The Right Way to Offboard an Employee
The effects of the Great Resignation and today's highly competitive labor market have placed a great deal of focus on attracting and retaining top talent. But as the stock market wavered in recent weeks, some companies, many of them tech startups, have started to deal with another challenge: employee layoffs.
Whether a departure is voluntary or not, offboarding an employee is never easy — particularly in a remote or hybrid workplace.
Ideally, any resignation, layoff or departure from the company should trigger a series of steps that make the process less burdensome and more convenient for all parties. No matter how an employee departs, offboarding should be handled professionally so as to preserve a positive brand image, avoid damaging relationships, maintain a strong culture and ensure continuity of operations.
"A negative offboarding experience may lead your exiting team member to speak poorly of your organization,” said Lisa Shuster, chief people officer of Maryland-based recruiting company iHire. And in the age of employer reviews and social media, word gets around fast.
Here are some key considerations to improve the employee offboarding process.
Why Employee Well-being and Experience Are Important
The well-being and experience of a departing employee are key considerations during the offboarding process. Their experience can greatly influence their perception about the organization and lead to them becoming either an antagonist or a supporter. If it's a voluntary exit, focus on the individual and make sure they feel heard.
“For HR, it's essential to be polite and positive during the offboarding process. Try to understand and support the desire to leave the company,” said Sofia Royko, HR manager at Lviv, Ukraine-based Exoft.
Whether it's a voluntary resignation or a layoff, a positive offboarding experience shows the departing employee that their time at the company was valued. “During the employee’s exit interview and final days, show appreciation," Shuster said. "People always remember how they were treated.”
HR leaders should also communicate to a departing employee, when appropriate, that the organization remains open to future collaborations. If appropriate, they may consider giving the employee a parting package or organizing a farewell party. Ultimately, every action taken should ensure an amicable separation that will be, as much as possible, a positive experience for the departing employee.
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5 Best Practices for Employee Offboarding
There are many potential risks and opportunities in the employee offboarding process. Here are five practices to keep in mind.
1. Conduct Exit Interviews
Exit interviews are used to gather feedback from the employee about their overall experience while working with the company.
“Before your team member walks out the door, make sure you clear the air on every potential issue, from compensation to equity to non-compete clauses, so there’s no possibility of confusion or unfinished business,” said Michael Kieran, head of talent at San Francisco-based automation company Tray.io.
Exit interviews are useful in identifying and addressing critical issues. They can provide valuable insight into what motivated the employee to seek employment elsewhere. Information from these interviews can help leaders improve the company's culture, processes and workflows.
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2. Disable Accounts and Access to Internal Systems
After successfully offboarding an employee, it is important to restrict their access to internal systems and disable their accounts. Organizations should ensure departing employees can no longer access confidential information, licenses, software and other company assets.
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“This process includes de-provisioning accounts, changing passwords, forwarding ownership of any files or email accounts to the appropriate managers, and closing down access to all internal systems,” Kieran said.
While this is mainly for security purposes, every one of those steps should nevertheless be taken with both the employee's interests and the organization's reputation in mind. In case of dismissal, organizations should also inform customers of the departing employee.
3. Prepare Essential Paperwork
Proper documentation is as critical to the employee offboarding process as it is to the onboarding process.
“Once you establish the employee’s last day, communicate the news with your broader team and prepare any necessary paperwork or documentation, working with HR, legal and accounting as needed,” said Shuster.
Not only does this make the offboarding process official, but it also ensures a smooth and clean break.
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4. Identify and Train a Replacement
Unless the position is being eliminated, leaders will need to identify a replacement for the departing employee. This should be done as soon as they receive the notice of departure. Doing so early helps ensure the seamless continuity of operations.
One important step in this process is the transfer of knowledge. In some cases, the departing employee may need to train their successor. Handing over the responsibility before the employee leaves ensures proper debriefing and knowledge transfer that won’t leave the team short-staffed.
5. Keep in Touch
Whether or not the organization intends to pursue future opportunities with the departing employee, Shuster recommended managers stay in touch through LinkedIn, an alumni network or periodic phone calls.
Keeping in touch fulfills two purposes: It emphasizes the employee's value to the company, thus supporting a positive memory of the organization in the employee's mind, and demonstrates the importance of employee well-being for the organization — an important differentiator in today's market.
“There’s nothing wrong with staying in touch with former team members and congratulating on their wins and life experiences even after they’ve moved on,” Kieran said.