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Opinion & Analysis

Never burn bridges in employment world

Jobs aren’t a life sentence. But ending them can be done well or badly, and badly costs employees too. file photo | nmg
Jobs aren’t a life sentence. But ending them can be done well or badly, and badly costs employees too. file photo | nmg 

Everything ends, in our mortal toil. All jobs come to an end. But how things end can make the difference between massive costs for everyone around us, and to ourselves: or the smoothest of passages onwards.

Which is why job contracts and employment laws cover termination. Yet that framework on termination is a frequently disregarded set of rules in Kenya. And for all that employers can ride roughshod over the rules on how and when staff can be dismissed, the far more regular breach is by employees themselves.

As it is, this week, in my own company, a member of staff left. She’s leaving to do a Masters’ degree. She has been an incredible employee, hugely valued. Yet, on leaving, she tackled head on the awkward and difficult moment of serving notice.

It didn’t turn out to be so awkward or difficult, and she worked out her notice, even adding an extra week on a project she had been the lead on. We had the time to recruit a replacement. She was thorough about her handover, and enthusiastic to the close.

Yet the smooth and professional way she has handled her transition makes for an extraordinary contrast with the norm.

Some years back, one of our national polling companies delivered a survey on staff turnover, and the degree of job loyalty by the Millennial generation. It reported that almost two thirds had changed jobs in the preceding two years and that almost two thirds were currently looking for a new post.

This makes for a phenomenal volume of change, skills drainage, and challenges with knowledge management in retaining any organisational memory in Kenyan businesses: for Kenya is a Millenial country, with one of the youngest populations in the world.

Yet the damaging thing, for everyone, more than the volume of change itself, is the habit of the no-notice departure.

Indeed, job contracts have even been built here with a clause I have never seen before elsewhere, forfeiting a month’s salary on departure without notice. It doesn’t help much as it simply makes the day after pay day a high risk moment in terms of staff losses.

Some staff simply don’t arrive and their phones go off, or they just block every company and colleagues’ number. Others send a 1 a.m, 9 a.m, or 2 p.m email, purportedly serving notice, but usually termed as ‘with immediate effect’.

Some just stall and keep not arriving at work. None of this heads off the damage of the unanswered client emails the next day, or week, or the absence of any handover to anyone else.

Indeed, I have wondered if it was anger – what did any of us do to make that member of staff want to hurt us that much? Or is it fear – fear of telling us they are leaving: will it spark the arrival of dragons? Will hail rain from the skies?

Yet my peers all report the same phenomena. Staff leave for Christmas and never return, wanting to join a political campaign instead, but forgetting the merits of a handover.

Staff mid film production announce they will never be returning. It’s just a norm. Yet it shows on all those Millenial CVs.

For, beyond the cost to the company, there comes the cost to the employee. Having breached contract, and hurt their former employer, having made unnecessary extra work for their colleagues, what do they do about their CV?

Some leave the company on their CV, as difficult to dispose of unless they add a vacant year or two. But potential new employers call former employers, and some of those ex-staff get excluded from shortlists once they’re marked as a no-notice quitter.

A remarkably sizeable proportion later go back to the very company they breached on, looking for re-employment, or work, or even a reference, and seem shocked to discover the goodwill didn’t span the breach.

As employers, we take up references, look at attitudes to notice, and systematically exclude anyone who can’t balance their own needs with their own obligations. We’re not blind.

As it is, jobs aren’t a life sentence. But ending them can be done well or badly, and badly costs employees too.

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