When a new member signs up at our club, we are careful to go over our cancellation policy. Why do we do this? Because when they join, they don't think they will ever quit. But we know better. The same is true of employees. When someone first comes to work for you, they never think about leaving. But just like any business, turnover comes with the health club territory. How are they going to handle it when it's time to move on to something bigger and potentially better?
As the owner and GM of this club, I always considered it part of my job to help employees progress in their careers. I want them to understand the why and how of each job at the club and how everyone's role fits together to create our culture and atmosphere. I want them to have insight into how a small business works, how we service our customers and why we charge a certain amount for those services. I encourage them to think about what will come next for them in their careers and how they can develop skills that they can take with them when they leave.
Over the years, I've come to accept the fact that most people don't know how to leave a job in a professional manner. I'm not talking about when you have to fire an employee — that's never easy for either party. I'm talking about when one of your employees or managers comes to you and says they have accepted a position someplace else. Among the problems you can expect: a general lack of caring about fulfilling responsibilities or meeting deadlines, showing up late, leaving early, taking vacation days and not being present for meetings. You might be left wondering, "Where is Tom today?"
So the question becomes, how can we help people manage their final two weeks in a more professional manner so they don't damage your business or their own reputation? Here's my advice:
1. Have a plan for advancement
The process should start when an employee is first hired. For most of your employees and all of your managers, have a plan for how they can advance within your company or how they can acquire the right skills so that when an opportunity arises at another company they have the right qualifications. This can help keep everyone engaged and working toward goals each and every year.
Our managers meet each week to discuss our Key Performance Indicators (or KPI — all the rage in today's business circles). They know the numbers not only for their department, but for all departments and for the club in general. They participate in goal-setting and budget-planning. They receive a bonus if their department exceeds revenue goals. They can continue to earn more and take on greater responsibilities at this club, so that if a management position opens at a larger club or with a club chain, they'll have the experience necessary to step right into that position.
2. Ask and advise
When an employee comes to tell me they are putting in for their two weeks notice, we need to discuss details. I ask lots of questions about the new position and what it offers in terms of both responsibilities and compensation. There have been situations in which I've advised an employee not to take a position that was offered to them.
On one occasion, I didn't think they had yet developed the skill set they would need to be successful (sadly, after a few months, they had lost their new job). On another occasion, the person was looking at the "possible" commission they were going to make. I advised them to look more closely at the base pay and figure out what they would be making until they actually achieved revenue goals (and the number of hours they would have to work to achieve them). The compensation plan wasn't as great as it seemed on the surface.
3. Set clear expectations
The big thing I need to know is whether there is a risk to my business in letting this person continue to work for the next two weeks. Is there even a benefit to keeping them on for those two weeks?
When you meet with the departing person, ask how they expect the next two weeks to go. Are they going to ask for some time off to "get ready" for their new job? If so, would that affect their salary? I'm not going to pay someone to spend my time preparing for their new job. Are they in the middle of a project that will have to be handed off to another staff person? Is there someone within your club who will be moving up into this person's position? If so, do you want this person to train their replacement? If they are/were good at their job, this can be a big help.
I also make sure I'm clear in my expectation that they will continue to do their job right up until the day they leave. Most of my salaried staff members set their own hours. But as soon as this meeting takes place, I want a set schedule for their final two weeks. If they aren't fulfilling their responsibilities, I address it with them immediately.
4. Speed it along if necessary
If there is even the slightest possibility that an employee might damage your business, let them know that while you appreciate them giving you two weeks notice, it's not necessary and they can be done today.
This may create problems, for instance, with personal trainers and their clients (there is no opportunity to make a transition with the new trainer), but experience has shown me that employees will sometimes not hesitate to put their own interests ahead of those of your business. They might happen to mention to their personal training clients that they are going to ABC Gym down the street and possibly outright encourage clients to leave your gym and train with them at their new job. I've had trainers and managers do this over the years and it's always disappointing from both a professional and personal standpoint.
If you have treated your staff well, and they have learned enough from you to move on to something bigger and better, you should be proud that you had a hand in that. But before they leave, help them to learn one last thing — how to exit gracefully.
This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Allowing employees to exit gracefully takes work" Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.