Learning from a member of staff that she wants to leave can feel surprisingly hurtful. It can be particularly upsetting when he wants to stay within the organisation, just not in your unit.

As bosses, we very often spend far more time with our staff than we do with our own family or friends. We invest time and resources in their development. They become a part of our lives and our plans. When they announce their intention to leave, it can feel like rejection.

I thought you liked it here. You can’t leave now, I’ve invested too much in you. Your the only person who can… And finally, “How ungrateful!!!!”

I have been that person who my boss cursed for leaving, and I have been that boss who cursed (silently) the person who wanted to leave. I have also seen colleagues abuse, belittle and try to destroy the careers of staff who want to leave. No surprise really, with a boss like that, that a person wouldn’t want to stay. Pathological behaviour by a boss in one quarter portends pathology in other quarters.

The most relevant advice I ever received about leaving was from Steve Schwartz, former vice-chancellor or Murdoch, Brunel, and Macquarie Universities. “You have to remember, Daniel”, he said, “the person most interested in advancing your career is you.”

And that is the heart of it. As bosses, we do not act solely with the best interests of our staff in mind. Sure, we are not indifferent to their welfare but that is not the raison d’être of the workplace. When we engage them, challenge them, mentor them, and develop them, it is at least in part because we hope to have smarter more engaged and more productive staff in return.

Inevitably, of your good staff, some will stay and some will leave. If your sensible, you were already a part of the discussions about long term career planning and you had plenty of warning- maybe not in detail, but at least in direction. When the time comes and they want to leave, do not curse them (outwardly). Congratulate them on their new opportunity and wish them well. If there is some outstanding work that desperately needs their skills to complete, you may be able to negotiate a better departure date. Do not try and bully them into staying. When staff cannot leave, it is not employment, it is servitude.

Originally published at http://www.papyruswalk.com on August 3, 2020.

Global health researcher based in Bangladesh