When we think of exit interviews, or letters handed to a manager when someone leaves, it's usually in the wake of resignation or redundancy.
There is a difference for many on the circumstances of being sacked, of course - if someone has reached the point where their position is seen by you, the employer, as untenable, do they have a right of reply when told they are being 'let go'? Just because they're being sacked, does it mean they have no right to respond to your decision?
This is what happened with Suella Braverman, publishing her response to Rishi Sunak when he fired her on Monday November 13. In her letter, Suella outlined work she had completed, and discussed how they had worked together on different projects. She wrote: "Someone needs to be honest: your plan is not working, we have endured record election defeats, your resets have failed and we are running out of time. You need to change course urgently."
The onus is often on the employee and whether they will choose to say anything - the risk of burning bridges can be a worry - but what about the managers and HR professionals who are handed (or emailed) letters that rip either themselves or the company apart (or both)?
For some, the words will be in the resignation letter they hand to you. They might have been writing it for a long time, editing and working on the words. There will be a highly emotionally charged element to it - much like there is with Braverman's. She has not held back, and employees might do the same. for many, reading the letter in full, the words 'brutal' and 'no holds barred' might come to mind.
For HR professionals, there is probably some de ja vu if you've had a similar letter or email, or fear of this happening to you.
My letter to the Prime Minister pic.twitter.com/7OBzaZnxr2— Suella Braverman MP (@SuellaBraverman) November 14, 2023
Legal and fact-checking
The first thing you always need to consider is the facts. Has this person raised issues which have, indeed, been noted in the past? Perhaps they allude to something they have raised in a one on one appraisal, that haven't been actioned. perhaps they had complained in the past about lack of action around an issue, that they are now saying is a reason for them not being happy with their leaving the role.
It might be that they include something libellous, and, in publishing it to a third party (you) they are at risk legally. If they choose to share their words on social media, or publicly, that can also cause major issues and even lead to your company needing to make a press statement. For some, the idea of burning bridges just isn't a problem - they are so incensed, or upset, or angry about their experiences that they are going for it in their letter.
If your employee includes or posts an opinion about the role or company on social media, there is a fine line between them venting their spleen and them saying things which are inaccurate or damaging to your company.
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Venting their feelings vs inappropriate comments
Braverman carried on, writing: "For a year, as Home Secretary I have sent numerous letters to you on the key subjects contained in our agreement, made requests to discuss them with you and your team, and put forward proposals on how we might deliver these goals. I worked up the legal advice, policy detail and action to take on these issues. This was often met with equivocation, disregard and a lack of interest.
As an HR professional, or manager, you have two choices, really. You let them vent, then you move on. They are, after all, leaving anyway. What's the harm in them getting a few things off their chest? The other tack you could take is a serious one. Take legal advice if you can on what's been written, and warn the person that if they share this externally you will consider legal action.
Learnings for you and the company in the future
Encouraging staff to share their thoughts and feedback when leaving - for any reason - leaving a job depends on various factors. In some instances, open and honest communication can contribute to a healthier work environment by providing constructive feedback. This transparency may foster a culture of improvement and understanding between employers and employees. Whether you like it or not, the letter or what's said in an exit interview might ring true. It may well be factually correct that you or their manager haven't actioned something they suggested - and that they are pointing out real flaws in the processes.
Then it's time to learn. It's time to look at what's been raised and ask yourself: 'Could we do better next time?'