Koan #5: Excited Leaver

We usually send the situation in one newsletter and results in a following newsletter. Here the situations and results are copied verbatim into one post. Hence, when it says 'you' - it means the subscribers who voted in newsletter, not readers of this archive.
This situation was published in the 01 Mar 2021 newsletter.


One of your direct reports, George, has a new job and is leaving your organisation in a month. He has been an excellent contributor to your team, but since handing in his notice his motivation has dropped, and George has been talking a lot about how great his new job is going to be. Someone in the team privately tells you that they find George’s comments demoralising. What would you do?

Option A - Do nothing. Ask the person to have patience - it will be over in a few weeks.

Option B - Publicly chastise George, to show an example to others that this behaviour is not acceptable.

Option C - Privately ask George to tone down his excitement.

Option D - Ask HR to put George on gardening leave as soon as they can.


People leaving organisations is normal, and the reasons for this are aplenty. Most of the time this change is exciting for the person leaving, and may be upsetting for the team who remain. This situation asked you to balance George’s excitement and a healthy morale of the team. The abundance of free-text answers brought out other facets of this situation which you felt were important to consider.

Option A, chosen by just 4% of the subscribers, asks for patience from the team, but it does not address the issue that someone in the team felt demoralised. The remaining four weeks of George’s notice period could amplify the friction and frustration. As one of the subscribers suggested, if someone is feeling demoralised by George, it may indicate dissatisfaction with their current job. This gives an opportunity to try and find out more about what specifically is upsetting them.

Option B, chosen also by 4%, is a very harsh treatment. If George has really been an excellent member of the team, public reprimand may be sending a completely different message than intended. It could sour the relationship with George and while George may stop showing his excitement, the team will learn that even a great relationship with their manager depends not on their skills and productivity, but on their loyalty. People never leave organisations ‘into the void’, and the word will spread and could harm the organisational brand, making it difficult to find candidates in the future. Instilling fear is never a good strategy.

Option C was the most popular, with 85% of the votes. Almost all the answers acknowledged that asking someone to not be excited about their next career step is unfair and that an empathetic and balanced approach is needed. Here are some broad themes and suggestions from responses:

  • Engage. Ensure George has an engaging task that he can do in his remaining time, and let him know that the organisation relies on him to complete it. If you think, or he expresses, that his motivation is too low then focus only on the handover.
  • Reflect. A talented team member leaving an organisation is a good opportunity to reflect as a manager and as a team on what could be done to retain excellent people now and in the future. Exit interviews are a fantastic tool to help with this. They require preparation so that the organisation learns something useful from it, rather than a surface level reflection.
  • Recognize. Formally acknowledge Georges’ departure in front of the wider team, congratulate him and thank for his contributions.
  • Celebrate. Get the team to organise a leaving party for George to celebrate his success and focus on all that he has contributed.
  • Handover. Ensure he has set up meetings and documentation to pass on key information to those remaining. Ask him to ensure he is giving key wisdom to those remaining (as a reminder that he has learnt lots in his current role and therefore the current position was valuable in his employment pathway).

Finally, Option D, received 7% of votes. Unless George is intentionally doing something harmful or there are other reasons to put him on gardening leave, HR would probably ask you to solve the situation yourself. However, a slightly different take on this answer would be to check with HR what they would recommend you do.