Best Practices for Every Stage of Employee Experience: Stage 7, Depart
Employee experience is every interaction an employee — no matter where they rank in the hierarchy — has with an organization.
It encompasses everything from their physical and digital workspaces to company culture to the tools and technology employees use.
And why does it matter? Simply put, a positive employee experience leads to better employee engagement, productivity and retention, which ultimately benefits both the employee and the organization.
The Employee Journey: 7 Stages
The employee experience is a long and complex thing. That's why many break it down into seven stages.
These seven stages make up the entire employee journey or employee lifecycle:
- Attract: Gain a competitive advantage in attracting future employees.
- Hire: Find a new employee (or employees) during the hiring process who will elevate business performance.
- Onboard: Use the onboarding process to improve long-term employee satisfaction.
- Engage: Strengthen the backbone of the organization with employee engagement.
- Perform: Utilize employee feedback and recognition in performance management to improve the employee's journey.
- Develop: Maintain employee expectations with learning and growth opportunities.
- Depart: The employee experience comes to a wrap as employees leave for a new job or elsewhere.
Organizations often use employee journey mapping as part of their employee experience strategy. An employee journey map visualizes the employee's journey from attraction to departure, looking at touch points, frustrations, sentiment and more.
In this series, we’re looking at that journey stage-by-stage — along with best practices organizations can follow from an employee experience lens.
This week, we’ve reached our finale: stage seven, the employee departure.
Employee Experience Stage 7: Employee Departure
The employee experience can’t go on forever.
Employees leave organizations in a number of ways, and the path chosen often sets the tone for the remainder of the person’s employment and eventual departure.
Some types of employment separations include:
- Resignation: Due to a life event, better or new work opportunity or relocation, for example.
- Termination: Due to poor performance, policy-breaking, company restructuring, budget cuts, etc. Many terminations due to the fault of the employer are referred to as “layoffs.”
- Retirement: An employee voluntarily decides to retire and will likely seek out no (or only part-time or contract) employment.
- End of contract: A contact-based worker has reached the end of their contract period and is moving on to the next job.
Related Article: Boomerang Employees: Why Employees Are Coming Back
The Benefits of Positive Employee Departures
The departure stage is a critical part of employee experience that employers must approach proactively. It should be a positive experience — as much so as possible — for all parties involved.
Think of it this way. Those leaving employees can:
Help You Understand Why Employees Leave Your Company
Employees remain valuable to an organization after they've left a company, said Lisa Perez, founder of HBL Resources, Inc. and author of “The Complete Manager Makeover: Transforming the Human in Human Resources.”
Why? "Because they provide feedback through exit interviews that the organization can track, trend, analyze and use to correct internal organizational deficiencies,” she explained.
Act as Future Referral Sources
"When you reach a mature point in your career, your biggest asset may be your contact list," said Rob Dubin, former CEO and filmmaker, and employee engagement expert who sailed around the world studying human happiness and fulfillment.
“I cannot stress enough how over the lifespan of a career of 40+ years, you will pave your way by simply having a large list of personal contacts who know, like and trust you,” he said.
Become Future Contract Workers
A job is like a dress — it has to be the right fit, or else it's uncomfortable or outright unpleasant. And jobs don't "fit" for many reasons.
However, a previous full-time employee who left the company (but still had an overall positive experience) might be open to a more flexible work arrangement in the future, like a short-term or temporary contract.
Come Back to the Organization Later
Not all employees leave forever. If the stars align and they had a good experience, they might want to return to the organization one day.
“The grass is not always greener on the other side, and that can prove very valuable to an organization when other employees see an employee return,” said Neil Dempster, psychologist, talent optimization & management effectiveness expert at Clearview Performance Solutions.
This is especially true today, as workers attempt to find a "new normal" post-pandemic.
A 2022 research found that 43% of people who quit their jobs during the pandemic now realize they were better off at their old company. And one in five people who quit during that time have already gone back to the job they left.
Perez said companies should prepare for returning employees by “creating a bridge of service type policy for the organization regarding how those returning employees will be handled from a benefits and tenure perspective.”
Maintain the Company’s Positive Reputation
In today’s digitalized world, Dubin said, personal and organizational reputations live forever. “That makes it important that anyone who leaves your organization carry positive feelings with them.”
