We’ve written before about the importance of a thorough onboarding process for new employees. A good onboarding process increases integration with your workforce and encourages a longer, more loyal career. Since turnover is so expensive, it’s vital to reduce it however you can.
What about the other side of the coin? Offboarding is, in many cases, just as important as onboarding. Yet, all too often, it’s treated as an afterthought. A good offboarding experience will:
- Help keep morale high as a demonstration of how much the company values its employees.
- Help reduce turnover, since making a big deal of an employee leaving makes it feel like a rare and special event.
- Help ensure a smooth transition to whoever is replacing the outgoing employee, as well as to that outgoing employee’s next position or retirement.
- Create stories about how good a workplace your company is, which can benefit employee referrals.
Unfortunately, there’s a pervasive attitude in business that an employee leaving is not an employee worth considering, and nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is, in addition to the benefits offboarding has for your existing employees, it can also work to improve your overall reputation, prevent burning bridges, and even potentially bring the lost employee back if situations change.
So, how can you implement a beneficial employee offboarding process? Here are our best practices.
Understand the Process
The first and most important tip we can give is to establish and understand an offboarding process. You want the process to be the same, more or less, for every employee. Whether that employee has worked for you for one year or thirty doesn’t matter. You will still need to go about offboarding with the same care and attention.
It’s also essential to start the process of offboarding an employee as early as possible. If at all possible, you want to be able to spend weeks or months with the development of internal knowledge bases and documentation, training materials for a replacement hire, and the slow reduction of the employee’s duties.
Ideally, the departing employee’s replacement will be hired and onboarded in advance of their departure, as this helps ensure a smooth transition.
“Knowledge transfer is another task to check off your employee offboarding checklist. Finding a replacement for a departing team member can take a while. In the meantime, employee productivity takes a serious hit. That’s why it’s good practice to be proactive. Don’t wait until team members depart to start the knowledge transfer process. Instead, make it part of their ongoing work responsibilities.” – eLearning Industry.
This part isn’t always possible, of course. Many reasons can lead to a sudden departure. Perhaps the employee violated policies, and you need to fire them. Perhaps they passed away suddenly. Perhaps there’s not enough respect between them and the company to warrant more than a two-week notice. However, whenever possible, the offboarding process should begin early to avoid disruption of the company’s workflow.
Ensure Everyone Relevant Knows
A crucial part of offboarding is ensuring that the employee’s part in your systems gets appropriately handled. Different departments need to know about the end of the employee’s career, whether it’s through retirement, voluntary departure, or termination. They also need to know whether the termination is temporary (as in a furlough, as we’ve seen so much during the pandemic) or permanent. Different teams that need notice might include:
- HR, in general, to manage the overall workflow and process different aspects of termination and offboarding.
- IT, to identify and recover any company assets, ranging from employee key badges to laptops and phones or company credit cards. Additionally, IT will need to lock the employee accounts properly to avoid cybersecurity issues or post-termination unauthorized access.
- Finance, to manage final paychecks, cashing out paid time off, rolling over 401(k)s and other investments, and processing the closure of the employee’s accounts.
- Hiring, to line up a replacement for the lost employee, assuming such has not already been arranged.
- Security, in the case of a terminated employee, to lock them out and escort them, so they don’t do damage on their way out.
Additionally, any team the employee was part of will need to be informed to help them manage tasks and division of labor until a replacement gets onboarded and integrated with the team.
Give the Departing Employee Everything They Need
When an employee leaves, there’s often a lot of paperwork they need to fill out, critical information they need to have, and documents they will need to reference in the future. Providing this information to them and a contact they can use should they need to recover that information in the future is also essential. What kind of information needs to be part of this packet?
- Details of the final paycheck, including what happens to ending benefits, stored sick days and paid time off, and retirement accounts.
- Details of remaining benefits, such as stock options and investments.
- Details of continued benefits like health insurance via COBRA.
- Rules and regulations for the return of company property.
- Potential penalties for failing to return company property, sharing company secrets, or violation of non-competes.
How much of this is relevant depends a lot on the employee’s level, use of company assets, duration of their employment, and nature of their work. However, developing a detailed checklist to cover all of the bases, even when they aren’t relevant, is better than using a partial checklist and forgetting an essential aspect of offboarding.
Conduct an Exit Interview
Exit interviews are often overlooked but are very important for the general benefit of the company. An exit interview will have important repercussions because it can give you the information you can use to direct your company better. Primarily, an exit interview helps you understand the reason an employee is leaving. If that reason is something you can change for better retention, then it’s critical to know.
Employees who are leaving for a personal reason such as mental or physical health, a crisis in the family, or a spouse getting a better job across the country are common reasons you can’t do a lot about. However, you could potentially offer the employee the option to work remotely rather than leave.
