Five steps for a smooth separation process

Managing career transition is an unfortunate but necessary skill for all HR practitioners to master. Christopher Paterson provides his tips for smoothing the way.

Five steps for a smooth separation process
Managing career transition is an unfortunate but necessary skill for all HR practitioners to master. Christopher Paterson provides his tips for smoothing the way.

Career transition is a stressful experience and the business looks to the HR department to manage this as smoothly as possible. The first challenge HR practitioners often come across is managing expectations. In an environment where we want everything that we do to be seen positively, this is one project that always creates challenges, despite your level of experience. Therefore, the ideal benchmark is not ‘excellent’ but a process that is managed ‘as smooth as possible’.

The next challenge facing HR practitioners are the multiple stakeholder groups that all need to be managed. Many of which will have conflicting needs and expectations. These may include the impacted individuals, their manager, their co-workers as well as the executive team, the legal team and finally external customers or relationships.

Managing this well is an unfortunate but necessary skill for all HR practitioners to master. The difference between a well-managed process and a poorly managed process has far reaching implications for both the impacted individual and the business.

The top 3 outcomes that differentiate a well-managed process are as follows:

BRAND:  the organisation’s brand and reputation is protected when people are treated with respect throughout a difficult situation;

ENGAGEMENT: staff know how their colleagues have been treated. As a result, their engagement with the business may be determined by the quality of this interaction;

LEGAL: exiting staff who are well managed and have been treated fairly are significantly less likely to take further legal action against the business.

If these factors are important to you and your business, then 5 principles highlighted below will ensure that your staff are treated ‘above the line’ in terms of respect, quality and fairness.
As with all major change projects, success is in the preparation. Think about the end to end process at the beginning, and prepare in advance.

Take the time to consider what preparation needs to take place before each separation conversation and ensure the logistics of the separation day are managed well. Also be clear on what steps need to happen for managing and supporting the existing staff and managers.

It is important not to leave  anything to chance so if you’re unsure ask for advice from an HR colleague, your employment lawyer or your career management partner. For step by step advice, feel free to use our guide to effective separation as a reference:
I’ve worn three hats in this situation; 1) HR; 2) the career coach; and 3) the manager. Personally, I found the manager’s role to be the most challenging so recognise that they may need extra support from HR.  Assisting management to prepare for the conversation is important to ensure that the interaction is managed well. However, this isn’t the end of the process.

Make sure that management are also looking after themselves after the event. Don’t be fooled by managers who say, “No worries, I’m fine”. Keep in touch, check in and make sure they know you’re there to support them.

It’s important that we acknowledge that leading a team through change and uncertainty is a talent that few managers are innately gifted with so they need the tools and resources to manage the future state effectively.
Building on the script that you’ll prepare for the separation conversation, be clear on your message to both existing staff and external contacts. A well thought out communication plan uses a consistent message across all touch points.

Messages that are consistent, objective and clear are accepted faster and managers need to be trained in promoting questions and dealing with concerns in an open and transparent way.

The quality of the communication often determines how quickly people will move on.

If you use outplacement support then you’ll know that it’s more than just ‘the right thing to do’. The influences of outplacement on the three factors above are well documented and include:

BRAND: 74% of organisations use outplacement because they want to maintain their image and reputation (Aberdeen Group, 2011);

ENGAGEMENT: We know from the research that the engagement of staff where outplacement is provided is double that compared to when outplacement is not offered.

LEGAL: We see clearly from our side of the table that the litigation risk migrates to zero when good coaching is involved. Your career management partner has a wealth of knowledge and experience in how to manage an effective process as we see the range from very good to very bad. Your provider will freely provide this guidance, training and advice so engage them early to make sure that you utilise their expertise.
So much planning and energy goes into the preparation of the separation event that many managers and HR practitioners collectively sigh in relief when the interaction is over.  However, we need to accept that this is just the beginning for the remaining team. After large scale change, what tools and resources do staff need to manage a major shift in their own role and working experience?

Think about and plan for these factors upfront, don’t wait for the stress to take hold.

Finally, I cannot over emphasise the importance of looking after yourself. HR is too often forgotten in an environment where everyone around you is relying on you. Don’t forget to look after your own wellness and manage your own stress levels. Seek assistance in this regard if you need it.

We all know that dealing with Separation is not an exact science. However, with these core principles and the right advice you are  well placed to manage a very challenging process as smoothly as possible and achieve the best outcomes for impacted individuals, remaining staff and the business.

About the author
Christopher Paterson is the Managing Director of ALCHEMY Career Management, a firm which supports individuals to transition their career, assists companies adapting to organisational change and delivers [email protected]™ programs for any organisation wanting to help staff to be at their best. For more information, please see

Recent articles & video

Lawyer apologizes for citing ChatGPT-generated cases in court

Employer wins against worker who failed to attend shifts ‘multiple times’

Worker pleads late claim due to ‘injury and depression’ – will it be accepted?

Businesses concerned about proposal granting minimum standards for gig workers

Most Read Articles

CBA mandates office return by mid-July

Do Gen Zs need more praise than older employees?

Employers taking 'more cautious approach' on wage hikes this year: report