How long should I keep a short-timer around?


They have decided to leave, now you have to decide how long to keep them around. In general, there are two schools of thought:

  • Get them out the door as fast as you can.
  • Get as much work out of them as you can.

There are a lot of variations in between, and a lot of contingent factors to consider, of course. But in general, all the choices boil down to something approaching these.

I’ll cut to the chase scene and tell you, I’m firmly in the “show them the door” camp, unless there are some extenuating circumstances. The key reason is that the person has already committed to the new job, they are mentally there already. Also, they are a short-timer, and even the most dedicated and faithful of employees gets “short-timer syndrome”. They will introduce, even unintentionally, an “I’m outta here” mood with it’s lax attention to detail, a poor attitude toward their peers, and worst of all, make others think about leaving. So, most of the time, I’m in favor of “thanks for playing our game” and a quick exit… measured in hours.

I’m firmly in the “show them the door” camp

The only real exception is when the person holds essential responsibilities that simply no one else knows enough to handle, and you think the extra time will help train a replacement. In this case, where the outgoing person essentially has your organization hostage, a little extra time is worth the downside. But I rarely see value in more than the customary two weeks, and always recommend that you keep your options open and monitor the situation on a daily basis. If the mood is going south, cut the person loose, immediately.

I talk about replacement training elsewhere, but it’s important to be realistic, if not pessimistic about it. In my experience, short-timer syndrome takes over and completely engulfs any potential knowledge transfer you may gain from the departing employee. They usually are leaving their job because they don’t like it, or see it as a dead end, and there is zero chance they won’t (even unintentionally) pass this attitude on to their replacement.

And as a side benefit, I usually find that a complete re-think of the job, with the new employee revitalizing the position, can work wonders for both the effectiveness of a position, and the morale of the incoming replacement. So don’t rely on the outgoing person for knowledge transfer. Assign a new employee, give them the essentials, and tell them you are looking for their input on how the job would best work.

So, unless you have done a very poor job in providing backup on an ongoing basis, or you have allowed an employee to develop unique and secret knowledge about their work (both mortal sins — on your part), prompt exits are the best. Simply thank people for their work, and offer to help them clean out their desk. Seriously.

Same day exits are the best.

Same day exits are the best. This leaves the least amount of time for morale damage to the rest of the team, for questions from all concerned (and not concerned) about why, where, how much, etc., and perhaps often overlooked in this information age, the least amount of time for them to steal or damage essential information. Change their password immediately, get them out the door with the least amount of stuff possible, and offer to settle up on all other issues (pay, COBRA, personal items left in the office, business items still at home, etc.) later.

And, for your amusement, it usually catches people off guard and sends a wonderfully strong signal to the rest of the organization: Thinking about leaving? Fine, but don’t expect me to beg you to stay. That’s never a bad signal to send.