So someone works for you for 3 years, giving their heart and soul to your organisation every day; providing spark, initiative and creativity. In essence they are the perfect employee. Then, they receive the opportunity of a lifetime and decide it’s time to leave, they complete their notice period with the same dedication they had for the past three years – completing a perfect handover; And the very last thing you say to them, implicitly if not explicitly is “if ever you need a reference I’d be more than happy to provide you with one”.
However, when it comes to it all you’re allowed to say is that the individual worked with you for 3 years and did not burn the building down (to the best of our knowledge and belief, terms and conditions may apply)”. In fact, the reference you give is no different to than the one agreed with the person who abjectly failed and left under a compromise agreement yesterday.
Your immediate response may well be “but our policies dictate” or “it’s too risky”. Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate your policy. Here are 6 reasons why:
1. It’s Probably Against Your Company Values
Your values probably contain something about respect / support for staff. Is refusing to give a meaningful reference consistent with this? Are you really saying we will be really supportive unless of course you come to leave? If you are then, then you may find it increasingly difficult to get employees to buy into your values.
2. You Could be Missing Out on Valuable Feedback
Staff who no longer have to worry that they may affect their position by giving you candid feedback may give you some of the most valuable input you are ever going to get on what you are getting right and what you are getting wrong as an employer. If employees do not feel like they will be treated fairly when they leave then they are much less likely to want to give you potentially invaluable feedback.
3. It Could Effect Who You Can Hire in the Future
How you treat people when it’s time to leave rarely remains a totally confidential issue, and will most likely spread across the industry. Do you want to be seen as an organisation that cares where it can or just when it’s forced to? How potential employees think they will be treated when they leave is likely to effect who you can hire in the first place.
4. You Could be Missing Out on Meaningful References in Return
If you get into the habit of giving meaningful references then you may just start getting them back. It’s not going to happen overnight and there have to be some first movers – but do you pride yourself as a leader or a follower?
5. It Looks Good When Your Alumni Go on to Succeed
It reflects well on your organisation when your alumni go on to be successful. Why not give them a hand along the road?
6. You May Well Encounter Your Old Employee Again in the Future
The person who is leaving today may well crop up as a client, partner, supplier or even re-hire of your organisation in the future. This is one of the major drivers for networks such as LinkedIn. On a personal basis you may well end up working or dealing with today’s leaver again in the future. Is it really necessary to be totally unhelpful?
I am not for one minute advocating throwing caution to the wind – but failing to give a leaver, who has performed so well for you during their time at the company, a hand along may just be the easy way out. In other areas of your business you balance costs and benefits – is it worth reassessing what you do with references? There are ways of giving references with minimal risk.