Turnover and Firewall Employees


I have a good friend who works in Human Resources at a company that is undergoing a ton of change. Mergers. Layoffs. Morale could be better.

I asked, “Are you losing good people?”

He said, “Some turnover is healthy.”

Right. Agreed. 100%. But my friend is a good HR fella — really — and his team has identified a core group of people who have to stay. No matter what. If these people left the company, something is wrong.

This group of people? They are called firewall employees. If they leave, the whole system is compromised.

“What are you doing to retain these people?” I asked.

Nothing. Of course not. Why do I even ask? He doesn’t really have capacity or budget to do anything. But they’re on a list. If they were to leave, senior management would have to pay attention.

And sure enough, one of them just tried to leave. And you know what happens next in the story. The executive team freaked out and tried to stanch the bleeding. They counter-offered the hell out of this employee — title, pay, flexible work schedule — and it worked. The employee didn’t leave the company.

And in the past few weeks, other exits have slowed down.


Now I give this ‘firewall employee’ another six months, but hey, I’m cynical. Counter-offers are too late. And as a side note — I feel bad because I’ve never been a firewall employee. Neither are you. When we leave, most of us are mocked. Our ghosts take the blame for everything that is wrong with the company.

“Nobody has been filing TPS reports for years. Laurie was supposed to do that, but well, you know how she was…”

Yeah. They’re scapegoating you and there’s nothing you can do about it.

But the greater point is this — do you have a firewall employee in your company? And why are you waiting for that person to leave before addressing her concerns? Are you stupid?

Get to work! Stanch the organizational bleeding before you black out, there is a bottle of whiskey in your hand and unrecognizable blood on the floor.

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