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Sensitive tech support during employee departures

Dismissals and departures can be awkward, especially when they are due to economics and not poor performance. William Jones discusses how the help desk is uniquely positioned to make or break an employee exit.

Dismissals and departures can be awkward, especially when they are due to economics and not poor performance. William Jones discusses how the help desk is uniquely positioned to make or break an employee exit.

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Even before the current recession really sank its teeth in, I had already had a lot experience handling staff exits. In the higher education sector, you get used to seeing people leave. University research grants often last only two or three years, and graduate students don't always stay long on their hunt for tenure track positions. Add those factors to all the other reasons people move on -- positive or otherwise -- and I had an environment where I saw quite a bit of staff turnover.

Departures and dismissals are situations that IT folks are going to have to increasingly deal with in this economy. How can tech support humanely serve both the employee and the company during a staff member's exit?

Be at the disposal of Human Resources. If it relates to staff entrances and exits, it's really their show. Life will be easier if there are good lines of communication between IT and HR. A good place to start building the relationship is by helping your HR person go over their exit policy and procedure. You can help them think about the tech issues involved and make sure those documents are up to date. Cut down on surprises, when possible. Every exit is different, but if there is some notice before a colleague's departure, I try and make sure to meet with them well in advance. I go over the things that will need to be wrapped up, and I offer some exit services. Try and lend a helping hand. When an employee is leaving on good terms, there is a lot that tech support can do to make the transition easier. Backing up files for the user or helping with e-mail forwarding are some obvious examples, and both are services I'd regularly perform for our departing staff. (The appropriateness of this depends somewhat on your environment. In a department like ours, the university researchers had rights to their work and their files that employees in another business might not.) There might even be something you can do for an employee who is dismissed for cause. I e-mailed a file to a former employee the week after she was escorted out. I was directed to lock her out of her machine during her dismissal interview, and she couldn't get the revision of her dissertation off the computer. After making sure that the file was what she said it was, I obtained approval to return it to her. Getting her that file back made a hard situation easier for everybody involved. Make sure the employer is covered. As much as we talk in this blog about being user-centric, tech support should always serve the business's interest. While I try and help out departing staff when I can, I always make sure the company's assets are protected first and foremost. This means making sure that solid backups are in place and that staff member's access is rescinded as soon as it's appropriate.

Regardless of how a person is leaving, I always try to remember there is a human involved. That person is more than a hard drive and a collection of accounts. I endeavor to treat them with the respect I would like extended to me were the situation reversed. In this day and age, that's sound economic policy. You never know who might be sitting across from you in your next job interview.

15 comments
dogknees
dogknees

The first thing you hear is the HR person telling you to immediately revoke all the persons access and take a snapshot of their PC. This is pretty common.

Tech_Monkey
Tech_Monkey

I was laidoff on 2-1-08 and couldnt find employment for 11 months. I worked in the IT dept., and was informed the HR director was looking for me, which is not unexpected in this field. Walked into his office and found my mgr. also there. I was informed that due to economy and rising fuel cost, they had to cut jobs immediately, lucky me. They reassured me it had nothing to do with my performance and appreciated my time with them (1.5yrs) but word came down from the top the previous day cuts had to be made. Normally they would escort the person to the door, but i requested finishing out the day (it was 3pm)to make sure things were in order for whomever had to pick up where i left off and gather my belongings, which they allowed me to do. Afew minutes after 5pm, my mgr. walked with me to the door, and wished me much luck and apologized for the layoff. We would usually disable the domain acct., copy documents & email to network drive should a supervisor/mgr. need access. This usually happened immediately when notified of someone leaving the company.

bfpower
bfpower

"...there is a human involved. That person is more than a hard drive and a collection of accounts."

w2ktechman
w2ktechman

I am far too busy usually, and when layoffs hit, dozens are affected. That said, if they ask for help, I try to be prompt as I can be to help/explain/suggest. I do not backup their data for them, however, depending on the circumstance, I can suggest ways for them to do it. However, if they are leaving on their own and there is bad blood (and I was informed first), before giving this kind of aid, I ask their manager if it is OK. Burning bridges is always bad. Besides, these people may be back sooner than you think.

