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Undercover Manager Activities

Chapter 10: Retaining Employees

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10.1 The "Right" Company

10.2 Offboarding Rituals

Undercover Manager 

Activity 10.1 

The "Right" Company

In Chapter 10 (Retaining Employees), we explain that some voluntary turnover can be avoided if companies successfully “embed” employees and create fit, links and sacrifice. But fit is dynamic, because employees’ skills and interests change over time. Therefore, any discussion of employee retention has to consider career management. Some companies, like Nordavionics and Richer Sounds, have designed career management systems with long term retention in mind. Other companies, like lululemon athletica, accept that employees will outgrow their jobs to pursue careers elsewhere in the industry. This activity is designed to help you evaluate your organization on a series of dimensions associated with long-term retention.

Burning Glass Institute (a US think tank) conducted a five-year analysis of career mobility for millions of workers that assessed companies along nine dimensions. The American Opportunity Index website ( provides detailed information about Burning Glass’ exact measures and the companies that align with Burning Glass’ profiles. You don’t need to access specific data from your own organization; you can rely on your observations of coworkers’ career paths and assess your organization in terms of (1) access (e.g., does the employer hire inexperienced workers or workers without advanced degrees?); (2) pay (e.g., are wages competitive within the industry or do employees increase wages by moving to other employers?); and (3) mobility (e.g., how often – and how quickly – does the employer promote from within rather than filling roles from outside?). You can use your answers to those questions to link your employer with one of Burning Glass’ profiles: career growth, career launchpad, career stability, advancement without a degree, or growing talent. Then you can use Burning Glass’ diagnostic questions (Sigelman, et al., 2022, p. 30) to reflect on the role your employer’s recruitment, training and performance management practices play in employee retention.


Pick the right company:

Our Methodology. (2022). American Opportunity Index. https://www.americanopportunity‌   

Sigelman, M., Fuller, J., Dawson, N., & Levanon, G. (2022, October). The American Opportunity Index [Report].‌/AOI_2022_Final_Report.pdf  

Weber, L., & Francis, T. (2022, October 14). Want to get ahead? Pick the right company. The Wall Street Journal.

Undercover Manager 

Activity 10.2 

Offboarding Rituals

Chapter 10 (Retaining Employees) encourages you to prepare for shock-based turnover – turnover that is initiated by discrete events that managers cannot control. You can learn to graciously accept shock-based turnover, with the goal of maintaining a positive alumni relationship with your former employee (who may remain a valued customer or ambassador). But you also need to consider the impact of shock-based turnover on the rest of the team.

First, think about where employees go after they leave your organization, because mobility patterns vary across organizations and industry sectors. Employees might only put in a few years at a fast food franchise until they graduate from school to pursue their chosen careers – but they and their families remain loyal customers. Employees might work at an activewear retail store until they are ready to launch their personal training businesses – where they continue to wear the store’s clothing line and be brand ambassadors. Employees might leave a remote mine site to become mining consultants or work in corporate roles at mining companies – where they can refer business or job applicants to their previous employer. Understanding these mobility patterns can help you identify the value you will reap from an “alumni” relationship with former employees. 

Then, design an offboarding ritual that reflects the unique culture of your organization. Offboarding rituals simultaneously bid farewell to an exiting employee and reinforce network ties among the employees’ former coworkers. You're only limited by your imagination: the ritual might be a ceremony, a gift, or something entirely different. The most important thing is that the ritual celebrates the exiting employee in a positive way.

You can use the resources below to consider the ways that rituals reinforce company values. You might wish to revisit UM 5.2 (Interactive Onboarding Tools) and reflect on the onboarding-offboarding “bookends” that you developed: Do they address similar goals and/or values? Are they equally aligned to your organization's culture? Some organizations’ offboarding rituals deliberately “reverse” their onboarding activities (e.g., Apple’s clap in and clap off that we mention in Box 10.1).

Healthy exits:

Dachner, A. M., & Makarius, E. E. (2021, May-April). Turn departing employees into loyal alumni. Harvard Business Review. (see also accompanying podcast:

Tupper, H., & Ellis, S. (2022, July 4). It’s time to reimagine employee retention. Harvard Business Review.


Organizational rituals:

Hancock, B., & Schaninger, B. (2023, January 25). Workplace rituals: Recapturing the power of what we’ve lost [Podcast]. McKinsey & Company.

Keswin, E. (2022, August 17). The hidden power of workplace rituals. Harvard Business Review.

Smith., A. C. T., & Stewart, B. (2011). Organizational Rituals: Features, functions and mechanisms. International Journal of Management Reviews, 13(2), 113–133.

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