Most companies put a lot of effort into onboarding; they want to make sure they’re setting their new hires up for success—and they set them up for that success with a thorough employee onboarding process that outlines everything the new employee needs to know to get up and running and thrive within in their role and the organization.
But there’s another process that’s equally important that companies generally don’t put as much thought and effort into—and that’s offboarding.
The offboarding experience is just as important to the health of your team and your organization as onboarding—and if you want your company to thrive in the long-term, you need to develop an effective offboarding process that allows you to successfully transition departing employees, make sure your existing team members prepare for that employee’s departure, and get the feedback you need to continually grow and improve your organization.
But how, exactly, do you create that kind of offboarding experience? Let’s take a dive into employee offboarding.
What Is Offboarding—And Why Is It Important?
First things first. Before we jump into how to develop an offboarding plan for your business, let’s quickly cover what, exactly, employee offboarding is—and why the process is so essential for your business.
Employee offboarding happens when an employee leaves your company; it’s the process of transitioning an exiting employee out of their role, their team, and your organization.
Offboarding is a critical process for your business for a few different reasons, including:
- It ensures you get the intel you need for a smooth transition. When an employee leaves the company, you want to make sure that you have all the information you need to successfully transition a new employee into their role. Having a structured offboarding plan allows you to get all the information you need from the departing employee (like project status updates, client contacts, and relevant business processes) to set your new team member up for success in the role.
- It allows you to tie up loose ends. You don’t want your employee to leave without tying up any loose ends, whether that’s external (like closing out a project with a client) or internal (like submitting expense receipts for reimbursement). Offboarding allows you to identify and tie up those loose ends—and make sure that everything is taken care of by the time your employee leaves.
- It allows you to get feedback you can use to improve your organization. Employees are much more likely to be honest with challenging feedback when they’re leaving your company. So, the offboarding process (and, more specifically, the exit interview) is a great opportunity to get direct and honest feedback about areas of your business that need attention—feedback you can then use to improve your company and the employee experience for your remaining team members.
- It leaves your former employee with a positive experience of your company...The last thing you want is for an employee to leave your company with a bad taste in their mouth. A formal offboarding procedure allows you to make sure your employee leaves on good terms—and that the final impression your exiting employee has of your organization is a positive one.
- ...and leaves the door open for them to return in the future. Just because your employee is leaving your organization right now doesn’t necessarily mean they’re leaving your organization forever. It’s not uncommon for an employee to leave a company, work elsewhere for a period of time, and then come back to their original role and/or organization. By creating a positive offboarding experience, you’re leaving the door open for these employees (known as “boomerang employees”) to come back to your company at some point in the future.
What Are The Elements Of Effective Offboarding?
Clearly, developing an effective onboarding process is a must for your business. But what, exactly, does that process entail?
There are a few key elements to successful offboarding employees, including:
Draft A Communication Plan
The offboarding process begins the moment that you become aware an employee is leaving your company—whether that’s when you determine you’ll be moving forward with layoffs or when an employee hands you a letter of resignation and starts their two-week notice period.
Once you know an employee is leaving your company, you’ll want to draft a plan for how to communicate that news to the rest of your team. It’s important that your communication is clear, direct, and loops in all relevant parties; otherwise, you run the risk of team members finding out on their own—and coming up with their own conclusions.
For example, if one of your senior managers lets you know they’re leaving for another opportunity, it’s important to draft a communication plan for how you’re going to let their direct reports know; otherwise, they might jump to the conclusion that something is wrong within the company or that their department is in jeopardy. Or, as another example, if your company is initiating layoffs, it’s important to draft a communications plan that acknowledges the hard work of the employees being let go while also reassuring your remaining employees that their jobs are secure; otherwise, they may assume that the layoffs will continue—and they might be next.
The point is, when an employee leaves a company, the word is going to get out one way or another—and if you want your offboarding to be effective, you need to make sure that you’re the one releasing that information and controlling the message.
Schedule A Knowledge Transfer
One of the most essential parts of effective offboarding is the knowledge transfer.
A knowledge transfer is...well, exactly what it sounds like. It’s when the exiting employee transfers their knowledge to their remaining co-workers or direct reports, incoming new hire, and/or any other relevant stakeholders within your company.
