. Someone who comes to the office unhappy each day is necessarily detrimental to the culture of the team, regardless of the quality of their work. As Leaders, we need to find out what the source of that unhappiness is – and if it is the job, we need to help that team member quit. It’s a difficult conversation to have. How do you tell someone that they should look for another job – but you’re not firing them? It’s one that you can only have if you have already built trust with that team member. They need to know that you are truly looking out for their best interest. If you put off having the difficult conversation, then you’ll be sitting there wondering how one of your best employees just passed out in your office. Remind them that their work performance is not in question, and ensure they know their job is not in jeopardy. Show them your commitment to that by offering referrals to other positions within your company. If you also had a winding career path full of twists and turns, now is the time to share your story.

Sharing your career story can be helpful and may take a bit of vulnerability on your part. However, if you really want to help a solid performer who is unhappy with the work to leave your team, it’s going to take some real guts. It requires you to set your ego aside and recognize that it’s not about you saving someone, it’s about releasing them to do what is best for them. It’s also about running the risk that their departure may cause a short-term dip in results. Trust me in the end, both of these sacrifices on your part will serve you, your exiting employee, and the entire team well in the long-run.

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