The Heartache of an Unspoken Thank You – by Barbara Babkirk, March 6, 2018

It might surprise some to hear that I’m in the business of mending hearts.

Yes, my company is aptly named Heart At Work Associates, but those who know my firm realize that it’s a play on words for a career counseling and outplacement company that gets to the heart of the matter as it concerns career decision making and strategy.

Let me give an example of the mending hearts part of my job.

Tom’s company brought in a manager who decided on a new direction for his division.

After 27 years of service to the same company, Tom was summoned to his boss’s office where he was also joined by the HR Manager.

His stomach sank because he knew what was coming…the proverbial pink slip or termination notice. What he did not expect was the way it was delivered.

In very few words, his boss told him that his experience was no longer needed given the new business strategy. He was told to gather his office belongings and leave before the day’s end. The HR Manager handed him an envelope and told him that his severance agreement and necessary paperwork were included in it. He was not allowed to speak to his colleagues about this, let alone say goodbye.

Tom was speechless.

Several weeks later, Tom called me to set up an appointment. Part of his severance included “outplacement”, a provision of assistance to help laid-off employees find new employment.

Providing outplacement services is a significant aspect of our work and we’re honored to help at this time of need and emotional distress.

While I generally do not have any prescribed questions that I ask all my clients, I do typically ask my outplacement clients, “how are you doing?” given their circumstance.

Tom’s response was “sad” and “stunned”. It was difficult to accept the total lack of appreciation on the part of his employer.  A retirement party or watch? No, not even a thank you for all of those years of service.

At this point, my work as a mender of broken hearts began. Some compassionate patchwork was necessary in order for Tom to feel good about himself and his value before he embarked on a job search strategy.

When I work with people like Tom, I can’t help but wonder why such a heart-less ending was scripted.

It seemed so unnecessary and serving no one: the company loses a loyal employee who is apt to become a disgruntled one and the employee loses a sense of his contribution and value of many years.

Tom did, in fact, land another job. One he reported as “the best one yet”, and I could not have been more pleased.

A “thank you for your service and many contributions” would have made Tom’s exit less of a heartache for him and perhaps an easier task for his boss.

As for me, I’d happily give up the mending hearts part of my work in favor of working with clients who come in feeling whole, appreciated and excited to embark on their next work journey.

The power of thank you is not only relevant in situations where employees are leaving, but also in an effort to retain talent. My next blog will address the impact of gratitude on overall wellbeing.


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