Once upon a time, a valued employee would resign, complete their notice period, walk out the door amidst a flurry of emotional farewells, and rarely be heard from again – except perhaps through their personal connections with various former colleagues. Employers haven’t traditionally thought much about “offboarding” – that is, the process that kicks into gear when people leave the organisation. However, much like onboarding is increasingly recognised as a key component of talent management, structured offboarding is becoming popular at the other end of the employee journey.
There are 2 key reasons why offboarding matters.
Firstly, former employees today don’t simply disappear. People remain connected – albeit sometimes tenuously – through professional networks like LinkedIn. More than ever before, employer reputations are on the line – or more correctly online – and departing employees will speak their minds about former employers on Glassdoor, Facebook, or any number of social channels. How your organisation treated them on their way out the door can play a key role in determining whether reviews will be positive or negative.
Second, talent in many industry sectors is scarce, so “boomerang” or returning employees can be a lifesaver for employers. Who wouldn’t welcome back an employee who has previously proven their worth and who left the organisation on positive terms? One survey indicated that almost 2 in 3 Australian companies have re-hired a former employee who left the organisation voluntarily. A New Zealand survey revealed that more than half of NZ employers have rehired former employees, and 9 in 10 rated the performance of these employees as above average. Again, the offboarding process might just determine whether an ex-employee is interested in returning as an employee, contractor or freelancer.
For departing employees, the difference between a positive and negative offboarding experience can often be determined by the smallest of details. For employers, it’s vital to understand what’s happened, and whether anything could’ve been done to prevent the exit. Employers must also be mindful of what’s walking out the door with the employee – specifically, their knowledge.
To turn a potentially negative experience into a positive experience for both parties, a structured, systematic process is called for.
Here are those 5 ingredients in detail:
- Open the communication channels
Rest assured, when an employee quits, others know about it – instantly. The longer a manager withholds announcements the higher the chance that gossip and misinformation will spread. Before you do make the announcement, clarify:
- When the employee’s last day will be
- Who will be taking over their responsibilities in the interim
- How soon a job requisition can be obtained for their replacement
Be ready to respond to questions about why the employee is departing and whether a replacement will be sought.
- Complete the paperwork
HR and payroll team members will want to ensure all necessary admin work is completed and communicated to the exiting employee – especially regarding post-employment payment arrangements, payouts for unused leave, as well as reminders about any non-disclosure or non-compete agreements.
- Commence knowledge transfer
As soon as an employee hands his or her notice in, it’s time to consider knowledge transfer. This process will ensure the accumulated knowledge of the employee is recorded, stored and ready for the replacement. This is vital if there is no shared cross-over time between the departing employee and their replacement and documentation around processes, projects and other vital information has not been kept. Whether in-person or in a handover document, the existing employee might be able to provide insights around:
- The day-to-day tasks of the role and what the priorities are
- Project updates
- Critical files that a successor will need to know about and have access to
- Any key contacts, inside and outside the organisation, who may need to be contacted about the transition
- Whether any system-specific training might be required for a new hire
- Gather information with a staff exit survey
An exiting employee can be a valuable source of information for HR. The easiest way to obtain this information is through an exit survey. Not only can an exit survey uncover the reasons why people leave your organisation, it can identify ways that company policy, practices and culture can be improved. It can also identify recurring problems or hot spots where employee turnover is excessive, so that action can be taken. They key word here is “action”. Filing results away in a lever arch folder where they’ll never been seen again is akin to not undertaking a survey at all, so aim to ensure at least small steps are taken towards resolving or improving issues that come up repeatedly.
Here are some common questions an exit survey can ask:
- Did the job match your expectations when you first joined the organisation?
- Did you have the resources, equipment and training necessary to do your job effectively?
- Is there anything we can do to convince you to stay?
- How was the relationship with your direct manager?
- What is the biggest thing we can do to improve as an organisation?
- Would you recommend us to job-seeking friends? Why or why not?
- Recover physical company assets
From phones and laptops to keys, security passes and uniforms, make sure all company-issued items are recovered. Corporate credit cards or expense accounts in that employee’s name should be closed. On the final day, IT should revoke system access.
A send-off to remember
Regardless of whether an employee continues to work for the duration of their notice period or needs to exit the organisation swiftly – perhaps they are joining a competitor – everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. A structured offboarding process can ensure this occurs.
Last impressions count almost as much as first impressions – so while the exit of a well-liked and trusted employee will be bittersweet, always leave the door open for a return. On that note, here’s one final tip: instead of referring to them as “ex-employees”, start referring to them as “alumni” and aim to keep in touch – they may just be your greatest advocates out in the big wide world.
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- Robert Half survey of 100 Australian HR Managers, 2016
- “The Boomerang Phenomenon: Taking Flight in the New Economy”, Hudson NZ report, 2011