Why offboarding isn’t a waste of time

Last updated:
July 23, 2021
December 16, 2021
min read
Lukasz Zelezny
Table of contents

How much attention does your organization pay to employee offboarding? Most of us have heard about employee onboarding, but the employee exit process is still very much in the shadows. Even companies that do offboarding, it’s usually little more than a hurried exit interview.

Worse still, research suggests that only 32% of organizations have a partially automated offboarding process, and only 5% have a fully automated employee exit procedure. So, why do these statistics matter? Because if your offboarding isn’t automated as much as possible, you probably don’t have a defined employee exit strategy.

The offboarding definition can be described as a predefined process that is implemented to separate an employee from a company seamlessly and in good faith. It’s the opposite of the integration process of onboarding, and it’s equally important.

Why spend time on employees who are on their way out?

When an employee leaves a company, it’s not as easy as waving them goodbye and wishing them well. There’s much more to it. Some farewells are filled with a combo of tears and joy, while others can be clouded by tension and anger.

On a social level, an employee is a person who was once good enough to employ so they should be recognized when they leave. No one wants an employee lifecycle to end on a bitter note or as if the person never mattered. Even if your parting ways is a bit uncomfortable, always acknowledge people. Sometimes things don’t work out because of cultural fit issues. Or maybe management feels let down by a top employee who resigns because they’ve found a better opportunity.

Employees resign for a myriad of personal reasons, and of course, people retire. Whatever the reason, employees who are on their way out are a hive of valuable information. The tragedy is that you’ll never have access to their knowledge if you don’t have an offboarding process.

Employees offer insight into aspects management can’t see

Managers, by definition, have to be focused on the big picture. Employees, on the other hand, are right there in the thick of things within their department. As a result, employees experience and know things that might escape departmental and general management.

Often huge issues can escape managements’ attention while the workforce knows precisely what the problems are. If management is disengaged from their employees, recurring problems can set in that will hamper productivity, increase employee attrition and eventually damage both the company and employer brand.

A well-defined employee offboarding strategy will shed light on internal problems and challenges and open the way for change and improvement.

Offboarding should be the responsibility of HR

If you haven’t bought into the value of offboarding yet it can be tempting to assign responsibility for the process to a manager. This a bad idea for many reasons, the main ones being:

  • Managers don’t have enough time to do it properly.
  • Managers don’t have the training to get the right info.
  • Managers might be too close to the situation, so they could be biased.

It’s essential to keep offboarding as fair, unbiased and transparent as your methods of interview for fair and transparent hiring. Just as much care must go into employees when they leave as was put in when you were trying to attract them.

Appoint an HR representative who is experienced and can build trust. Appoint an impartial manager in smaller organizations that don’t have a dedicated HR department. It’s essential that the employee feels safe. They must know that whatever disclosures are made in the exit interview process will be kept confidential and free of repercussions. It’s also vital that they know that you value their input and that you will take action if necessary for the sake of the business and remaining staff.

How to plan your offboarding strategy

The requirements of a strategy will differ from industry to industry and even within your organization, depending on the role that you’re offboarding. Here’s a list of core points that must be considered in all offboarding strategies.

  • Make use of offboarding software.
  • Compile an offboarding checklist.
  • Address all compliance and regulatory issues.
  • Assign responsibility to an individual or team.
  • Share the strategy with all non-HR stakeholders.
  • Make offboarding a mandatory practice for all roles.
  • Make it a living document open to ongoing re-evaluation.

Compiling an off-boarding process checklist

Part of your strategy must be that every employee exit process must have a list that is designed specifically for that person and role. Although roles may be the same, people leave for different reasons. For example, you can’t offboard a contract worker in the same way you do a retiree, even if they have the same job responsibilities.

The checklist must be compiled as soon as HR gets word form management that an employee is leaving. Have a quick meeting with the employee’s direct manager to confirm how you’re going to handle the off-boarding to keep the process streamlined and ensure that nothing gets overlooked.

These 8 pointers should help you compile a faultless checklist.

1. Establish a timeline

When is the last day of employment? This is crucial because you need to know how much time you have to get things done. Is there a notice period or is the person leaving with immediate effect?

