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.


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.