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Since I started to work for my first employer, I have seen two employees quit the organization. What surprised me was that news of their exit was broken by team managers' only a week before the actual exit happened. Until then, even the closest of their friends were unaware of the developments.

Our employment terms state that an employee has to tender an exit notice of 45 days, so the fact these employees were leaving was known by management for quite some time. After speaking to outgoing employees, I found out that they were strictly instructed by their managers not to disclose the information that they were leaving until they were permitted to do so.

What are the business reasons for managers to give these instructions?

  • 5
    45 days is a long time. I have seen Reduction in Force (RIF) done where the employer wants to keep it a secret to not spook the ones remaining with the company. – mhoran_psprep May 2 '12 at 18:39
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    @Chad: There is a question: "Is there any business reason for managers to give these strict instructions?" I find it reasonable to ask to understand the motivations of the employer. – sleske May 3 '12 at 11:52
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    @Chad failing to understand the reason for management's actions can be a huge detriment to everyone involved. If employees don't know what's up it sows distrust which makes your job harder. Understanding is a part of working. – Rarity May 3 '12 at 13:20
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    Our employment terms state that an employee has to tender an exit notice of 45 days ==> Your contract can say that if you want to quit you have to eat your hand first, but that doesn't mean that you actually have to do it. – Thomas Bonini May 3 '12 at 15:12
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    They keep it until a week? In my company, we hear it the last day, or day before a person leaves o_O – BЈовић May 3 '12 at 19:28
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Sometimes it's a matter of practicality.

  1. Letting team members know earlier than necessary sometimes runs the risk of turning him into a lame duck with no significant benefit. Not to mention the political maneuvring for his position.

  2. Sometimes these "exits" don't happen or change at the last minute.

  3. Employees leaving create all types of distractions. It's better to reduce this distraction until the last responsible minute.

I'm sure there are plenty of other reasons, but letting employees know earlier than needed really serves no benefit. If that is indeed the case, why bother?

  • 17
    I'd argue thet letting employees know earlier creates one important benefit: It allows the leaving employee to transfer his responsibilities and knowledge to others. I have seen several cases where the employer asked the leaving employee to explain things to his successor, or even hold small workshops. That proved quite valuable. – sleske May 3 '12 at 11:54
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    @sleske, that's why I mentioned "last RESPONSIBLE minute". Hand overs can be done in a week, a day, an hour. It doesn't make sense to let them know any earlier than is needed for a proper hand over. You can also conduct workshops and transfer knowledge WITHOUT letting them know the instructor is leaving until the right time comes. – Permas May 3 '12 at 12:31
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    One other reason that wasn't mentioned: Not wanting customers to find out - If a key / high-visibility employee is leaving and the employer wants to carefully handle the transition they probably don't want word slipping to customers before they're ready. – voretaq7 May 3 '12 at 14:34
  • +1 - #1 especially is a great reason for even the most ethical companies to wait until later to announce. It's no fun to work for a job where people don't feel that they can rely on you because you're about to leave, especially when you really need to be effective in order to get things wrapped up for the next person to fill your shoes. – Ethel Evans May 3 '12 at 20:57
  • Of course, there's a difference between proactively "letting employees know" and telling the person who's leaving "the first rule about leaving is that you don't talk about leaving". In my experience employers who do the second thing do it 1) out of fear of how other employees will react and 2) a desire to feel in control of things for the sake of feeling in control. There's not always a legitimate business case to be made. – aroth Apr 6 '14 at 23:38
22

There are political reasons not to let the news out, too. For instance, the manager may want to hire a replacement without someone he isn't interested in hiring having the chance to apply for the opening. This is especially true if there is someone well qualified that the manager doesn't like or want to have working for him.

The manager may not want it to appear he is losing staff because he is working towards getting some major new project internally.

The manager may think he is going to persuade the person to stay.

He may not want to make the announcement until it is decided if the position will be filled or not.

If there is a major deadline or delivery in that time frame, he may not want to make the client nervous that his team is leaving. Or he might not want them to find out until he has a replacement.

He may not want people to know that company ABC has some openings right now and so the delay may ensure that any other vacancies they currently have are filled before everyone tries to go to the same place.

He may be a jerk who has no particular reason except that he can do it.

He may feel the person is less likely to slack off if others are unaware he is leaving (45 days is a long time period to wait until someone leaves).

  • It sounds like delaying notifying others of departures is policy just as the 45-day notice is policy, so some of these can't apply, but a good list nonetheless. – David Navarre Aug 13 '12 at 18:18
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If a person is known to be leaving, conversations swerve from getting the job done into where are you going and why.

