Practical Advice for Creating an Offboarding Process

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Saying goodbye to an employee who resigns or is laid off or terminated doesn’t have to feel like a bad breakup. An offboarding process can maintain relationships and protect company assets.

Human resources departments devote significant resources to welcoming new employees. Orienting employees to company policies and procedures and bringing new hires up to speed on benefits is part of the onboarding process.

Just as new hires are part of daily business, so too is saying goodbye. Whether it’s through layoffs, termination of an at-will employment agreement, or resignation, when an employee leaves, the same level of attention should be given to the offboarding process as the initial onboarding.

Overview: What is employee offboarding?

Breaking off a business relationship can be as difficult as ending a personal one. Managers and employees can experience a range of emotions that stem from the circumstances surrounding the departure.

Offboarding is a formal end to an employment agreement. Regardless of the reasons for separation, establishing an employee offboarding process can help both parties effectively navigate the change.

What is the importance of an efficient offboarding process?

Protecting proprietary information, clarifying terms to the end of employment, and maintaining important relationships are critical to ending an employment arrangement.

Having an efficient offboarding process is important for countless reasons. Here are three to consider.

1. It mitigates misunderstandings

Conversations are crucial in supporting individuals transitioning out of a role, but verbal discussions lack the formality of documented processes and can lead to misunderstandings.

If a spoken message is taken out of context or interpreted differently than a human resources person intended, it opens the door to disappointment at a minimum and hostility, anger, or legal action in extreme cases. Having an offboarding process documented and streamlined ensures all details are communicated.

2. A bigger picture

Depending on the person’s role, their contacts may be outside the organization and have a critical impact on workflow. It’s essential you establish a process that collects that information before the person’s departure. This allows you time to communicate impending changes with valued suppliers and customers to avoid business disruption.

Internally, an offboarding process creates stability for the remaining employees. When the process includes communication with staff, it provides a sense of how the change impacts their workflow and what to expect in terms of workload.

3. A powerful partner

Business models are changing, and the gig economy is booming. You never know when you may benefit from working with a former employee on a short-term contract basis. Offboarding processes that feel like a bad breakup reduce the likelihood of tapping into a powerful resource that can help your company continue to grow.

Similarly, when an employee is part of a layoff, how they are treated sets you up for positive or negative reviews on job recruitment websites. When the time for rehiring arrives, job seekers will remember how you treated your people.

4. The boomerang effect

Boomerang employees, those who return to a previous place of employment, can make good hires because they already know the job requirements and have the proven skillsets to succeed. Because they’re familiar with the organization, they require less time and resources to train and they can bring new skills learned from outside experience.

A 2019 survey by Accountemps survey found 52% of workers would return to a previous employer and that 94% of managers are open to rehiring people who left on good terms.

Tips for leaving a lasting positive impression:

  • Ask all staff to sign a farewell card
  • Host a going-away gathering. It could be as simple as pastries, desserts, or lunch
  • Give a personalized gift

7 best practices and steps for creating an employee offboarding process

Creating a new process may sound like a daunting task. These seven steps can help you create an efficient offboarding process.

1. Create a checklist

Change can bring excitement, fear, and nervousness. The reasons for an employee’s departure can surface a wave of emotions. Developing an employee exit process checklist ensures the individual receives all the information and benefits they are entitled to and guarantees the company protects its assets.

2. Communicate with staff

Misinformation or no information at all fans the flames that feed rumors. Craft a message to all employees that lets them know a co-worker is leaving. Include details such as their last day of work and when appropriate, their reason for leaving. The announcement could be released in a simple email or during a staff meeting.

3. Start a paperwork trail

It’s tempting to skip the paperwork when employees leave on the best of terms, but having a consistent paperwork trail protects the company. Use your company’s HR software to create a standard set of procedures so no steps are overlooked in the emotion of the moment.

  • Collect a letter of resignation or provide a termination notice
  • Provide nondisclosure and noncompete agreements as warranted
  • Give a summarized list of what the individual can expect for unpaid accrued paid time off and the transferring of health insurance and retirement benefits

4. Collect company-owned assets

Depending on the job, employees may be issued equipment such as cell phones, laptops, and access credentials in the form of ID and systems logins. Losing customer data, client lists, and proprietary information can be more financially damaging than having to replace costly equipment.

5. Prepare for a transfer of knowledge

Job descriptions, performance reviews, and regular management check-ins reveal a piece of any employee’s day-to-day tasks and responsibilities, but not all. Ask a departing staff member to list current projects and steps involved for completion. Also, ask the individual for helpful contacts outside the organization and training that may benefit a new employee.

Not only will this help prevent projects from falling through the cracks, but it can also help with workforce planning. The employee may reveal a different set of skills you should emphasize in a job posting or that indicate the job description may be out of date.

6. Schedule an exit interview

An exit interview is an opportunity to gain insight into the company’s strengths and weaknesses. Asking the individual for feedback on a variety of topics can reveal useful information on culture, efficiency, and potential for growth.

As an example, inquire:

  • How the job compared to their expectations
  • What might have made them stay
  • How they would describe their experience to job seekers, which may be useful information in reducing turnover rates

7. Enjoy the moment

Not all employee departures are negative. Some are a fond farewell to long-time employees moving onto retirement or advancing their careers with a new position. Taking time to celebrate their contributions to the company creates goodwill in that individual and shows the remaining staff that the person’s efforts were appreciated.

Current and former employees are your best (or worst) forms of advertising. Making an employee’s departure a positive experience will affect how they talk about the company to family, friends, and colleagues. Some of those folks may be considering positions or buying decisions once your employee is offboarded.

A setup for success

Onboarding and offboarding are bookends in a company’s larger approach to employee management. How you welcome a new hire into the culture and how you treat them on the way out the door -- whether the decision is yours or theirs -- impacts morale, productivity, and overall success.

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