How to announce employee departures
Positioning departures as “no big deal”
In early startup years, “sharing the belief” is a real driver for success. So it can feel almost like a betrayal when employees decide to leave the startup.
The first factor in dealing with departures is to position them as normal and as expexted. In fact, they are a function of company success.
- Most startups are great at announcing new joiners but they feel hesitant about announcing departures.
- When employees leave the company, it can feel demotivating to the rest of the team: sowing doubts “are they not a true believer?” (especially among inexperienced employees for whom this is the first rodeo)
- But for practical reasons, people also need to be aware of departures so that they are not trying to contact people who are no longer there.
- As a startup grows, at first, new joiners become more common and then departures will also become more common. This is completely normal.
- Startups particularly struggle with how to announce forced departures, since announcing it could feel like disparaging the person.
- Make it feel normal to people that, in a growing company, people will not only join but also depart. Position this as a sign of success and of dynamism.
- Group together all joiner and departure announcements in a fixed (monthly?) rhythm: eg a slide in the all-hands deck or a monthly Slack message. You can soften departures by positioning it as “graduating” or “becoming an alumnus”
- Keep these announcements super short and factual only: eg:\ “We had five new people join this month: Sarah in Marketing, Bobby and Kim in Sales, Srikanth and Yen in Engineering, Luis in Finance. We wish them all the best start at <company>. And three people graduated this month: James in Product, Maria in HR and Carmen in Engineering. We wish them all the best in their future endeavors and as part of the <company> alumni club.” HR should manage this.
- For forced departures, let the people being asked to leave choose what the messaging will be. Eg. “Would you want to position this as you finding another job, or taking some time for yourself, or starting something of your own?” Give them some time to reflect on this, of course. This messaging should not be used in all-company settings, only in closer team settings that require more context. “James in our Product team decided to work on a startup himself.” HR should manage this process but the direct manager should reach agreement with the employee on the messaging, and stick to it in all of their communications about the departure.
- If the forced departure is not due to individual fit/performance but due to a layoff, there is a whole separate playbook on how to manage layoffs properly and with the right communication cadence. Please get us involved.
Certainly, managing and announcing employee departures can be a sensitive and challenging issue for any company, particularly for fast-growing startups in which young employees are heavily invested. One best practice is to provide clear communication and transparency throughout the process. This means being open and honest about the reasons for the departure (assuming it’s appropriate to do so), providing context about how the departure will impact the team or company, and offering resources or support for those who may be affected by the change.
Another key best practice is to be respectful and professional throughout the process. This means treating departing employees with kindness and empathy, allowing them to leave on their own terms if possible, and avoiding any negative or unprofessional behavior that could impact the morale of the remaining team members.
Finally, it’s important to stay focused on the vision and mission of the company throughout the process. While the departure of a colleague may be difficult, it’s important to keep the overall goals and objectives of the organization as a top priority.
Managing and announcing employee departures can be a sensitive issue because it can affect team morale and cause anxiety among other employees. Let’s continue with the explanation.
In a fast-growing mid-stage startup, turnover can be a common occurrence due to many factors such as career advancement opportunities, personal reasons, or changes in the company. Young employees who typically “buy in” to the company vision can often feel betrayed or confused when colleagues choose to leave, which can lead to a negative impact on the remaining team members who may start to question their loyalty and commitment to the company.
Therefore, it’s essential to handle these departures delicately and sensitively. One way to do this is by having an open and honest conversation with the departing employee to understand their reasons for leaving while also reassuring them that the door will remain open should they choose to return.
Another approach is by communicating the departure with the remaining team members and providing context for the change. This can help the remaining employees feel more at ease and less triggered by their departing colleagues. By doing so, it’s also essential to inspire confidence in the team by highlighting recent progress and milestones that have been achieved in the company.