Partings are a fact of life, and never more so than within the workplace, given on average, we change jobs ten to fifteen times over the course of our career.
While there are the odd occasions when employees will leave without notice, in the vast majority of instances there is a notice period to be worked out – typically anything from a single day up until six months, or even longer.
Why a notice period?
Notice periods are put in place to protect both the employer and the employee. From the employee’s perspective, it means that, other in exceptional circumstances, they cannot be asked to leave without notice, and therefore their pay is protected for the duration of that period.
From the employer’s perspective, one of the primary purposes of having a notice period in place is to ensure that vital skills are not suddenly lost from the workplace. It provides time for recruitment and training to take place, and for a full handover to be given.
The notice period dichotomy
However, therein lies the dichotomy. For the employer, that notice period is a critical, time limited opportunity to ensure skills and knowledge are transferred to others within the business.
For the employee, on the other hand… it is likely that they have already psychologically disconnected from their role and from the organisation. At best, they will be willing to engage in the handover process, but are unlikely to go beyond the minimum which is required of them. At worst, they will be actively disengaged, reluctant to share knowledge, and even disruptive to their team and the wider business. This is problematic even with shorter notice periods, but becomes a major issue where notice periods are several months long.
Making it work
So, as employers, how do we make notice periods work? How do we get the best out of our departing employees and ensure that we retain the information which is so vital to us?
The first thing to do is to look at the circumstances surrounding an employee’s resignation. Where these are acrimonious, the question needs to be asked as to whether having the employee in the workplace for the duration of their notice period is the right thing to do. While your initial instinct may be to panic as to how you can possibly cope without them – particularly where they hold a unique role within the business – the reality of the situation is that actually no one is completely irreplaceable.
This is where a well written garden leave clause within your contracts of employment can come into play. By invoking the garden leave clause, the employee is required to spend their notice period at home. They will not generally be required to carry out their day to day responsibilities, but must be available to answer any questions and complete any handover duties. Agreeing with an otherwise disengaged employee that they can go onto garden leave will often engender a sense of goodwill that allows for a more productive handover to take place.
Generally speaking, however, these situations are in the minority. More often, an employee will resign, will feel no particular sense of ill will against the business, but will mentally have moved on to their next employer. How then can you ensure you get the most out of them during their period of notice?
The principles of motivation
The answer is to go back to basics when it comes to some of the principles of motivation. We can no longer assume that our departing employee is motivated to deliver. We have to therefore ensure that, during their notice period, a framework is put in place in order to motivate and to reward their delivery. It is important not to take for granted the motivation of even our highest performing employees during their notice period. How you feel about delivery when you are committed to the long term future of your organisation is very different to how you feel when you know you will be exiting the business in a matter of weeks or months.
When it comes to exactly how you motivate these employees, this is going to vary from individual to individual, and you will need to spend time talking openly with them about how to maximise their output during their notice period. For some, setting clear delivery targets and milestones will be important. With others, giving them autonomy to manage the handover process and the training of their replacement will be a key motivator. For still others, it might be that you need to work with them closely through each stage of the handover.
Concluding the employee journey
Whatever the approach, it is vitally important that as managers we don’t ‘write off’ our departing employees during their notice periods if we want to ensure we get the best out of them, and make their notice period a positive and productive experience for both parties. The employee experience doesn’t stop when an employee resigns; it in fact continues way after they leave our business and their relationship with us becomes one of an alumnus. By taking a few simple steps it is possible to ensure that transition not only delivers, but also provides a concluding – and critical – chapter of their employee journey with us.