As soon as you start hiring staff, you must start preparing for saying goodbye to them, too. Not because you should hire people you want to get rid of straightaway of course. But because saying goodbye is the inevitable consequence of saying hello. At some point you or your staff member will end the contract. What then? Here are your 3 to-dos at contract’s end.
A contract with a staff member can end because the end date is reached, and you cannot renew or extend it. For instance, in case the project for which you hired someone has ended, including the funding for it. The staff member him or herself, wanting to move to another job or pursue full time education, etc., can also instigate an ending. Or you can be the one terminating the contract if you are not satisfied with your employee’s performance. This scenario requires very careful preparation from your side. Both to respect the person involved and treat them fairly as well as to ensure you do not run into any legal issues. Make sure your performance assessment processes and paperwork are properly done (read my post here) and consult a lawyer to be sure you know how to do this properly.
Most contracts stipulate a notice period. This is usually one or two months. It may not technically always be necessary to give notice in case of a fixed-term contract. But it is best practice to give clarity as to your intentions and possibilities well in advance of the end date. In case you want to end a contract, you do need to take into consideration the notice period. Often, you would agree to the employee not working for most of this period after a thorough handover. When an employee resigns, they often count on using their remaining leave days for the notice period. So that their end of work is sooner than their end of contract. Be clear on what you absolutely need and want to be done before they practically stop working for you and make arrangements accordingly.
To do 1 – communicate carefully
Whichever of the three scenarios applies good communication is key. I don’t mean just between you and the person concerned. No, I mean also providing appropriate information to other team members and external parties at the right time and via the proper channels. Keep in mind that if you do not communicate about the situation, people may start making up all sorts of stories about what is going on. Such stories might harm your team and the image of your organization. Here is where transparency, combined with care for all people in your team and outside it, like the people you serve, makes all the difference.
For instance, if you are not clear about the financial constraints that make it impossible for you to extend a specific temporary contract, other team members working on other projects for which you still have funding might get nervous about their job security. They may even start looking for another job, out of fear of losing the one with you.
I don’t need to tell you that communication when you terminate a contract requires extra care, especially if it is contested by the staff member concerned. While you may need to be more open than you want to in front of your donors, I encourage you to always act respectfully. First and foremost, everyone is worthy of respect. However dissatisfied you are with the person now there was a time when you valued them in your team. Keep sight of that! Secondly, how you speak about the person you are letting go is telling heaps about you and your organization and about how you put into practice the values you say you cherish.
To do 2 – work with a checklist
Once it is clear a person is leaving your team, make sure you have a checklist with all practical issues to be sorted and agreed on. Such as when and how they return equipment they have used, when and how they hand in the keys to the office, etc. But also: how many leave days they have left, what final payouts need to be done, etc. It is good practice to put all these arrangements in writing and to sign off on this together. Also, don’t forget to prepare a good reference letter.
To do 3 – organize a good goodbye
It can be very hard to say goodbye to a team member. Both for you and the other team members. In fact, it is not always easy for someone to decide to leave. After all, most nonprofits, especially when they are still small, feel like a family doing something good together. And because of that, it may feel like a betrayal or a personal disappointment if someone decides to leave. Or if you must let someone go for financial reasons. Don’t let any of those emotions stand in the way of a good goodbye. A joint moment where you thank them. Where you reflect on the contribution they made and the fun you had. Share the warm wishes you all feel toward each other. See a good goodbye as a new start, for a new kind of relationship with the person. Given your shared interest in doing good in the world, it is likely your paths will cross again. So, them leaving your team is not a farewell rather than a see you later.
If you are initiating a termination there may be hard feelings between you and that person. In that case, find someone on the team to organize a good goodbye. It is important for your team to have proper closure, and it also does justice to the person. After all, there have been good times and these deserve to be acknowledged.
Have you seen my checklist?
If you are interested in organizing your staff files, you can get my free Staff File Completeness Checklist here.
Want to know more and ask questions?
If you want to discuss this more – jump into the Facebook group and get input from a wide range of peers and from myself!
Here is how you can join my free Facebook group
You can join my free Facebook group how to become a professional and resilient nonprofit with Suzanne Bakker here. In this group we will create a safe space for open exchange and discussion on potentially sensitive topics like boards, nonprofit management, fundraising, etc.