Employee Offboarding: Best Practices for a Seamless Departure

Employee Offboarding: Best Practices for a Seamless Departure

Your organization dedicates resources to attract and train top talent, but do you prioritize the offboarding process when employees leave? Whether voluntary or involuntary, a well-executed offboarding experience reflects your organizational culture and can impact your reputation as an employer.

Employee Offboarding: Best Practices for a Seamless Departure

Your organization probably spends a lot of time, money, and effort attracting the best new hires on the market and training them into great employees. But do you pay as much attention to the other end of the employee lifecycle: when an employee leaves your company? 

Whether an employee is leaving voluntarily, for a new opportunity or retirement, or involuntarily, because of a termination or layoffs, your HR team needs to have an effective offboarding process in place. 

It’s about more than just taking care of the necessary paperwork and mitigating security risks — your offboarding experience reflects on your overall organizational culture and employee experience, and so it’s a valuable opportunity to connect with your former and current employees too. So what do HR teams need to know about setting up an excellent employee offboarding process? We’ve got your complete guide right here. 

The Importance of Employee Offboarding

With the prevalence of social media sites like LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and Twitter these days, one disgruntled employee can do serious damage to your reputation as an employer. And former employees will also tell their networks about their experience with your company. Ensuring that the final impression you leave with a departing employee is a positive one is critical for attracting future talent. 

Plus, so-called “boomerang employees” (those who leave and come back later) make up a third of external hires, and a quarter of those employees were high performers. If you don’t handle the offboarding experience well, you could lose access to those valuable former employees when they’re looking for a new role down the line. An employee’s departure is your last chance to interact with them — and that final impression can overshadow a mostly great employee experience if it’s handled poorly. 

Finally, your current employees absolutely pay attention to how you treat their colleagues who leave. Negative offboarding experiences can indicate that your company doesn’t have a lot of respect for employees, and your workers who are still around, for now, may make plans to depart accordingly because it typically reflects an overall poor culture. 

Offboarding Checklist — Key Steps for a Seamless Departure

So how can HR teams and organizations get this critical part of the employee lifecycle right? It’s one of the major challenges facing the HR world right now with the ongoing fallout from the Great Resignation. Developing a formal process for offboarding is the first step so you have consistency across every employee's departure. Here’s what your offboarding checklist should include. 

1. Communicating the Departure With Internal and External Messaging

Once you know an employee is leaving, you should let your other team members know as soon as is reasonable. The longer you wait to communicate, the more chance there is for gossip or hearsay to take hold, and it can seem like you’re hiding something about the employee’s exit. Be sure to let their team know, and external partners like vendors or customers as well so they’re in the loop. 

If you’re doing layoffs or the employee is being terminated, of course, this departure needs to be communicated with the utmost sensitivity and care. But that doesn’t mean you can simply stay silent — communicate what you can so your current employees know what’s going on so they can feel supported in a tough time.  

However, if an employee is leaving on good terms, take the opportunity to celebrate their contributions in a positive and thoughtful way in your internal and external messaging. This shows that you’re grateful for their time at your company, and shows current employees how your company will treat them when they inevitably leave. 

2. Knowledge Transfer and Documentation

When the employee’s departure has been communicated, it’s time to start thinking about how to make it a smooth transition. The knowledge transfer that needs to take place from the departing employee to the new hire should include plenty of documentation about key processes, workflows, passwords to accounts, and anything else that’s helpful to know for onboarding purposes so nothing gets missed in the time in between. 

Ideally, your company should be keeping this kind of information updated regularly anyways in case an employee is unexpectedly out or is terminated, so this might also be a good time to get that process in order. 

Another thing to clarify and define as part of a successful offboarding process is who will handle the employee’s duties until you’re able to hire their replacement. This gives the employees who are staying behind clarity and confidence that things will continue running smoothly, and don’t forget to communicate to external partners as well. 

One tip: don’t wait until their last day to get everything in order. Their mind will be on saying their goodbyes, not on communicating in-depth institutional knowledge, so be proactive about the transition. 

3. Conducting Exit Interviews and Gathering Feedback

75% of companies conduct exit interviews, but less than one-third of those can point to a change that is driven by information delivered in those interviews. That’s a lot of valuable feedback lost due to inaction or asking the wrong exit interview questions. 

Here are some good potential questions that can help you discover broader trends that are impacting your employee experience and retention rates: 

  • Why did you decide to start looking for another opportunity? 
  • What made you decide to leave? And to accept your new role?
  • Did the job align with your expectations when you were hired?
  • What resources, support, or tools would have helped you get your job done better?
  • What did you like best and least about your role?
  • What one thing do you think we could change to improve the company culture?
  • Complete the sentence ‘I don’t know why the company doesn’t just ____.’
  • Do you have any additional comments or feedback?

Exit interviews are critical with any employee who voluntarily leaves, but they’re especially crucial when your top talent is heading out the door so you can determine why you’re losing your best people. Don’t assume you know the answer — ask even if it seems obvious, and you might uncover some surprising insights. 

And if your turnover is particularly high with new hires, be sure to ask them about why they’re leaving so soon. It could be that your hiring process is not identifying people who are a good fit, or your onboarding process needs refining, or there’s simply something broken in your work environment that’s making new employees opt-out right away. Hiring is expensive and time-consuming, so immediate turnover is both wasteful and indicative that something is going wrong. 

4. Handling Company Assets and Access Rights

Almost a third of employers have been the victims of a website hack because of ineffective offboarding. Ensuring that an employee’s access to key systems and property is ended at an appropriate time is a critical part of any onboarding process, but it can be delicate. 

If you cut off access to systems before an employee knows they’re terminated, for example, that’s a bad offboarding experience. But you also need to ensure you cut off access to any key systems, including changing passwords if necessary, at the right time so former employees (especially disgruntled ones) can’t go in and do accidental or purposeful damage. 

Other items to check before the employee leaves or is terminated include: 

  • ID badges 
  • Company credit cards 
  • Laptops and other company-owned equipment 
  • Any other company property the employee has

Again, this is where having a clear company policy on when and how access and assets are revoked and recovered is helpful so you’re not starting from scratch every time an employee departs — and it also ensures that nothing feels like a personal attack on the employee. 

5. Maintaining Relationships with Departing Employees

When employees leave your company for a new position, that doesn’t mean the relationship needs to end. In fact, some companies like McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group nourish alumni networks of their former workers purposefully to keep the connection strong. Plus 15% of hiring comes from rehiring former employees and alumni referrals, so maintaining a positive relationship with departing employees affects your future hiring prospects as well. 

For employees who are laid off, you can still offer them a positive and helpful experience by giving them access to outplacement services to help them find a new role fast. You never know who those employees will talk to about their experience and how that will impact your ability to hire future top talent, so consider it an investment in both doing the kind thing and also in your employer brand. 

Building a Positive Company Reputation Through Your Offboarding Process

Creating a great onboarding experience for your employees is about much more than just tying up a few loose ends and waving as they walk out the door. It’s about ending a working relationship on a positive note, maintaining strong relationships and a good employer brand, and gaining valuable insights you can use to improve your employee experience going forward.


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