Ideally, guidance around workforce compliance should be clear and straightforward. For example, I can say with confidence that the best way to reduce human errors in your complaint reporting is to automate your compliance management system, or that harassment incident handling matters as much as—if not more than—harassment prevention training.
But now and then, an interesting suggestion or piece of advice comes along that doesn’t completely or consistently fit into neat categories of right and wrong. The same approach that works wonders for one organization may sensationally backfire at another. Maybe it’s effective in specific industries, or for certain kinds of companies, or only on Wednesdays when the Moon is in its waxing gibbous phase.
In other words, some workforce compliance ideas aren’t quite good or bad, but #KindaBoth.
Transparent separations are definitely one such idea. Coined by Investopedia CEO David Siegel, the term “transparent separation” refers to a situation in which a manager tells an underperforming employee of their impending termination weeks in advance, and then helps the employee navigate the transition. Instead of getting fired abruptly, the employee has time to start looking for a new job and prepare everything for their successor.
In a recent article for Harvard Business Review, Siegel points out that transparent separations can not only benefit the departing employee and assuage their coworkers’ fears, but may improve an employer’s relationships and reputation. The approach could even reduce legal risk:
“Many terminations risk litigation, and a manager’s responsibility is to minimize this. Employees may sue when they are angry, when they feel they’ve been treated unfairly, or when they’re struggling to find work and a lawsuit seems like a way to make ends meet. If an employee has the time and support need to find a new job and does, the threat of a lawsuit plummets.”
That said, there are numerous potential downsides and liabilities here as well. HBR readers in the comments point out that managers shouldn’t trust anyone to keep an imminent termination a secret. Others write that some outgoing employees need to be fired immediately for security reasons, or that keeping a worker on the job rather than just allowing them to “leave and collect severance” could actually inhibit their ability to “commit themselves fully to their job search.” One reader writes that transparent separations are “simply repackaged to appear humane” and amount to “nothing more than giving a termination notice.”
For what it’s worth, Siegel offers caveats of his own:
“I’ve found that transparent separations are a good strategy in about two thirds of cases. But there are a few situations where I avoid this approach. One is when a company is doing a mass reduction in force, laying off a swath of employees. In these cases, is not always feasible to provide transparent separation to everyone, and if you can’t provide it to everyone, then it’s not advisable to provide it to a few. Among other things, treating people being cut loose in different ways has legal ramifications. Another situation where transparent separation won’t work is when an employee is being let go because of an active problem that is harmful to other employees or the company, rather than, simply, because of suboptimal performance. For example, if a manager’s toxicity is having a negative impact on his or her employees, the manager needs to leave. Immediately.”
In short, if you were wondering whether longer, more transparent conversations about termination would help or harm your company and employees, the answer is… #KindaBoth.
(Looking for more nuanced discussions of workforce compliance issues? Stay tuned—maybe #KindaBoth will return as a recurring series on our blog! Or maybe not. #ProbablyOneOrTheOther.)