williamjones
williamjones

In my post for this week, I discuss my experience and opinion regarding the role tech support can play when staff members have to leave. While writing the piece I found myself wondering about the policies that other tech support pros have to enforce. What services--if any--can you provide for staff who are leaving? Do you provide them with backups of files? Do you forward email? How do you feel about your organization's exit policies?

bfpower
bfpower

My spoke office of the corporation doesn't have an official policy for this, but generally everything remains the property of the company. Still, if employees have files saved on the PC or network, and they request a copy of an obviously personal file, I would consider providing it. I actually can't remember ever having been asked, as most of our terminations are extremely fast due to industry regulations. And again, if there is a bad situation, it's best to tread carefully before assisting.

alexisgarcia72
alexisgarcia72

I normally know about a departure from days before the user is notified, and because old experiences, the first thing I do is a manual backup of all email (via pst) and files (no matter I have every night a full backup)... There is not new for me to see how people delete EVERYTHING when all the data is owned by the company. So instead of start a backup routine with Arcserve, I have everything already backup (just in case) in a DVD / external hard drive. I see very bad old situations....

markr1980
markr1980

AlexisGarcia72; I am very grateful for your detailed and professional response to my question. Thanks so much! Deadly Earnest; I appreciate your comments very much as I am just beginning the learning process for Microsoft Office Outlook, and have no previous experience with it. What Name; First of all, I do appreciate the link to the information on the Microsoft website. As for the rest, perhaps my wording was at fault. I, like so many others in these times, am transitioning from a career path that is dying a slow, technology-driven death into the new world of IT. My use of the phrase 'am new to IT' was meant to say that I am now taking those first formative steps down that long road of training and experience that leads to professional ability and competence. Indeed, a major part of my being on this site is, as you pointed out, to 'study the field' and learn from those that have walked this path before me. As for the 'professional racing' comment, I have always held that there is 'no such thing as a stupid question'. If I were the owner of a driving-school, or a racing-team, I would have no problems with such a question, as it would indicate to me that the young person in question was mature enough to recognize his need to insure his understanding of the basics of his newly chosen profession. Such a person would be well worth spending whatever time and effort on needed to produce a First Class Driver. It is the arrogant-know-it-all who has nothing further to learn that I would reject out of hand; that is the fool that gets himself into a situation beyond his skills and kills both himself and other drivers.

alexisgarcia72
alexisgarcia72

PST is Personal Storage Table, is a file used to store email, calendar, notes, contacts and tasks information / data from Outlook. You can create or load pst files using Microsoft Outlook from the Office package. A regular user can export all the Outlook data to a single pst file, with a limit of 20GB for Outlook 2003/2007 (older versions have pst size limitation of 2GB) regards

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

a bit as that last post was too harsh. The .pst file is relevant ONLY to Outlook, so someone who has had no exposure to that side of Outlook would never have come across it or know what it's about. And before you jump up and down about it, many organisations still use Lotus Notes for their mail and many others use a whole range of other programs to Outlook for a number of reasons. Then again, not all IT tech have to go around closing down mailboxes and mail accounts, so they wouldn't have seen it either.

markr1980
markr1980

In your reply I came across the initials "PST". I am new to IT and have not run across this before. Can you tell me what this means? Thanks very much!

alexisgarcia72
alexisgarcia72

Yes, here too... we backup at night all mailboxes via arcserve, and the EAS copy (Exchange Archive) is out of reach for users (they cannot delete anything), but as an extra quick measure, i create a quick PST and save it in a 9GB DVD and in a Buffalo Terastation. And we have one copy of the night tapes in the office, one in the headquarters and one in Ironmountain. We take backups very seriously!!

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

they grab the mailbox before the user is informed, and after their last day. Yes, some users delete everything, even after being told not to, but to just clean off their personal things. Here many users are given 2 weeks -- nice policy. However I work in Legal, so some data is important to keep. After the employee leaves, the manager is contacted by me to see if there needs to be a 'freeze' on the system, or if it needs to be backed up, or even if the system hold needs to be long term (litigation), in which case I backup data and send the system off site to IT Security to hold.

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