Employees who leave for reasons such as an abusive boss, a lack of pay or benefits, or a lack of upward mobility can showcase a flaw in your management that can be corrected. You likely won’t be able to retain the leaving employee, but you may be able to make changes to prevent future losses.
Ideally, you will strive to optimize your company so that nothing in the exit interview will be a surprise. Unfortunately, it often requires information from exit interviews to reach that point in the first place.
Develop or Implement a Transition Plan
Unless the employee is being terminated due to the company downsizing, chances are you’ll need a replacement for that lost employee ASAP. Thus, it would help if you had a transition plan in place or developed one for this and future use cases.
A transition plan covers all the bases of what happens to the duties of the lost employee when they leave and the hiring process for their replacement. You’ll cover topics such as:
- The transfer of knowledge between the leaving employee and their team or their replacement.
- The transfer of contacts such as sales contacts, vendors, or customer information to others.
- The transfer of access to important documentation or critical systems.
All too often, a company sees an employee leave, only to discover weeks or months down the line that the employee was the only one who had access to critical customer, vendor, or internal system information.
If you discover such an issue, it may be worthwhile to push the development of an internal knowledge base, as well as data and access redundancy, to avoid these problems in the future.
Celebrate the Employee as Applicable
Employees who are leaving your company on good terms should be celebrated. Long-term employees who are entering retirement can have retirement parties. Internal messaging can be sent to everyone in the company celebrating their achievements throughout their career. If they’re transitioning to a new job, that can get mentioned and celebrated as well.
“The most crucial aspect of a good employee offboarding process is to treat employees warmly, regardless of the reason behind their departure. Celebrate their achievements and make them feel appreciated for their efforts. Who knows? All this love can make your employees return to the organization like a boomerang.” – KissFlow.
The goal of this process is two-fold. First, it helps the leaving employee feel valued. They will keep their lines of communication open, they will talk about their positive experiences, and they may be able to refer future candidates, customers, or potential partners your way.
The other aspect of this is for the morale of your existing employees. By showing that the company values the departing employee’s achievements, history, and progression, existing employees know they, too, will be valued for their contributions. A greater sense of appreciation leads to greater loyalty, better productivity, and deeper engagement.
Trust, but Verify
Even if an employee is leaving on good terms, everything is going smoothly, and there are no speedbumps in the process, it’s important to verify every step of the process.
- Ensure that the employee didn’t sabotage systems or damage data on the way out.
- Monitor competitors and darkweb vendors as applicable to watch for internal data leaks.
- Double or triple-check that physical company assets are returned.
You should not go so far as to invade privacy, of course. There’s no reason to spy on the departing employee’s inbox or sent mail unless you suspect wrongdoing, and even then, it may be more of a job for law enforcement than for your internal processes.
Trust your employees to do the right thing, but verify that nothing has gone wrong despite that trust.
Learn and Improve
Very few companies have what could be considered a perfect process for the transition from an old employee to a new one, the transfer of knowledge and duties, and the offboarding of a departing employee. For everyone else, there’s always room for improvement.
Things like the exit interview are not the only avenues for feedback. You can also solicit feedback from existing employees about the process of the departure. What did they like, and what did they not? Do they have recommendations? Was there an unexpected or unforeseen gap in coverage of duties or knowledge?
Take all of this information into consideration and implement changes in your offboarding process. This way, you will have a smoother process the next time an employee leaves. Over time, your offboarding process will become a near-seamless transition, and you’ll see little if any interruption in business productivity.
There will always be unforeseen circumstances and issues that crop up. Whether it’s dissatisfaction, intentional sabotage, or just paperwork getting lost in the shuffle, it’s essential to have the ability to recover from problems gracefully.
Your company will always need to learn, adjust processes, and grow. This applies equally to onboarding, hiring, sales, marketing, and offboarding. Sometimes, sacrifices may need to occur. Perhaps the offboarding process needs to be faster, an employee has fewer accomplishments to celebrate, or their departure is less than pleasant. Gracefully handling these issues is crucial.
Companies are living organisms and should be treated as such. Developing a smooth offboarding process is part of ensuring a healthy company.
A thoughtful and structured employee offboarding process is as critical to maintaining a positive company culture as a good onboarding process. It reflects your company’s values and respect for its employees, regardless of their tenure or the reasons for their departure.
By implementing the best practices outlined in this post, you ensure a smooth transition, uphold morale, and maintain productivity. Moreover, you foster a positive reputation that extends beyond your organization, potentially attracting future talent and opportunities.
Remember, the way your company handles departures can leave a lasting impression, not just on the departing employees, but also on those who continue to be a part of your journey.
Contact us today to learn how we can assist you in developing your team.
Page updated on November 8, 2023.