We’ve had a lot of people come and go at Barrel in the past year. Only a couple can truly be called resignations. The rest have been a combination of internship programs ending and temporary employee agreements expiring. A few have been firings. There’s a unique story to each of the employees who’ve left, so to me and Sei-Wook, there hasn’t been any alarming trends. We’ve viewed these as natural activities for our business, especially as we’ve grown in headcount in the past few years.
But to someone working as an employee at Barrel, especially those who’ve gone through periods of little or no activity for long stretches at a time, any uptick in turnover can be unsettling. Most employees don’t keep track of which team member is a temporary contractor or which one is an intern. When a team member leaves, it’s a big deal. Someone who was present at lunch everyday or a part of project teams is now no longer at the office. If they witness 4-5 departures in the course of 6 months on a team of 30, it can feel as if there’s something going on.
We’ve found that it’s vital to clearly communicate to our team when someone is about to leave. Even the departure of an intern who’s come in a few times a week during the school year can feel jarring if there’s no explanation of why the person no longer shows up to work. For people who resign or have ending contracts/internships with us, we announce early and have farewell drinks in their honor. When it comes to firings (which, thankfully, have been very infrequent), we’re more cautious and follow up with an email to the team or an all-team meeting to reinforce our cultural values.
Even with all the communication, people will still feel uneasy when they think there’s more activity than what’s “normal.” It’s been helpful for us to have one-on-one conversations to assure team members and to share our thoughts on why a contract wasn’t renewed or an intern hired full-time. These conversations also give us the opportunity to learn about the impact of someone’s departure and what they miss about that person. It’s information that’s helpful for us to consider when thinking about future new hires.
There’s no silver bullet to relieving employee anxiety. What may seem cut and dry to the owners may seem totally different to those whose employment is in someone else’s hands. From my own experience, the most effective approach has been to establish consistent communications with the team and to share as much as possible. And with these communications, I’ve tried to encourage feedback either in the form of in-person conversations or through our anonymous feedback form. We may not always like what we received from the anonymous feedback, but it’s additional data that helps us to reflect and think through ways to get better.