Separation Management is a question of culture

As an employer branding expert, I read and hear a lot about the topic of attracting new talent, buzzword candidate experience, and increasing employee engagement and retention, buzzword employee experience. Here, the respective HR topic managers look at the beginning and middle of the employee lifecycle. HR systems are purchased that provide the best possible support for recruiting and pre-onboarding. HR goes digital! Metrics and success factors are defined. A lot of money is spent on the impact and perception of the desired employer brand, and different platforms and channels are used. Once the new colleague has started his/her career, efforts are made to retain him/her. Here, too, concepts are developed, projects are implemented and budgets are loosened so that employees in an organization are satisfied and happy with their choice of employer. Organizational developers work to create a culture, an identity that provides support and orientation. However, if there is an unforeseen happening on the part of the employee or employer and the desire to separate from each other is expressed, the glitter and glamour fizzles out. Puff. Cultural aspects and corporate values are more often neglected. People leaders and regrettably, many colleagues, take the separation personally. „He/she decided against us and for something else.“ With the pronouncement of the dismissal, all bridges are mentally already closed and shut. Information is no longer shared, and those affected are disinvited or no longer invited to project or team meetings. In some cases, early leaves of absence are handed out and the fear „more people could follow“ hovers in the minds of managers. Especially in transformations…and currently, yes, many organizations are in change mode.

From an employer branding perspective, it is particularly important that the greatest possible fairness is experienced in the separation process based on a shared understanding of values. Fairness plays a significant role in determining the trustworthiness of the employer and is therefore, also of particular importance for the organization from a business management perspective. The way in which companies separate from their employees shapes the culture and image of the company. Inadequate exit management can have serious consequences. Internally, this can be seen directly in the declining motivation and simultaneous retention of remaining colleagues in the department. Leadership needs to be particularly sensitive, especially when it comes to separating opinion leaders, influencers and highly valued colleagues. Most often, leaders are not properly prepared for such a phase. How the separation process is designed has a high impact on building trust among the remaining colleagues. A missing or even poorly lived separation culture also influences how the company is perceived externally. This means potential applicants who, for example, no longer apply due to negative employer branding. Employees who do not experience a fair separation process are more likely to anonymously submit a critical evaluation on rating platforms such as or And customers screen companies as well as suppliers on such social platforms and see for themselves how seriously the topic of ESG (environmental, social, corporate governance) is lived and implemented.

I’m not surprised that 70 percent of the companies surveyed in a Kienbaum Study stated that they have neither a separation culture nor strategies or processes, despite the importance of the „why”.

A successful separation culture requires professional leadership with coordinated separation strategies and processes and an overall corporate separation concept with a common understanding of values. Check-out off-boarding. There still seems to be a long way to go.

What do I currently perceive from companies

Once the phase of recruiting is over and the new colleagues are on board, the reality shows how the corporate culture, the appreciation and the responsibility for the employees are lived. This becomes most apparent when a separation takes place. The fact that fair separation management and a transparent separation culture are also components of the employer brand and thus decisively shape the image of the employer is still too often ignored by HR managers and executives. The departure of an employee/colleague should be handled with the same appreciation as the hiring process. In my opinion, the company should even take some responsibility for the future professional career of the former employee, especially in the case of a separation for economic, market-specific or technological reasons.

Companies that see their separation culture as a contribution to enhancing employer attractiveness offer supportive accompaniment to the new placement very seriously. They convince the former employee that outplacement consulting can help him or her fill a position that fits his or her profile more quickly. Joining an alumni network could also be an option for the individual.

To successfully position themselves as an employer of choice in the hotly contested market of talents, organizations have to behave positively in all phases of the employee lifecycle: During the application, during the collaboration, but also during the separation. A good employer brand is not created by recruiting days, but rather through active appreciation, transparency and comprehensible behavior, even during transitions. It is precisely then that previously made promises and lived corporate values prove their worth. It is the strategies of the HR Business Partners and the management, respectively the board of directors, which lead to a good corporate culture that is authentic and honest.

Mistakes in the separation process – „No Go’s“ to protect your employer brand

  • inadequate, too short-term planning process with deadlines that cannot be met, especially with regard to topic handovers or projects
  • no communication and information plan with responsible persons and defined deadlines
  • non-involvement and non-preparation of managers and HR department
  • non-consideration of aspects of labor law, such as participation of the works council and economic committee as well as special protection against dismissal for those affected
  • vague separation message and no preparation with regard to separation conditions, lack of authenticity and honesty
  • lack of appreciation and regard for those affected
  • insufficient attention and motivation of the remaining employees

What you can do instead

1. remembering and valuing the contribution that the employee has made in a joint appreciation

2. talk in the team about the enrichment of the employee: what did we learn from her/him as a team and individual? What has the employee learned from the team and the company?

3. what would the employee who has decided to leave like to give to the team and to the company as valuable advice since he /she is leaving? What would the team/ leader like to provide as feedback to the employee for his professional and personal development?

4. organize a dignified, appreciative farewell event in the team, together with the employee, irrespective of the reason for the separation

5. don't forget: it's not a resource that is leaving, but a person for whom a new phase is beginning, and for the people in the team a new phase is beginning without this employee

6. companies have to find a good ritual, how they shape the transition together with the people who stay and also with the people who leave the company

To my mind managers, leaders but also employees should take mentoring sessions to get inspiration and support in an akward exit-processes. It is really good to get other ideas, solutions and thoughts about this sensitive topic.