It may seem counterintuitive, but assisting employees who are looking for a new job can actually create a more positive and productive workplace.

Most managers would say they're supportive of their employees. But the results of a recent poll by the SmartBlog on Leadership really got our attention. Asked what they do when they find out an employee is seeking a new job, a whopping 67.5 percent of business leaders said they help by making introductions or offering guidance.

That kind of overwhelming support--not just acceptance but assistance of outgoing talent--seems to belie intuition. But once you think it through, there's a lot of good logic behind this mind-set.

1. It makes you look good.
Mike Figliuolo, managing director at ThoughtLeaders who published the results of the poll, writes: "If they're not happy, help them go. . . If you actively oppose them or fire them, those actions become part of your reputation (and it's not pretty), which will make it harder for you to recruit replacements."

2. You get more honest insight about what's not working.
When employees give you two weeks' notice and an exit interview, they control the conversation. Being open about their move can create more opportunities for real reflection. "Simply ignoring their search doesn't make it go away and you lose the chance to understand why they're dissatisfied (probably you)," Figliuolo writes, "thereby precluding you from improving your own performance."

3. Speaking of that "two weeks' notice" . . .
Management consultant Alison Green advises a culture of open career discussion between managers and employees. One benefit, she notes at AskAManager.org: She gets a major heads up that somebody is thinking to leave. "I've had employees give me as much as eight months notice that they planned to leave!" Green writes. "This is fantastic for me as a manager, because it allows me to structure the hiring of their replacement so that the new person starts with a week or two of overlap with the exiting person, which both helps with training and eliminates the vacancy period we'd otherwise have."

Establishing an Open Culture

Those three reasons should show some value in having this sort of employee-manager openness. But something about the concept still feels uncomfortable. So how can you establish a culture encouraging employees to be transparent about their futures? Figliuolo provided some insights.

Incentivize employee development. Bonuses are too often tied to the bottom line, Figliuolo says. But by tying managerial bonuses to development--a certain number of employees need either to be promoted internally or to accept higher positions elsewhere, for instance--managers will be compelled to open these dialogues. "But if it's not a goal, it's not going to happen," he says.

Change the language of the performance review. "The standard question of 'Where do you see yourself in five years?' is crap," Figliuolo says. Instead, the conversation should be about skills: which skills the manager thinks the employee should develop and which sorts of skills they want to develop. This conversation could spark an expanded discussion about a given staffer's future role with the company or whether he or she is better off leaving--either the department or the firm--to pursue another path.

One criticism of open discussions is that they can encourage employees to take liberties with just how much time they're devoting to the hunt. But Figliuolo argues that openness actually prevents this from becoming an issue, because the manager and employee are on the same page. "They're going to start looking whether you know about it or not," he says.

Published on: Nov 26, 2013