Depending on the departing employee’s role, a knowledge transfer can include a variety of elements, including:
- A breakdown of their day-to-day responsibilities
- The status of all in-progress projects or tasks
- Client contacts and introductions
- An overview of their team structure and relationships (for example, employees who report to them, leadership they report to, and the co-workers they partner with on different types of projects and assignments)
- Access and/or log-in information for all relevant systems, software, documents, and other assets
- A transition plan to support the incoming employee taking over the role
There’s no single way to successfully navigate a knowledge transfer; depending on the employee’s role and responsibilities, you might schedule meetings with your leaving employee and any relevant stakeholders, have the exiting employee do one-on-one training with the incoming employee taking over their role, or have the employee who is leaving create a document or video transferring their knowledge.
The important part isn’t how you do the knowledge transfer—it’s that you ensure that, before your employee walks out the door on their last day, all of the knowledge necessary to successfully manage their job duties and responsibilities has been explained, documented, and transferred to the appropriate parties within your organization.
Return Of Company Assets
Another important element of the offboarding process? Making sure that your employee returns any company assets before their departure.
This may include:
- ID Badges
- Corporate Credit Cards
- Company Computer
- Company Cell Phone
- Other Company Electronics
- Any Intellectual Property
Make sure to create a list of all the company assets in the employee’s possession—and then schedule a time on the employee’s last day for them to turn over those assets to human resources.
Conduct An Exit Interview
The exit interview is arguably the most important part of the offboarding process—so, if you want to leverage offboarding to improve your company, it’s important to structure your exit interviews in a way that gets you the feedback you need to identify any areas for improvement—and then use that feedback to better your company.
Want to make the most out of your exit interviews? Here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Have HR handle the interview. Some employees might not feel comfortable giving honest feedback to company leadership or their direct supervisor. So, if you want to get real feedback on your company—and where you can stand to improve—it’s best to have a more neutral party with your organization, like your HR team, handle the interviews.
- Ask the right exit interview questions. The questions you ask during the exit interview will determine whether you get the information you need or whether you walk away without a clue as to how to improve the organization. Make sure you’re structuring questions in a way that allows for dialogue, open discussion, and for your employees to share their personal experience with the role and your company without any fear or discomfort. For example, try to use open-ended questions vs. yes or no questions, which allow your employees to give more in-depth answers.
- Get feedback on a variety of areas of your company. Your employee might be leaving for one reason (for example, a conflict with their manager or a higher-paying opportunity elsewhere)—but that’s not the only area of your business they’re likely to have feedback on. You, of course, want to dig into any specific issues that drove your employee to leave during the interview—but you also want to get their insights into other areas of your company that may need improvement (like company culture, workflow, or flex work options).
- Ask what you’re doing well. Exit interviews are a great opportunity to get feedback on what your organization can improve—but they’re also an opportunity to find out where your company excels. Make sure to ask on-the-way-out employees what they loved about working at your company and the areas of your business they think you’re doing right.
- Document the exit interview. The feedback you get during an interview can be a springboard for growth and positive change within your organization—but only if you have it documented. Make sure HR documents the answers your departing employee gives during their interview; that way, you have their feedback on record—and can use it to continually improve your organization.
Update Any Relevant Business Systems And Processes
Once your employee is officially departed, you want to make sure you update any relevant business systems and processes on the backend to reflect their departure—like updating org charts, updating your payroll and time tracking software, and revoking the employee’s access to any internal company systems.
Tips For Developing An Effective Offboarding Procedure For Your Business
You know employee offboarding is important. You know the steps of the process. Now, let’s see how to maximize the effectiveness of your employee offboarding—and make sure that every employee departure ultimately betters your company.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind to ensure your offboarding procedure is as effective and efficient as possible:
- Create an offboarding checklist. Clearly, there’s a lot that goes into offboarding—and if you’re not organized, it can be easy for things to fall through the cracks. Creating an employee offboarding checklist will help keep you and your HR team on track—and make sure that every step of the offboarding process is complete before your employee leaves the company.
- Ask for feedback on the offboarding process. As mentioned, the exit interview is the perfect opportunity to get feedback from your employee on all different areas of your business—and that includes your offboarding process. If you want to improve employee offboarding, ask for feedback on their offboarding experience during the interview. Is there anything the employee feels your company could have done better to create a smoother transition?
- Wish the employee well on their way out. It doesn’t matter why your employee is leaving or how you feel about their departure—before they leave, it’s imperative that you leave things on a good note. Thank them for their service and dedication to your company, wish them well in their next endeavor, and, if they’re willing to share it, get their contact information to keep in your database and stay in touch.
Offboard Your Way To A Stronger Organization
The offboarding process is extremely important to the health and success of your business. And now that you know the elements of an effective offboarding experience, you have everything you need to leverage each employee exit to make your organization stronger.