Some managers want to feel like they are in control of everything, and those managers will try to control even news of other employees departing. Those sort of managers tend to be obsessed with appearances. The subordinates of these managers tend to feel like mushrooms: kept in the dark and have manure flung on them.

One past employer had an entire legal department in order to dodge WARN Act notifications. While the parade of departing employees was constant, and the employees themselves knew about their own layoff more than a month ahead of time, it was not common for the layoff to be announced more than a couple days ahead of the departure. Many of them would have going away parties (frowned on by management), and many of them were identified as "Bob is the last guy who knows/does X". Morale was so bad that many people switched from working Fridays to working Saturdays in order to avoid facing the departures. You could tell larger than normal layoffs were scheduled when the main entrances had extra armed guards checking badges (rather than the old guy with a flashlight checking them) and the foreign staff were directed to work from home those days.

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    Related to this is a sort of "sinking ship syndrome", where the employees with a mix of strong skills and political savvy walk out the door as soon as they see things going downhill. The "why?" part of "where are you going and why?" can expose this motivation, and cause other skilled employees with less political savvy to leave sooner than they might have otherwise. Skilled employees are most likely to decide to move on, because they will have the easiest time finding employment elsewhere - leaving only the least desirable employees behind. – Ethel Evans May 3 '12 at 20:54
8

The reason I ask my employees to not discuss they are leaving is because I know there is always a pack mentality and people have very strong social bonds who work together.

If one person wants a new job and has time to discuss it with other employees, the more time they have to plan and figure out leaving together. If it is sudden and not known, there is a much much less chance others will be able to leave with them.

Next, loosing multiple people with the knowledge is much more of a hit on productivity and money. If I can get people in to train others and cycle slowly there is not an impact, but if everyone or multiple key people leave at the same time, I'm screwed.

  • 1
    Usually the departee tells the other team members anyway, so cloak and dagger is not too successful. It might be viewed as a lack of trust, and thus will have a huge negative impact to employee morale. – Juha Untinen Oct 15 '14 at 11:20
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This is VERY painful. I've found that silence can be caused by many reasons, some malignant, some behind.

  1. The manager is waiting for the right time to tell customers.
  2. The manager wants a coordinated message.
  3. The manager is looking for a replacement, and doesn't want to inform people without it. (This can take a while, as then they have to find the replacement for the replacement...)
  4. The manager is conflict-averse.

Every company has a rumor mill, and in the absence of a formal announcement, the rumor mill generates it's own reasons.

2

A separate point is that 45 days of notice doesn't neccessarily mean 45 days between announcing and leaving. You can give 45 days of notice and get escorted out the same day. That person may easily had negotiated different exit terms at the time of notice.

2

I don't think anyone has mentioned this yet, apologies if I missed it:

Many companies wish to maintain the appearance (and it might even be mostly true) that all employees are fully committed to the company and believe in what it's doing.

Someone who's leaving is clearly an exception to that rule. As a matter of presentation both to clients and to other employees, the company might choose to take steps to conceal facts that don't fit the narrative.

The most direct way to have everyone carry on as normal, is to restrict the information only to those who absolutely must know (the employee leaving, their boss, anyone in management above that to whom this single person is significant, someone in HR, anyone involved in replacing the exiting employee).

Naturally some people think this is sensible PR, while others think it's dishonest dealing with both clients and other employees. It might even be both.

0

I found out that they were strictly instructed by their managers not to disclose the information that they were leaving until they were permitted to do so.

It is possible that the manager was responding to concerns of the employee. The employee may not have felt comfortable sharing with you that they were leaving and did not want the distraction of being asked about the new position, or people asking them to take them with. Blaming management is an easy way to sidestep these issues with out looking like the bad guy. So this could have been suggested as the solution.

I find when I am about to leave a position that people tend to vent their frustrations with the company to me like I hated the company and that was the reason I was leaving. Most often I am moving on to something else. I try to explain this to people which then turns them into trying to convert me to their opinion. For this reason I only broadcast my departure to those people whom my departure will impact. And I only do so to help facilitate hand off of my responsibilities.

In all of my positions in the past 20 years of IT work I have never been asked not to share the news of my imminent departure with my coworkers. I have been asked by the company I was actually employed by to allow them to tell the company I was contracted to that I would be leaving to allow them to bring some one in to back fill the position I would be vacating.

  • +1 - although this answer does not answer the question directly, it does give some options as to why it is good to let certain colleagues aware of the departure. – tehnyit May 3 '12 at 15:03
  • So, you're saying that the employees that were departing were simply lying to him? If it were only one employee and not what appears to the poster as a policy decision by management, your answer might be useful, but just because you've never worked for this kind of manager doesn't mean they don't exist. – David Navarre Aug 13 '12 at 18:25

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