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How To Handle Departing Employees |  May 13, 2015 (1 comment)


Boston, MA—One of the givens in retail is that you will lose employees from time to time. Some leave of their own accord; others are invited to leave for issues related to non-performance or because they don’t fit into your culture. Depending on whose data you believe, the turnover rate for retail employees is anywhere from 25% annually, to 50% or more.

Now, lest you think that turnover is all bad, this might be a good place to remind the reader that turnover is not a bad thing in and of itself. We regularly read musings on the exceedingly high costs associated with turnover—much of it true—but we are far less likely to read about the astonishingly high costs of keeping the wrong employees. This is particularly true when it comes to salespeople and to store managers. The amount of opportunity lost as a consequence of regularly exposing your customers to the wrong salespeople can be the difference between having a profitable business or an unprofitable business.

The costs associated with having the wrong manager can be equally devastating, as the presence of a bad manager can result in the loss of good salespeople and/or significant underperformance by your team. Numerous studies, particularly those at Gallup, attest to the reality of employees leaving managers, not companies.

Whether your turnover is self-directed or imposed, there is one absolute principle that should guide your practices when it comes to departing employees: always treat them with respect during and after the process. Bad-mouthing former employees is unprofessional, unbecoming and unnecessary.

Why it happens at all is debatable; perhaps it serves as a form of self-rationalization to explain why someone could possibly have had the ‘audacity’ to leave your organization. Perhaps it masks a sense of disappointment or regret that things didn’t work out better and it is easier to pretend that you are better off without that employee than to admit that you wished you could have kept them.

Regardless of why it happens, there is no doubt whatsoever that negative comments about former employees serve no useful purpose at all and, in fact, might significantly undercut the morale of your team.  It is not unreasonable for employees to conclude that if you would speak ill of their former colleague, why you wouldn’t do likewise of them? When you lose an employee, keep the following principles in mind and always take the high road. No one ever had to apologize for an excess of corporate civility.

Levin and Rosse wrote in Talent Flow, “Managers who are tempted to ignore employees’ reactions do well to remember that although it takes time to develop a trusting relationship, that trust can be lost in an instant with poorly deliberated action.” How you handle these very sensitive issues speaks volumes to the kind of manager or leader you are and, one way or another sends a very strong message to your employees. What would you like that message to be?

Peter Smith, author of Hiring Squirrels: 12 Essential Interview Questions To Uncover Great Retail Sales Talent, has spent 30 years building sales teams at retail, and working with countless numbers of independent retailers as a brand-executive, to offer his counsel and advice on personnel matters. A graduate of Boston College, he has served on the Advisory Board of Caliper’s Global Conference and is a contributing panelist on the KR Executive Group’s Talent Blog. Smith has worked for Tiffany & Co., and was executive vice president of brand development for Hearts On Fire, where he authored the Menu For Success, a roadmap for retail success.  Smith’s book is available in print or Kindle digital edition on 

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Comments (1):

I’m interested in your opinions. Your insight regarding departing employees is right on the money.

By Stephen Silver on May 15th, 2015 at 4:08pm

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