Be Prepared to Professionally Handle Employee Resignations
HVAC contractors discuss their companies’ exit strategies
There are many things changing in the U.S. workforce, including, it seems, the amount of time spent with an employer.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average number of years wage and salary workers have worked for their current employer was 4.2 years in January 2016, down from 4.6 years in January 2014. However, the longevity varies by age and occupation. The average tenure of workers aged 55-64 is 10.1 years, while the average tenure in workers aged 25-34 years is only 2.8 years, according to the BLS.
Many HVAC contractors have experienced employees resigning at one time or another. Oftentimes, it comes as a complete surprise.
“This is a moment of truth — what you say next, and possibly how you say it, will live on well after that person has left your company,” said Greg Crumpton, vice president of critical environments and facilities, Service Logic, Charlotte, North Carolina. “I recently heard DeAngelo Williams [of the NFL] talking about a similar thing. He said, ‘Imagine just coming off the football field and having just lost a close or tough game, then they shove a microphone in your face and ask you how you feel.’ That’s the same type of feeling that can creep into a resignation meeting.
“Think about it,” he continued. “One minute, you are sitting there doing something and then a knock on the door, then the ole’, ‘Have you got a minute?’ The next thing you know, you’re hearing whatever it is that’s driving the resignation. Guess what? Your turn. Surprised, shocked, disappointed, pissed off, or perhaps even relieved; those are some of the many feelings that settle in after you hear the news.”
And, although you may be feeling a multitude of emotions, it’s important not to allow them to win, Crumpton noted.
“Depending upon the situation, you may ask for some time to let the news soak in,” he said. “The key is to make the transition smooth for all, especially the good folks at your company who are not leaving. Depending on the resignee, it’s possible that them leaving immediately is best, or maybe they are generous and offer you a healthy notice of two weeks or more. Every situation will be unique.”
If the departure is handled well on both ends, the relationship can survive and thrive.
Crumpton said he personally has many great relationships with former employees because both parties handled themselves in a caring manner in the days leading up to the departure.
On the other side, he also has former employees he has no contact with at all simply because either one or both parties did not handle the situation well.
“There is no true playbook on this topic,” Crumpton said. “People are people, and we all do things that others may not understand. People have all kinds of different motivators. Think ahead, and make sure you know how to respond with the correct and honest things. If we can all do the right thing on the way out, everyone wins in the long run. Honesty, maturity, and being candid are huge factors in determining the direction the resignation process takes.”
TAKING THE HIGH ROAD
Every company handles resignations in its own way because every company, market, and situation is different, explained Wade Hamstra, vice president, Hamstra Heating & Cooling Inc., Tucson, Arizona.
“Contractors should handle resignations with the big picture in mind and always take the high road in these situations,” he said. “It can be very easy to let emotions take over and react in a hasty manner that ends up making us look like the bad guy and makes the resigning employee look like a victim.”
Hamstra Heating & Cooling handles resignations by requesting a letter that indicates the resignee’s anticipated final day of work, if notice is given.
“If notice is given, we always try to let the employee work out that period of time,” Hamstra said. “The only exceptions would be if we are light on work, and it would be best for both parties to part ways immediately, or if they are leaving to work for a direct competitor. We have also begun to offer the resigning employee the opportunity to participate in the creation of the internal staff communication email/memo that will be sent out to announce their departure from our company and the game plan for backfilling their responsibilities.”
Hamstra said he rarely does any salary matching, focusing instead on trying to help the employee see beyond the hourly wage and ensure they are taking the full compensation package into consideration.
“If we lose an employee to a competitor over a couple bucks an hour, we failed miserably to create value in being employed at Hamstra and deserve to lose the employee,” he said.
Hamstra admitted to being blindsided by resignations far too often.
“They are each painful moments of self-reflection for me,” he said. “To lose an employee unexpectedly, especially a quality employee, always hits home and challenges me to improve as a leader.”
The company formed a Technician Leadership Council, where they discuss topics like employee turnover and share responsibility for retention of quality people. The leadership council develops relationships with each technician on the team with the hope of proactively addressing issues before they start looking for employment elsewhere.
Hamstra Heating & Cooling currently has eight ‘boomerang’ employees on staff — people who were employed by the company, left for various reasons, and have since returned.
“We’ve been able to get a lot of good folks back by taking the high road during their resignation,” Hamstra said. “We never bad-mouth them to our remaining staff, we show care and concern for them during the exit interview process, and we do our best to leave the door open should they depart in good standing. Too often, we as employers tend to handle separations emotionally and unknowingly burn the bridge with departing employees. No matter how upsetting or frustrating losing a good employee may be, the right thing to do is to show care for them as a person, support them in the transition, wish them well, and let them know the door is always open for return should the new job not work out as expected.”
According to Travis Smith, owner, Sky Heating & Air Conditioning, Portland, Oregon, handling resignations really depends on the situation.
“If an employee gives a two-week notice, many contractors will fire them on the spot, and I feel this is bad for our industry,” Smith said. “As an owner or manager, we should respect their two-week notice and keep them employed during that time. We have an exit interview process where we like to ask a few basic questions about why they are leaving. It has created many new programs at our company. We redid our tool policy and increased our benefits due to employees who left. So, an employee who leaves can turn into a benefit for all the others.”
Smith said he also never offers to match a pay increase. The company has defined pay scales, and he believes they are competitive. However, he was also blindsided by a long-term employee’s resignation — all over a dollar or two per hour.
“We sat down and discussed what the real issue was, and the employee said money, knowing we wouldn’t match the new salary,” Smith explained. “After discussing their true issues, however, we realized we had a potential to make their life easier, and that’s all they wanted. They are still with us today, and this was over a year ago.
“Employers should have their employees’ backs,” he continued. “The old saying, ‘the customer is always right,’ is wrong. We need to take care of our employees first and then our customers second. I don’t even have employees — I have internal and external customers. Occasionally, customers need to be fired, and we have to part ways. I also think of it as if an employee quits, they fired me as the owner of the company. When you realize you were just fired, you spend more time fixing the issue than saying, ‘Oh, they were wrong and I’m always right.’”
DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY
Above all else, HVAC contractors should not take employee resignations personally, according to Angie Snow, vice president, Western Heating & Air Conditioning, Orem, Utah.
“It’s important to be professional about an employee leaving,” Snow said. “Don’t let it become personal, even though some employees may feel like they can say whatever they want when they are leaving. We recommend to have at least one more manager or key employee in the room when an employee is resigning to ensure everything goes smoothly.”
Western Heating & Air Conditioning also has an exit interview process in the form of paperwork that is completed by the direct supervisor. The process ensures the company collects all materials, keys, phones, iPads, uniforms, and other property. It also seeks feedback from exiting employees to see if there are areas for improvement.
“We do sometimes offer to match a new salary, but it’s on a case-by-case basis,” Snow said. “It really does depend on the employee and if we feel they are someone that we want to keep. We also build value with the other benefits we offer in lieu of salary.”
Snow said she, too, has been surprised by an employee resignation. But Western has also had several employees who left the company and wanted to come back after discovering they were happier there.
“We feel like that is a compliment and shows that we have a great culture,” she said.
Snow said contractors should just remember to treat exiting employees with professionalism.
“Be friendly, and support their decision if they are just trying to better their situation,” she said.
Publication date: 3/12/2018