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Mission & Motivation: Honor Them with Dignity

By Net Assets posted 02-12-2018 09:19 AM


Human Resources |

A departing employee’s final paycheck and exit interview are only the beginning of a successful offboarding practice. Everyone is watching.

From the January/February 2018 Net Assets magazine

Article by Steve Mandell, Pinewood Preparatory School

As a mentor told me years ago, unless the employee leaves in a police cruiser, let them go with kindness.

You learn a lot of lessons the hard way, and one of the most important I’ve learned in my 10 years as a head of school is that an employee’s final months (not days) on campus are as important as their first. Make no distinction between the person’s status or tenure, whether it’s a longtime administrator who plans to retire after the school year or a teacher who won’t be invited back for performance or other reasons. They provided a service to the school, and if you continue to engage them professionally, treat them respectfully and don’t celebrate their replacement prematurely, they may serve the school even better on the way out.

In fact, their final months at your school could be their most productive and positive.

As a mentor told me years ago, unless the employee leaves in a police cruiser, let them go with kindness.

Let me explain. I’ve worked at six schools (three where I have been head or interim head), all intensely tuition-driven. When a school depends heavily on tuition income, you want employees to be excited about their work and committed to coming back. In the past, and with good intentions, I have probably overemphasized the coming arrival of new hires at the expense of departing employees. I’ve been called out for this, and I now know that schools are wise to stifle their enthusiasm about new hires until a period of mourning has passed. Premature messaging can appear disrespectful and can undermine the confidence of existing staff. As one veteran teacher told me after learning a colleague hadn’t been issued a new contract, “I never liked her anyway, but it’s important to know that she was treated fairly.” Your community will learn about newcomers when the time is right. In my experience, that means at the beginning of the school year, not the end.

So how to honor that outgoing staff member with dignity? Needless to say, be thorough and consistent in executing the “official” offboarding steps: keys and credit cards, forwarding address, leave balance, final paycheck, COBRA compliance and so on. A properly moderated exit interview is important and can provide valuable insights. Be a good listener.

And long before you get to those nuts-and-bolts practices, know that everyone is watching how you treat their soon-to-be former colleague. At Pinewood Prep, we’ve been blessed with wonderful hires and very low turnover in recent years. Last spring, when it was clear who would not be returning in the fall, I redoubled our efforts to engage those individuals in the regular life of the school. They stayed involved in committees and staff gatherings, and there were no public announcements of who would be leaving and arriving (although many people, including students and families, are involved in our talent acquisition process). The overall vibe just felt good, school-wide.

As I prepare to transition from independent schools to independent consulting, I have become acutely aware that human resources — not just compliance issues, but also human issues — are among the responsibilities that many school leaders never expected would fall to us. The time between someone giving (or being given) notice and their last day can be tense and difficult. You can’t always control this, but you can maintain an ethic of kindness, establish clear goals and expectations, and follow appropriate policies and practices. Say little, document in detail, and protect that individual as you would any other.

Steve Mandell is in his last year as head of school at Pinewood Preparatory School, a preK–12 day school in Summerville, South Carolina. This column is based on an article he published on LinkedIn. His previous contribution to NBOA involved his certification as a school safety manager: “A School Where ‘P’ Means Protection.” He is now working to become a SHRM-certified professional to better serve schools when he retires in June to run his new company, Big Back Pack.
In Mission & Motivation, an independent school leader shares a core belief and/or source of guidance or inspiration. Interested in contributing? Please email In the subject line, type MISSION & MOTIVATION.

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