When employment relationships breakdown it can be hugely stressful for all involved. What has Chiumento learned about the reasons employers and their people “fall out of love” with each other? Ian Gooden offers some opinions.

Chiumento is probably best known as an outplacement business. By far the majority of individuals we work with are leaving their employer due to redundancy. However there can be other reasons – including situations where employer and employee have decided that they can no longer continue a relationship. In many ways the career equivalent of a divorce.

Like divorces some partings are amicable, others not. What is almost inevitable is that both sides ask, at some point, “what went wrong?” Almost always, both sides have regrets and frequently they can’t point to a single moment when things turned sour. Often, in hindsight the relationship might, with help, have been saved.

We’ve grown apart…

Quite often it becomes aparrent that the two sides have simply drifted apart.

Organisations change over time, and so do roles. What we have to remember is that when organisations and individuals come together through a recruitment process it includes a mutual understanding about what’s involved and what’s expected. If those goalposts move, as they often do, there’s no guarantee that the individual can adapt to the new reality. Put another way, if you advertised the job now and the incumbent applied you wouldn’t hire them. They are no longer the right match.

Organisations and individuals can often “soldier on” hoping the relationship will somehow fix itself. The individual hasn’t done anything wrong. Nor has the organisation. However their expectations usually only drift further and further apart over time – unless something is done…

In the same way people change. What might have seemed a challenging and exciting job three years ago might be all routine and repetitive now. Leading to frustration and disillusionment. That begins to come through in behaviours, motivation and results. Often that will culminate in a resignation – but not always. Sometimes people love the organisation but hate their job. Or they fear they won’t get a role elsewhwere. So they stay, long past the point it is good for them, or the organisation.

Or people can’t, or won’t change. Often because they like things just the way they are. The ones who become sea anchors, adding drag at just the point the organisation wants to accelerate.

Faces change

People join organisations and leave managers. At least that’s how the saying goes. A new manager with different preferences and ways of working can put huge strains on someone who previously worked well with someone else. Some individuals adapt rapidly, others just can’t. In effect this situation can feel like a “forced marriage”. The two sides didn’t choose each other and can’t find common ground.

Reciprocating relationships at work are key to long term harmony. A controlling manager likely won’t be suited to a highly independent subordinate. Equally a subordinate who wants warmth from their boss may struggle with a manger who is task focused. Years ago I trained in a tool called FIRO-B that probes relationship orientation. I shouldn’t have been surprised to find out that one well-known charity also uses it in marriage guidance…

False beginnings

Often relationships are destined to go wrong because the whole courtship – ie the recruitment process – was flawed. The hiring manager who just focuses on a candidate’s technical skills and doesn’t take into account behaviours and cultural fit in the assessment process. The organisation who hires someone to drive “big change” but really, deep down, only wants small incremental improvements. The candidate who takes a job because they think they can mould it to be the job they really want. Only to find they can’t. Promises made on both sides that ultimately can’t be kept.

The career crossroads

When employment relationships breakdown it doesn’t necessarily mean a parting of the ways. With honesty, commitment and sometimes outside assistance the relationship can be re-set.

A great career coach can help an individual re-assess the situation and consider all the options. How can they establish a new working relationship with their boss? How do they have to change their behaviours so they achieve results in new ways? What development do they need to keep pace with the changing needs of the organisation? How do they build the resilience to deal with pressure and new expectations? Are there other internal opportunities better suited to their skills and aspirations? Or is now the right time to move on?

The questions are almost limitless. A coach can guide an individual to ask the right ones and find the answers. Ultimately that normally results in one of three outcomes:-

  • A change plan that brings the organisation and individual back together. That may mean give and take on both sides to find a middle way that works for everyone.
  • A transition plan that moves the individual somewhere else in the organisation. That may mean moving sideways, up, down or to a completly new role or department.
  • An exit plan where the organisation and the individual agree to part but in a managed and positive way. Avoiding compromise agreements and all the cost and disruption that go with them. In this scenario the coach may then switch into outplacement mode, helping the individual find that new opportunity. If you like, this is akin to a “no blame” divorce.

Resolution is the key

When employment relationships breakdown, the last thing you can do is let them fester. Prompt intervention keeps options open and potentially avoids expensive settlement agreements down the path. Our experience tells us that the right career coaching intervention can help turn things around and avoid costly and disruptive situations.

We are always available to chat through potential coaching scenarios. Just get in touch and we’ll work through how we might be able to help.