Getting good at goodbyes

James M. Berklan
James M. Berklan

It's fairly likely that one or more of your employees will be leaving soon. That's why you need to read this. It will make your organization healthier, and in ways you might have never imagined.

The goodbye guru would have it no other way.

I typed that name generically — with lowercase g's — but I just as easily could have written Goodbye Guru. Then I would be referring to a specific person, namely Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D.

You might know her better as “Dr. El,” as in “The World According to Dr. El,” the award-winning blog that appears twice monthly on this website.

Regardless, she is an eloquent font of knowledge about what makes humans tick, and tock. Wednesday, we had a unique opportunity to hear her address a slightly off-kilter question: How should providers deal with an employee's departure to create the best circumstances for their long-term care community?

I say “off-kilter” because the most common inference about a webinar named “Letting them go with style” would be that it's about dying residents. Instead, Barbera fascinated listeners at McKnight's Fall Online Expo with approaches and implications for dealing with departing employees.

Whether by firing, lay-off, resignation or for other reasons, employees leave long-term care operators often. And the emotional and psychological well-being of whoever remains is typically the worse for it — and usually to an unnecessary degree — Barbera pointed out.

It doesn't have to be that way. She urged everyone to consider the multiple layers of messages any departure makes. This could mean saddened and suddenly insecure residents (“Who will take care of me?” “Didn't she like me enough to say goodbye?”) to unnerved or perturbed staff members, to disgruntled or dangerous former employees.

All of which make for an unstable environment. Thus, more care should be taken with departing employees, Barbera emphasized. She illustrated numerous scenarios involving employee terminations, pointing out how providers can handle them better.

One of the new concepts I learned from her is the Goodbye Guru. This would be a staff member — someone from HR, a department head or a consulting psychologist, for example — who is trained to oversee a transition period. The key is this guru would be trained to interact both with the departing employee (perhaps even during a several-week span) but more importantly, with those left behind: residents, staff and the organization as a whole.

She would “facilitate feelings” and soothe the passage of time, as Barbera put it. The success of your organization relies on this more than you know.

“Everything we do affects the entire organization,” Barbera stressed. “We need to treat endings of staff members with respect, and model good behavior. This really is a teachable moment for an organization.”

There were far too many valuable bullet points during the Online Expo session to try to list them all here. But you can still see and hear about them yourself.

Barbera's Fall Online Expo webinar (and the expo's other two sessions) is now available in archive for listening at your convenience. An excellent handout also can still be printed out — and I highly recommend you do print it out. It's great reference material.

Make no mistake: This is no crass appeal to get more people to take part in one of McKnight's premier events. There is no cost to you and it's truly for your own benefit. You should do it because your job and workplace matter so much.

If you can find the time, take an hour to click through and see what Dr. El surprisingly says about handling hostile resigners (“Don't just dismiss their words”), fragile residents, top managers who need to get a clue, and more.

She gives point-by-point advice on how to treat everyone in your building when a departure occurs, and why. There are some poignant thoughts about resident deaths, but most of the webcast deals with your most valuable business assets — your employees.

“When people leave, we shouldn't just circle the wagons and speculate about what's ‘wrong' with them,” she notes. “Rather, we should say, ‘What can we do better, and how can we keep them?'”

It's worth getting good at.

[McKnight's 2015 Fall Online Expo sessions can be viewed in archive for 12 months. Just click here and follow the free registration process to proceed to the expo Conference Hall.]

James M. Berklan is McKnight's Editor. Follow him @JimBerklan.

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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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