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Off the Record: Can’t you just tell the truth?

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It’s January, which means most companies can expect to lose a decent chunk of their workforce as they jump ship to bigger, better or different things.

It is expected that following a holiday (typically a period of self-reflection) some employees will have figured out they want to head down a new path. There is nothing wrong with this in principal – employees move on, they outgrow their current roles, feel they have learned enough in their current industry, or they want a change of pace.

But, more often than not, people leave for a multitude of other reasons: to follow a spouse overseas, because they hate their boss or, as it happens so often in Southeast Asian countries, to achieve a seemingly insignificant pay rise.

But here’s my gripe: How often have you known the real reasons behind someone’s departure? And what opportunity did you have to counteract those reasons before they ran away?

As someone who grew up in Singapore, but spent most of my working life in the Western world, I struggle with the lack of clarity when someone decides to leave a job here. More often than not employers are left with questions: Why are they really leaving? Where are they going? Why on earth did they resign on the weekend and decide not to show up the following week?

In my experience back in my home country, an employee who decides to leave a job – for whatever reason – will begin that discussion with their manager in a resignation letter, printed out, and handed to them in person. A very clear and professional discussion then ensues about why they’re leaving, where they are going and the employer, generally speaking, starts thinking about what they can do to make them stay (if their intention is not to lose them).

If the employer doesn’t know the reasons behind their departing employees’ resignation, it’s very hard for them to attempt any sort of counter offer. Perhaps the departing staff member’s mind won’t be changed, but the point is the company is given an opportunity to react and come up with solutions for whatever issues have driven them to resign.

When I have left jobs in the past, there has always been a clear discussion with my manager about why I’m going. I would never pass up the opportunity for an exit interview (in fact, I tend to demand it) yet in this part of the world it seems as though many departing employees shy away from this.

I believe it’s typically because they don’t want to insult their managers by bringing up any negative issues, or they feel the exit interview process is a waste of time, and nothing will change anyway.

It’s important that managers get honest answers from departing employees. Settling for anything less is pointless, and you will not learn anything from the process.

Exiting employees are valuable. The reasons they give you for leaving could be some of the best feedback or advice you have ever received about how you manage your staff.

Therefore, when people leave without so much as a goodbye, everybody loses. The employer doesn’t get a chance to find out what went wrong (and likely face up to some difficult truths) and the employee misses an opportunity to gain some closure on a career-shaping experience.

With that, it’s this advice I give to anyone thinking about switching jobs this year: tell the truth. Please.

A good manager is not going to bite your head off for explaining why you want a change and if you’re honest about what’s bugging you, you might find the solution is easier than you thought.

As for employers, if all this truth-telling actually picks up, make sure you’re prepared to face some criticism and absorb some very real home truths.

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Review the 2020 masterclasses here »

Rebecca Lewis
Human Resources Magazine Singapore

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