Employees who leave, whether they had a good experience or bad, are likely to post on social media sites — including company review sites, like Glassdoor — about their experiences.
Related Article: How Your CHRO Can Lead Digital Employee Experience
The Consequences of Handling Employee Exits Wrong
A lot of benefits come with handling employee departures the right way. Unfortunately, handling this stage of the employee experience poorly comes with consequences too. Those include:
- Potential legal action
- Disparaging comments online
- Damage to the organization's reputation
- Scaring away potential employees
And while it is less common, some disgruntled employees can feel the need to “get back” at their employers by deleting important data or perpetrating ransomware attacks or other security breaches, said Dempster.
A joint study from Stanford University and security firm Tessian found that 88% of data breaches were caused by employees. And while many of these incidents were genuine mistakes on employees' parts, others were likely the cause of disgruntled employees.
Employee Experience Stage 7: Best Practices
Employee experience matters at every stage. That doesn't change once an employee utters the words "I'm leaving."
In fact, a positive employee experience for exiting workers has the potential to significantly impact a business. And leaders who want to tap into those benefits can follow some best practices:
Let Go Graciously
Sometimes, said Dubin, an employee’s happiness lies on a path separate from the organization.
“Let them go graciously and encourage them to find the personal growth they need, and send them out into the world as an ambassador for the organization,” he said.
Dempster added that it’s important to always be professional and show respect for a person’s tenure. “If it’s customary to throw a ‘going-away’ party or take someone departing out for lunch, then that should be done universally, regardless of the person’s contributions.”
Where it should differ, he said, is for the person who has been a solid, consistent contributor. When you’re commenting on that person’s role in the organization, do not focus on the person or the “warm fuzzies."
“Instead, focus in on the activities that brought value to his or her team, the customer, the organization or any other applicable outcome.”
Have an Offboarding Plan
Offboarding is just as important as onboarding, said Perez.
“Ensuring that an employee is familiar with all of the things that need to be taken care of as they exit is important,” she explained.
The offboarding process should include information like:
- Do they have any outstanding company expense reports?
- Do they have any company property to return?
- Do they have a properly up-to-date address for W2 purposes?
- Will they be eligible for unemployment insurance?
- What will happen with their 401K funds?
- What are their COBRA rights to maintain health insurance?
Look at Why and When
It’s important to understand why an employee is leaving. But do you know the real reason?
Many people say they’re leaving a job due to money. But in his experience, Dempster says that’s not always true. Money is often an easy excuse to glide through an exit interview and ignore underlying organizational problems.
Looking at the “when” of the departure can better inform the “why.”
“This analysis can offer incredible insights as to what needs to change managerially, developmentally and, yes, I’ll say it…culturally,” he said.
It might be an oversimplification, but in his experience, unless people have a compelling reason to compare their current job with another opportunity, they’ll never feel a need to start looking.
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When they start to feel like they need more of a challenge, that they aren’t experiencing growth and development or advancing in their careers, or they’re unsatisfied with their salaries, then they start to make comparisons between what they have and what they could have if they were to seek other opportunities both internally and externally, he said.
Take Ownership of the Situation
A mentor once gave Dempster a valuable lesson regarding letting employees go: “He told me — correctly — that I was ‘owning’ all of the reasons leading up to this termination; I was personally taking ‘ownership’ for the failure of this employee.”
At this point, the mentor said, it’s not about offering chances, it’s about offering choices.
“In essence, all discussions regarding performance deficiencies should allow the employee to make choices about his or her actions, behaviors and attitude,” said Dempster.
“When instituted well, it's actually the employee's decision — by his/her choice — to be facing a termination. There should be no surprises, no misunderstandings as to why ‘we’ have reached this point.”
Termination is never pleasant. “But when it's the employee's choice — through inaction or unwillingness to modify actions, behaviors and attitude," Dempster said, "then it's a lot easier … at least on the employee's supervisor.”
Know the Laws and Regulations
HR leaders, direct supervisors and others involved in the exit experience should understand and stay up-to-date on the laws surrounding termination, retirement, layoffs and more.
These laws outline to employers what they can and cannot say to the leaving employee, as well as the remaining employees. They also provide guidance on notice periods, payouts and other departure processes.
