An employee leaving a company is inevitable in business today, either by getting fired or finding a better opportunity. It’s only a matter of time as the average American will work 12 – 15 different jobs in their lifetime.
Whether an employee is fired or leaves on their own will, it’s important to plan ahead for handling employee-employer digital breakups. The worst case scenario is when an employee is fired; even level-headed employees can become irate during this time. If still given access to company digital assets whether intellectual property, databases, servers or even company social media accounts, many employees could be easily tempted to harm a company’s reputation online.
Protect Against the Smartest Employee Leaving
In 2011 The Atlantic reported that elite dating site, beautifulpeople.com, received a virus which changed the site’s algorithm and allowed ‘ugly people’ to join. 30,000 new members were later purged from the site, but as bizarre as the incident sounds, it resulted from a disgruntled employee. The employee was a former developer who created the site’s algorithm. From this incident, I noted a few takeaways:
- Companies that are online-only based have the most to lose.
- Employees who are the most capable can cause the most harm.
- Viruses are planted easily from the inside.
If the most capable and smartest employee in your organization isn’t you, it’s best to consider the fallout of losing your top employee with the most means. What access have they been given that nobody else has and what could they do to hurt you? Thinking in this way preemptively can enable you to protect your business successfully in the following ways.
Always Have a Backup Plan
The most common mistake employers make when an employee relationship ends is not obtaining usernames and passwords to online accounts and data, if they have put said person in charge of those areas in their business. For many companies, interns are often in charge of managing social media accounts and engaging with customers. When an intern leaves or is fired, they could easily damage your online brand if they still have this login information. Proprietary data can be even more valuable, if an employee were to walk away with intellectual property to a competitor, the result could be disastrous.
Don’t allow one individual to be the account owner of every social media or brand account. Switch passwords when an employee has departed, your goal is to cease all access to any company and IP property.
Plan for a Knowledge Transfer
The awkward two week notice can be made worse when a departing employee is ignored and treated as having already left the company. Don’t make that mistake. Find an internal replacement who will temporarily or permanently take over until you hire a new resource. Encourage the two to meet each day and ‘braindump,’ transferring all knowledge over to the new resource. The departure will be much smoother this way and you will be able to rebound more quickly from the employee loss. If you suddenly fire an employee, you only have a few hours to switch everything over on the day it happens. Plan ahead discretely if possible, obtain all access to accounts and company IP before they enter your office and quickly disable access the day of or a few days prior.
Obtain Legal Ownership of Digital Assets
All employees within your company should have signed an employee agreement before beginning work. Often the contract includes language legally barring an employee from giving trade secrets to competitors, hiring existing employees, a non-competitive clause and even using proprietary inventions. Proprietary inventions can be as basic as spreadsheets to templates. This component to your plan is best handled by a legal professional, but acting now can help you plan for the worse case scenario. The legal guidelines could also be used as an effective threat and reminder to employees, that their post employment actions can be criminally accountable.
Daren Boozer is the President & CEO at NCC Data. NCC Data specializes in IT outsourcing and managed services consulting. It is one of the top independently owned IT services and communications companies in the Dallas-Fort-Worth Metroplex.