If they are leaving right away, you might not have enough time for an exit interview. If their employment has been terminated for any reason they might refuse a meeting which is well within their rights. Even if you can’t do an exit interview prepare your offboarding checklist because there are many other steps that have to be addressed.

2. Assign responsibility

Appoint the HR pro who’s going to manage the process. Bring them on board right away so that they can get started. Work through the checklist with them and decide together which other departments must be included, such as IT and payroll.

3. Communicate the departure

It’s essential to advise the rest of the staff that someone is leaving, whether they work closely with the person or not. Send out an employee departure email advising the last day of employment, or that the employee has already left.

Do it on the day you find out that someone is leaving. This prevents rumor-mongering and helps people feel secure in their own job. This is particularly important when an employee has been dismissed or let go.

4. Provide alternate contacts

If the employee holds a position that involves internal and external liaison, provide alternate contacts so that there’s no confusion. Also, advise customers or suppliers if they dealt with the employee. Arrange for emails and calls to be diverted once the employee has left. Also have IT set up and auto-response to the email address giving alternate contact details.

5. Set up an exit interview

The employee might or might not agree. If they do, make sure that it is handled with care and compassion. Listen more than what you speak, take notes and treat the person with respect, even if they’re saying things that are difficult to hear.

An exit interview is also an excellent opportunity to discuss the return of assets, revoking of passwords and access codes and a handover of responsibilities. You can also inform the employee about what will happen next and who will handle their final payout as well as benefits and legal issues.

6. Collect company assets

Many employees have company laptops, tablets, phones and even cars. You should have a list on file of what has been given to the employee. Use the asset allocation list to make sure that you retrieve everything and that it’s all in good working order.

You should have a clause that tells employees who have access to company assets that the items must be well maintained and kept in working order. If you don’t retrieve an item, or it’s damaged you can claim the costs from the employee’s final payout as long as it was previously agreed in writing.

7. Address security

Most employees have access to passwords and access codes. Others have access to sensitive company information, customer details, databases and stock. Advise IT right away to change all data related access and also get the warehouse and procurement to revoke access if applicable. Collect all keys and if you don’t get them back, have the locks changed.

Security breaches happen daily, and even long-standing employees can decide at the last minute to either sabotage something, or lift items as they walk away. Cybercrime at the hands of dishonest or disgruntled ex-employees is more common than you know. If you haven’t taken adequate steps to prevent theft or sabotage your company brand can suffer. If the losses affect customers you will end up with a PR nightmare and facing legal action.

8. Remuneration and compliance

Once you’ve taken care of communication, assets and security issues move on to calculating the final payout and tying up benefits like medical and retirement insurance. This is usually done by payroll. Make sure that they have all the info they need so that they can close off tax issues and any other compliance issues.

If the employee has signed legal agreements such as a non-disclosure or restraint of trade agreement, these must be referred to the legal department right away for final clarity. If you are deducting money for lost or broken assets, make sure that you are within your rights to avoid a legal challenge.

Always show appreciation

Unfortunately, we can’t always do this, but in most cases we can. While you’re taking care of the points listed above, also arrange a farewell for the employee. Circulate a greeting card for everyone to sign and advise remaining staff when you’ll all get together for a final farewell.

The event depends on the size of your organization and could include the whole company or just the relevant department. Buy a gift as a token of your appreciation and arrange some catering, or you could all go out to lunch. Be genuine in your good wishes and encourage others to do the same.

It’s more than just doing the right thing

Implementing and maintaining offboarding best practices isn’t only about the person who’s leaving. It benefits your employer branding. People who’ve had a great offboarding feel appreciated and are more likely to share their experience. They’re also more likely to join your company alumni and refer candidates. Great past experiences means ex-staff can be converted to boomerang employees if the right opportunity comes up in the future as well.

It contributes to the employee lifecycle by closing everything off on a good note. Existing employees get to see that they’re appreciated, which leads to a happier, more engaged and productive workforce. People who love their job are more likely to stay where they are.

Finally, it reduces organizational risk and boosts customer confidence.

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