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A Strategic Plan for Offboarding: What Leaders Need to Know

By Stephanie Anderson

Managing the entirety of the employee lifecycle should include protocols for the offboarding process.

Terms like “onboarding” and even “pre-boarding” have made their way to the forefront of focus for many businesses as the war for top talent continues for many organizations. But one topic heard about less often is that of offboarding.

The idea of a business making a great first impression, setting the stage for the entirety of a prospective employee’s tenure, is critically important. But what if the impact an organization makes when an employee departs was just as powerful?

Offboarding is the last opportunity your organization has to show employees value. Former employees are destined to be a part of your organization’s word-of-mouth marketing. How they perceive your company, especially in their final days, will be shared with their friends, family and even strangers on the internet. Following is guidance on how to make a significant impact during a staff member’s final days of employment.

Communicate the Change. Employees want to feel valued; preparing to leave a company is no different. It is important for the company to announce when an employee has given notice and thank the exiting employee for contributions made during their tenure.  

Create a Checklist. It is critical to ensure that the exiting employee receives clear instruction concerning expectations prior to departure. A checklist of expectations should cover standard items like return of keys, transition of job duties and removing access to company systems. Other items such as the cessation of benefits ending and receipt of last paycheck also should be addressed.

Celebrate the Employee. When a departing employee gives notice, there will be emotions that, left unchecked or unacknowledged, will dampen the overall employee experience. While not convenient for all parties, the exiting employee has made their choice for reasons of their own and careful consideration should be given to ensure that this decision does not sway your opinion regarding their work ethic or the quality of work produced during their time with the company. Instead, the employee should be celebrated for their accomplishments and progress achieved. This may be social time spent together with the team or sending a thoughtfully crafted, handwritten card. Whatever the budget allows, make the time to send a message with impact.

Conduct an Exit Interview. It is insufficient to treat an exit interview as an item to be crossed off a to-do list; rather, focus on the information shared within the interview and dedicating effort to understanding how it can applied to improve the organization (further information below). Determine whether the company has the resources to conduct the interview in person or on a survey. Offering both options to exiting employees may increase the percentage of interviews completed.  

Analyze Turnover. It is not enough to just gather feedback from departing employees via exit interviews, instead, the information gained should be applied to identifying enhancements and changes to company programs, where applicable.

There will be employees who leave for reasons outside of the organization’s control, such as moving out of state, graduating college, a life-changing event such as marriage, having children or death, or simply a change in career. These are unpreventable of course, but the real strategic understanding can be learned from employees leaving for reasons like compensation, poor leadership and lack of growth potential. It is up to the organization to leverage that information to identify where improvements can be made.

Offboarding Is Critical to Future Success

As your final opportunity to show exiting employees how much they are valued, make sure to put a strategic offboarding program in place, understanding that it will evolve over time as feedback is received. Removing negative energy and administrative burden from your offboarding process will allow you to review its effectiveness and help you put the employee at the center of the experience, to the great benefit of the organization.

Consider offboarding as risk mitigation for the organizational reputation, in that first impressions are important, but so are final impressions. Everyone suffers from recency bias, in that we instinctively bestow greater importance on recent events (offboarding) rather than past ones (onboarding). Additionally, everyone generally gives more credence to word-of-mouth recommendations. When considering both in conjunction, a departing employee with a positive offboarding experience is more likely to speak highly of the organization than they would otherwise be inclined to absent strategic offboarding efforts.

Stephanie Anderson is NAA’s Industry Operations Manager, and can be reached at [email protected].