One recent change that should be factored into any termination that includes severance, settlement or employment agreement, Dempster said, is a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that says severance agreements that prohibit non-managerial employees from making statements that could disparage the employer or disclosing the terms of such agreements violate federal labor law.
“This severely restricts how severance agreements need to be structured and should be taken seriously,” Dempster said.
Use an Exit Interview Pro
Exit interviews, when done right, are an excellent way to gauge the exiting employee's current feelings, thoughts and perceptions. Dempster is a fan of the real-time exit interview — those done in-person, virtually or on the phone.
“But only when facilitated by a person trained to create a safe place for honest feedback and who is experienced in asking non-threatening probing questions to better understand the nuances that exist in departing employees’ responses,” he said.
Without this expert on board, Dempster said it’s better to use an online survey with questions related to the existing work environment and any suggestions and improvements for helping retain employees in the future.
Set Exit Interview Goals
No workplace process should lack goals, and the exit interview is no different. According to Dubin, the exit interview should come with two distinct goals:
- Create a positive outcome: Send out into the world someone who will speak well of the organization and might continue to further the organization’s goals without being an employee.
- Listen and learn: What can the exiting employee tell you that you can use to improve the employee experience for others?
Mitigate Exit Interview Risks
Managers communicating to employees about separation and termination need to put themselves in the other person’s shoes and handle the situation delicately, said Perez.
It’s a conversation that should always happen behind closed doors. But she also suggested ensuring a witness is present. “This reduces the risk of false claims against the notifying party or the organization.”
The seating position of everyone involved in the conversation is also critical. “You never want to run the risk that an employee can say they were held in the meeting with no way out,” she said.
A few more exit interviewing tips from Perez:
- Avoid socializing
- Refrain from debating issues
- Remain firm on the decision that was made
- Avoid embarrassing the exiting employee
- Use a checklist to ensure the conversation stays on track
Analyze Exit Interview Data
The exit interview is a doorway into a world of valuable information, but it’s one few employers step through.
Exit interviews tend to be these “checkbox” activities introduced by HR with no way of knowing why or how to use the information, said Dempster.
To start, he said, companies can use this opportunity to learn more about how to retain employees. “It’s likely that the departing employee has been job-hunting and interviewing and can offer helpful information on how the company compares with other organizations.”
But collecting the right information isn't enough. Organizations also need to use that data beyond the exit interview.
“Deciding how data will be analyzed and utilized should be absolutely the start point of any discussion in this area,” said Dempster.
Perez added, “If you are not going to do something with the feedback given, why get the feedback at all?”
Consider a Departing Note
It's not unusual to get a gift from your employer, whether for a holiday, birthday or leaving the organization. But departing gifts, like iPads and plaques, seem to be soon forgotten, said Dempster.
Instead, he recommends a going-away gift that's a little more personal: a note.
“What impresses me is how many times I’ve been told — often years later — how meaningful it was to receive a handwritten note from a former boss regarding contributions made and how much they are missed,” he said.
Related Article: Breaking the Layoff-Rehire Cycle
Exiting Employees Are Continuous Opportunities
The employee journey is just that, a journey, said Dempster.
“It has a start point, and it has an end point — whether that end point is a few months, a few years or all the way through to retirement. It’s up to the organization to make the time between the start point and the end point as interesting, rewarding and rich in growth and learning as possible," he said.
He compares it to a long car trip. There will be boring stretches of highway, but it’s the stops along the way that keep things interesting and exciting.
“If organizations can build in enough ‘stops along the way’ to mitigate the ‘boring stretches of highway,’ there is a stronger likelihood that employees will continue to stay, be engaged and deliver top results.”
About the Author
Michelle Hawley is an experienced journalist who specializes in reporting on the impact of technology on society. As a senior editor at Simpler Media Group and a reporter for CMSWire and Reworked, she provides in-depth coverage of a range of important topics including employee experience, leadership, customer experience, marketing and more. With an MFA in creative writing and background in inbound marketing, she offers unique insights on the topics of leadership, customer experience, marketing and employee experience. Michelle previously contributed to publications like The Press Enterprise and The Ladders. She currently resides in Pennsylvania with her two dogs.